The Jewel of Medina
There was a lot of manufactured controversy over The Jewel of Medina. As a practicing Muslim, I fully expected to hate it based on the very idea that it is a fictionalized account of a revered woman: A’isha, wife of our Beloved Prophet. The media made a bit of noise about how it took a particular event in A’isha’s life and twisted it into a “sexier” story. Like most Muslims, I expected it to offend me. I admit I went into reading this novel with a bias. As it turns out, the book was not what I expected.
It was much, much worse.
For just a moment, let’s ignore the controversy surrounding the book. Allow me to be the “average” reader, a non-Muslim perhaps. The writing is of poor quality. Cliché runs rampant throughout the book. Characters are one-dimensional—simplistic, in fact. Although Jones claims to be inspired by A’isha and wanting to bring her story to the world, she does not succeed in making A’isha a likeable character. Nor does she manage to create even one other character that a reader can relate to or be similarly “inspired” by.
Something that may not be noticed by the average reader—but is problematic—is the claim that the book was researched extensively when, in fact, it is full of errors and historical inaccuracies. For example, Jones makes reference to henna designs that are common in India and Pakistan, but they are not designs used in Arabia in the past or present. She also speaks extensively of purdah as a normal cultural phenomenon, but it was not a concept that was normal to Arabia, nor to early Islam. (Purdah refers to complete seclusion of girls and women within the home, and as described in the book can mean being literally locked into one room. Purdah should not be confused with the concept of hijab, which refers to the dress of Muslim women and general segregation of unrelated men and women in public and private gatherings.) She intersperses non-English language, but misuses words, and even mixes in words from other languages that would not have been in usage in Arabia at that time.
With such shoddy research of the story of the birth of Islam, one of the most documented stories ever, why should the reader accept the remainder of the story? This of course brings up the question that many have wrestled with regarding revered figures of many religions: is it acceptable to turn the life of a sacred historical figure into soft-core porn for the enjoyment of the masses?
The Jewel of Medina has hyper-sexualized A’isha’s story, and while there may be concerns about other historical and revered figures being misrepresented, there is a significant difference in Jones’ portrayal of A’isha. Arguments claiming that Jesus may have married, for example, do not denigrate his character, but instead pose questions where historical data has left gaps that people have a desire to fill in understanding his life. Jones, however, did not need to fill in any gaps in A’isha’s life. Instead, she seems to be using the idea of fiction as an excuse to write something completely fabricated and ridiculous that seeks to deny the very virtues for which A’isha is revered. Ultimately, it is the tasteless, explicit sexual discussion in the book that further differentiates it from the way other spiritual figures have been written about.