Muslim Hate of Books

Islamist rebels torch Timbuktu manuscript library

Reuters – Mon, Jan 28, 2013

DAKAR (Reuters) - Islamist fighters fleeing Mali's ancient Saharan city of Timbuktu as French and Malian troops closed in set fire to a South African-funded library there containing thousands of priceless manuscripts, the city's mayor said on Monday.

"The rebels sit fire to the newly-constructed Ahmed Baba Institute built by the South Africans ... this happened four days ago," Halle Ousmane told Reuters by telephone from Bamako. He said he had received the information from his chief of communications who had travelled south from the city a day ago.

Ousmane was not able to immediately say how much the building had been damaged. French and Malian troops were securing the city on Monday.

The mayor said the Islamist rebels, who had occupied the fabled trading town since a Tuareg-led rebellion captured it on April 1 from government forces, also torched his office and the home of a member of parliament.

The Ahmed Baba Institute, one of several libraries and collections in the city containing fragile ancient documents dating back to the 13th century, is named after a Timbuktu-born contemporary of William Shakespeare and houses more than 20,000 scholarly manuscripts. Some were stored in underground vaults.

Fighters from the Islamist alliance in north Mali, which groups AQIM with Malian Islamist group Ansar Dine and AQIM splinter MUJWA, had also destroyed ancient shrines sacred to moderate Sufi Moslems, provoking international outrage.

They had also applied amputations for thieves and stoning of adulterers under sharia law.

Prophet bride novel published in US

The US publication of a controversial book about the child bride of the Prophet Mohammed has been brought forward after its British publisher’s office was bombed.

By Stephen Adams, Arts Correspondent
08 Oct 2008

Beaufort Books went ahead and released The Jewel of Medina by Sherry Jones on Monday, nine days ahead of schedule.

The novel has been described by an American academic as an "anti-Islamic polemic".

It tells a fictionalised account of the experiences of Aisha, one of the Prophet's brides. The marketing material reads: "Married at nine to the much-older Mohammed, Aisha uses her wits, her courage, and her sword to defend her first-wife status even as Mohammed marries again and again, taking 12 wives and concubines in all."

Last month the London office of Gibson Square Books director Martin Rynja was firebombed. It was planning to publish the book in the UK later this month.

Now Beaufort Books, which has also published OJ Simpson's hypothetical confessional 'If I Did It' about the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown, has gone ahead with publication.

Eric Kampman, the publisher's president, said he felt it was "better for everybody ... to let the conversation switch from a conversation about terrorists and fearful publishers to a conversation about the merits of the book itself."

In August the publisher Random House US announced it was pulling publication because it had been advised that the book "might be offensive" to some Muslims and "could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment".

It came after Professor Denise Spellberg, of the University of Texas, described the book as "soft core pornography".

In an article in the Wall Street Journal, she wrote: "There is a long history of anti-Islamic polemic that uses sex and violence to attack the Prophet and his faith. This novel follows in that oft-trodden path, one first pioneered in medieval Christian writings."

Mr Rynja took the novel on, saying there must be "open access to literary works, regardless of fear".

He was unavailable for comment on Tuesday about whether Gibson Square would be publishing the book.

Three men have been remanded in custody over the attack on Gibson Square's London office.


Muslim gang firebombs publisher of Allah novel, Martin Rynja

David Leppard
September 28, 2008
From The Sunday Times

Scotland Yard's counter-terrorist command yesterday foiled an alleged plot by Islamic extremists to kill the publisher of a forthcoming novel featuring sexual encounters between the Prophet Muhammad and his child bride.

Early yesterday armed undercover officers arrested three men after a petrol bomb was pushed through the door of the north London home of the book’s publisher.

The Metropolitan police said the target of the assassination plot, the Dutch publisher Martin Rynja, had not been injured.

The suspected terror gang was being followed by undercover police and the fire was quickly put out after the fire brigade smashed down the front door.

The foiled terrorist attack recalled the death threats and uproar 20 years ago following the publication of Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, and the worldwide protests that followed the publication in a Danish newspaper in 2005 of cartoons deemed offensive to Islam, in which more than 100 people died.

Security officials believe Rynja was targeted for assassination because his firm, Gibson Square, is preparing to publish a romantic novel about Aisha, child bride of the Prophet Muhammad. The Jewel of Medina, by the first-time American author Sherry Jones, describes an imaginary sex scene between the prophet and his 14-year-old wife.

