Intercultural Competence

Random House has cancelled the scheduled publication of a novel about the life of Aisha, the favorite wife of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) by Sherry Jones. The prologue of the apparently childish book, “The Jewel of Medina”, which is intended to draw a rather positive, even feminist picture of Aisha, has found its way to the internet anyway. Random House became alerted when University of Texas Associate Professor Denise Spellberg warned that the book would turn history into a mere burlesque.

So, the Wallstreet Journal titled on August 6: “You Still Can’t Write About the Prophet Muhammad.” Yes, you can. I liked, for example, Eliot Weinberger’s “Muhammad” (Verso 2