It was withdrawn from publication in America last month after its publisher there, Random House, said it feared a violent reaction by “a small radical segment” of Muslims. It said “credible and unrelated sources” had warned that the book could incite violence.

Random House reacted after Islamic scholars objected to its contents, saying it treated the wife of the Prophet as a sex object. One of them, Denise Spellberg, of the University of Texas at Austin, described the novel as “soft-core pornography”, referring to a scene in which Muhammad consummates his marriage to Aisha. She called it “a declaration of war” and a “national security issue”.

At the time, her warnings were dismissed by the author. “Anyone who reads the book will not be offended,” said Jones. “I wrote the book with the utmost respect for Islam.” However, Jones admitted receiving death threats after the book was withdrawn.

It was soon after this that the Met appears to have received a tip-off that the British publisher who had subsequently agreed to print it could be the target of an attack.

A Met spokesman said three men had been arrested in “a preplanned intelligence-led operation” at about 2.25am on Saturday.

Two of the suspects were arrested in the street outside Rynja’s four-storey townhouse in Lonsdale Square, Islington, while the third was stopped by officers in an armed vehicle near Angel Tube station.

They were being questioned yesterday on suspicion of the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism, a spokesman said.

Rynja, 44, could not be contacted yesterday. He is believed to be under police guard.

Yesterday, Natasha Kern, Jones’s agent, said she was shocked to learn of the attack. She said the book had been misinterpreted by its critics and did not contain sex scenes, as had been alleged.

“I honestly believe that if people read the book they will see it is not disrespectful of Muhammad, and moderate Muslims will not be offended. I don’t want anyone to risk their lives but we could never imagine that there would be some madmen who would do something like this. I’m so sad about this act of terrorism. Moderate Muslims will suffer because of a few radicals.”

Kern said it was too early for her to comment on whether the book should be withdrawn. “That’s up to Martin, and I still need to absorb the fact that he was at risk. I’m just so glad he has not been hurt.”

Residents said they saw armed police break down the door of Rynja’s house, helped by firefighters.

Francesca Liebowitz, 16, a neighbour, said: “The police couldn’t get the door open so the fire brigade battered it down.”

Another neighbour, who declined to be named, said: “I was woken at about 3am and I looked out the window and I saw several unmarked cars with what I now think were police officers in them. These officers came out of the cars and there was huge screaming and shouting. Some of the police officers were carrying sub-machineguns.

“I then saw a small fire at the bottom of the door at the house. I heard the police officers shout and scream and try to get neighbours out of the house.”

The Jewel of Medina is due to be published next month.


Family of Baghdad booksellers hangs tough

Nabil al-Hayawi lost his son, brother and 2 family shops
Sudarsan Raghavan, Washington Post
Sunday, July 20, 2008

Upstairs, the blue bedroom door of Nabil al-Hayawi's only son was locked, sealing in the artifacts of his short life. Downstairs, the frail bookseller's voice quivered as he recalled the car bombing that killed his son and his brother and razed his family's bookshop on Baghdad's storied Mutanabi Street. More than a year later, al-Hayawi has not entered the bedroom.

He, too, almost died that day. After five operations, he has trouble standing up. His left arm hangs limp. He takes seven pills a day to cope with aches and depression. Shrapnel is still lodged in his body, posing new threats.

But decades of dictatorship, war and international sanctions, followed by five years of occupation, insurgency and sectarian strife, have not defeated the Hayawis. "If you live with fears, how can you live?" said al-Hayawi, 60, seated at his desk in his spacious, book-lined home on a recent sun-dappled day.

In the long anthology of Iraq's tragedies, the Hayawis represent the promise of the country's future. Despite their grief, they tenaciously refuse to surrender to the current turmoil. They belong to the fading but still influential group of middle-class Iraqis who are alarmed by their society's sectarian fissures and emerging Islamic identity and determined to preserve its cosmopolitan, secular nature.

In a country hobbled by a lack of basic services, high unemployment and scarce foreign investment, the family stands for a vibrant alternative. Violence has driven out more than 2 million people, draining Iraq of skilled professionals, but the rebuilt bookshop remains, an engine for fresh ideas and intellectual growth. Every day on Mutanabi Street, a Hayawi sells books, educating a new contingent of lawyers, doctors and computer programmers.

The Hayawis stay in Iraq out of nostalgia, nationalism and a sense of tradition, as well as economic necessity. When U.S. troops withdraw someday, Iraq will depend on families like theirs to rebuild itself, physically and psychologically.

"Iraq is my soul," the bald, silver-bearded al-Hayawi said. "I go and come back. But I will never leave."

In the soft morning light, the Muslim call to prayer rises from an old mosque. It floats across the warren of crumbling Ottoman-era buildings and dark alleys, past the green shutters of the Renaissance Bookshop.

Founded in 1957 by Abdul Rahman al-Hayawi, a mild-mannered Sunni Muslim with an appreciation for Arabic calligraphy, the Renaissance is the oldest bookshop on a street that has preserved a literary tradition through empire, colonialism and monarchy.

Most of the 1,246-year-old city of Baghdad was destroyed over the centuries, battered by nature and war, leaving its past glories known only to memory. Since the looting of the city's museums after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, one of the few remaining stewards of the capital's culture and history is Mutanabi Street, named for a 10th century poet whose verses Iraqis still quote from memory.

Every weekend, starting on Fridays, thousands of Baghdadis used to descend on Mutanabi Street to buy from booksellers of every sect and religion, fulfilling a popular Arab saying: "Cairo writes. Beirut publishes. Baghdad reads."

Here, Abdul Rahman imparted his love of books to his five sons and four daughters, bringing them to the street when they were infants.

"We opened our eyes in this bookstore," recalled Najah al-Hayawi, 62, the eldest brother.

So enchanted was Nabil that he attended law school at night rather than miss working at the bookstore. He became one of Iraq's youngest judges. After their father died in 1993, the brothers inherited the shop and later opened their own bookstores.

After the U.S.-led invasion, freedom coursed through Mutanabi Street. Booksellers openly displayed Shiite religious texts, extremist Sunni Wahhabi literature and Western magazines depicting scantily clad women. Once, that would have brought prison sentences. But Iraq's growing chaos spawned disillusionment. The government imposed a Friday curfew. Sales plummeted. Many booksellers fled Iraq.

The Hayawi family dispersed to Beirut, Lebanon; Damascus, Syria, and Cairo, Egypt. One brother, Dhafer, moved to Cairo after kidnappers targeted his son. But Nabil and his brothers kept their homes in Baghdad, traveling back and forth to manage the shop.

Mohammad, the youngest, never left. On a sweltering day in September 2006, the bearlike man politely apologized during an interview for the lack of electricity to power the air conditioner.

"When we go home after work, there's no guarantee we'll get home safely," he said. "And when we come to work in the morning, there's no guarantee we'll get here safely."

In Nabil al-Hayawi's house, in the capital's Mansour neighborhood, photos of Nabil's father at the Renaissance with his young children are displayed in a glass case. On a bookshelf are photos of Nabil's son, Yahye, and Mohammad, his brother. When Nabil recalled March 5, 2007, he broke into uncontrollable tears.

At 8:30 a.m. that day, Nabil and two workers were packing books to ship to the northern city of Irbil. Yahye, 25, was working two doors down in the Legal Bookshop, started by Nabil's father.

A chemical engineer, Yahye had inherited his father's love of books, turning down a scholarship abroad so he could run the shop. The following week, he was to be engaged.

At 11:40 a.m., a car exploded in front of Nabil's shop.

"I thought that I was shot," he recalled. In the darkness, from under the rubble of the shop, he heard Mohammad calling: "People take us out! The fire is coming!"

Riddled with shrapnel, Nabil uttered the shehada, a prayer Muslims say before they die. He felt the heat, smelled the smoke. "I told myself, 'If God wants me to live, I must stand up,' " Nabil recalled. He slowly pushed aside chunks of concrete and toppled bookshelves.

Mohammad lay buried under books, rubble and car parts. His voice faint, he asked Nabil to get help. Through the haze, Nabil saw an opening.

He waded through the rubble, using a book in his right hand to bat back flames, his left hand to propel forward. "I was swimming in the fire," he said.

At the hospital, doctors pulled shrapnel from Nabil's brain, back and neck. They gave him six liters of blood and treated him for burns. He fell into a coma for three days. Nabil called out for his son and brother, relatives recalled. Then he called out the names of other booksellers he'd grown up with on the street, including Shiites and Christians.

A few days later, unable to find adequate medical care in Baghdad, Nabil's brothers carried him onto a plane for Beirut.

The family's collection of rare books, first editions and manuscripts burned with the store. They included two priceless books of Arabic calligraphy.

In Baghdad, scores of streets and markets have been bombed, sometimes repeatedly. Yet life springs up again quickly. Within a few hours, Iraqis fix windows, clean up streets, bury the dead.

Most don't have the means to leave Iraq. The Hayawis do. The brothers sold their family house in Baghdad for $330,000. But instead of living off the proceeds or investing outside Iraq, the Hayawis used the money to rebuild their two stores, repay debts and buy more books.

"It is our livelihood. It is our heritage. It is our history," Nabil's younger brother Bediyah al-Hayawi, 52, said matter-of-factly. "This is our country. How could we not be committed to it?"

Nabil was initially hesitant to rebuild Yahye's shop, fearing the memories. But while he was recovering from an operation, he found Yahye's will, written three months before the bombing.

In the will, his son asked him to keep the Legal Bookshop open. "It has been my dream since I was young," Nabil read, his voice cracking.

Five months after the bombing, Nabil returned to Baghdad. He locked Yahye's room, with the computer, the shelf of engineering books and the childhood portraits. The day he stepped into the Legal Bookshop, he collapsed.

Nabil remained on Mutanabi Street, overseeing reconstruction of the shops even as he struggled to rebuild himself. A month later, he left to have further surgery. "He is a believer," said Mohammed Taha, a family friend, as workmen on scaffolding repaired the wall outside.

Inside the Renaissance today, photos of Mohammad, Yahye and Abdul Rahman, the patriarch, hang on a wall. Underneath them a sign reads, "The Martyrs of the Hayawi Family."

There are seven employees, overseen every day by a Hayawi, including Auws Najah al-Hayawi, Najah's 36-year-old son. A half-hour before the bombing, he had left the Renaissance to fetch books from a nearby warehouse. He helped rescue survivors. On a recent day, he chatted with customers in the store and by phone with a Beirut publisher, carrying the family tradition into the third generation.

Outside, Mutanabi Street was run-down, surrounded by concrete barriers and military checkpoints. Cars were banned, and nearby buildings were charred hulks.

Many writers, artists and professors have left Iraq. The Renaissance's best-selling titles now are Shiite religious books, Korans and English dictionaries, highlighting current priorities. Since the attack, business has halved.

But whenever Nabil is at the bookshop, he is thrilled to see customers, especially students, strolling down the street, undeterred by the threat of violence.

"I was happy that I discovered the people still reading," Nabil said.

Ahmed Khudair, 28, and his brother Mohammed, 24, browsed the shelves at the Renaissance on a recent Saturday morning. With the help of books they'd bought here, they had launched an in-house newspaper at the Environment Ministry, where Ahmed worked. Now they were considering creating a Web site.

"If we didn't have this kind of store in Baghdad, we wouldn't be able to advance," Ahmed said, clutching a computer book.

Under Saddam Hussein's regime, access to computers was limited. The Renaissance has helped Imad Abdul Hamid, 41, catch up. He'd brought along an Arabic translation of Microsoft's Basic programming book. "This book has helped improve my skills. At my job, I work faster," said Hamid, who was now searching for an advanced programming guide. "Iraq needs to develop knowledge. This helps open the doors."

Beyond shelves filled with history, philosophy and translations of Mark Twain, Charles Dickens and Leo Tolstoy, another customer perused a book titled "Understanding Poetry."

"When I finish my masters, I'm going to get a Ph.D.," said Mahmoud Khudr Juma, 34. "I am going to teach Arabic literature to serve my society. It is important to preserve our heritage."

He bought the poetry book. He anticipates lending it to at least a dozen classmates, who, in exchange, will lend him their books.

On a recent day, Nabil walked past the high, yellow stone wall of Cairo's renowned al-Azhar mosque and headed into the Turkish Alley district. With more than 100 bookstores and colorful billboards, the bustling enclave evoked Mutanabi Street in its glory.

"I feel joy because I love this world," Nabil said. "I also feel pain, for what has become of us and of Mutanabi Street, which was once a center for civilization."

He stopped at one store and ordered Islamic history books, Korans, cookbooks and computer guides to send to Baghdad. Then he walked to a shop named al-Aatik, meaning one who doesn't bend or retreat in the face of obstacles. It sold Iraqi works, including legal and medical textbooks and a popular history of Baghdad.

"It is as if I am shopping for my home, for my family," he said.

Later that night, as always, Nabil called Mohammad's son Ahmed, now 8, who is living in Damascus, Syria, and still asks, "Where's my father?"

"I have started planting in his mind, with the help of his mother, that he loves books and bookstores," said Nabil, who has adopted Ahmed. "So he will carry on the history and glory of his father and his grandfather Hayawi."

Recently, a top Cairo surgeon told Nabil that a nerve could be transplanted from his leg to try to heal his left arm but that he might not walk again. An influential cleric in Beirut offered to help him gain asylum in Europe, with its state-of-the art medical treatment and majestic bookstores on elegant, peaceful boulevards.

Nabil refused.


Novel on prophet's wife pulled for fear of backlash

The Jewel of the Medina was to have been released on August 12 by Ballantine Books

Friday August 08 2008

A romance novel about the child bride of the prophet Muhammad has been withdrawn because its publisher feared possible terrorist acts by Muslim extremists.

The Jewel of the Medina was to have been released on August 12 by Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, with an eight-city tour for first-time novelist Sherry Jones, 46.

But the publishers apparently panicked after a professor in Texas who had been approached for a pre-publication blurb, strenuously objected to the work.

Denise Spellberg, who teaches Islamic history at the University of Texas at Austin, later described the novel as "soft core pornography".

Jones rejects the charge. "It's ridiculous," she told the Guardian today.

"I must be one heck of a writer to have produced a pornographic book without any sex scenes. My book is as realistic a portrayal as I could muster of the prophet Muhammad's harem and his domestic life. Of course it has sexuality, but there is no sex in my book."

The withdrawal of the novel, first reported this week by the Wall Street Journal, set off an intense debate on the web among feminists, young Muslims, and academics.

Many of the bloggers recalled the death threats and uproar 20 years ago following the publication of Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses.

There were also references to the global upheavals that followed the publication of cartoons in the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, deemed offensive to Islam. More than 100 people died in the ensuing protests.

The saga of the Jewel of the Medina began unspoolling last April when the publishers sent out galleys to scholars and writers for recommendations. Until then, the publishers had raised no concerns about the novel, Jones said.

She said she became interested in the topic after 9/11 and spent two years researching the novel, posting a 29-book bibliography on her blog. Jones suggested Spellberg for an endorsement because she had drawn from her work.

"It was my hope that my book would be a bridge builder, develop empathy for this other culture that we know so little about in this country," she said. "It has always rankled me the way history focuses on men and wars and men's politics and leaves women out. I wanted to honour the women in Muhammad's life by giving them a voice."

Spellberg, however, seems to have been horrified by the end product. The book's marketing blurb and the prologue, both available online, give some indication of her fears.

The novel is an amalgam of bodice ripper and historical fiction centred around Aisha, the favourite wife of the prophet Muhammad.

The marketing blurb compared the work to Memoirs of a Geisha.

"Married at nine to the much-older Muhammad, A'isha uses her wits, her courage, and her sword to defend her first-wife status even as Muhammad marries again and again, taking twelve wives and concubines in all," the plot summary reads.

The book's prologue opens with an account of a story that will be familiar to Muslims of an episode when Aisha was accused of adultery after she became separated from Muhammad and his entourage in the desert.

In Jones's account, Aisha, now aged 14, is not entirely satisfied with her marriage, and is making her scandalous return to Medina in the company of another man.

The novel also imagines the consummation of the marriage between Muhammad and Aisha, who was nine years old at the time. "I do have a problem with the deliberate misinterpretation of history. You can't play with a sacred history and turn it into soft core pornography," Spellberg told the Journal.

She immediately called a colleague and editor of a Muslim website to share her misgivings. The guest lecturer, Shahed Amanullah, told the Wall Street Journal that Spellberg asked him to warn other Muslims about the novel. "She was very upset."

The novel became a topic of discussion on a number of Muslim websites, with one blogger putting forward an action strategy to email blast the publisher.

Spellberg also raised her concerns with Random House. "Denise says it is 'a declaration of war ... explosive stuff ... a national security issue'," said an email from Jane Garrett, an editor at another Random House imprint that was quoted in the Journal.

"Think it will be far more controversial than the satanic verses and the Danish cartoons."

The email from Garrett went on: "thinks the book should be withdrawn ASAP".

Jones said today the publishers were not aware of the discussion taking place on Muslim websites when they told her agent on May 2 they were considering postponing publication. Three weeks later, Jones was told that publication was indefinitely postponed.

Random House said today that it had been advised by security experts and Islamic scholars that the novel was offensive to Muslims and that "it could incite acts of violence by a small radical segment".

The statement added: "We felt an obligation to take these concerns very seriously."

Jones, who had a two-book deal with Random House, was released from her contract to try to sell the book elsewhere. She said today she was confident of finding a new publisher.

She was also adamant that the book poses no danger. "There have been no Muslim threats," she said. "I haven't received any and Random House hasn't received any. They received a prediction of terrorist attacks from Spellberg."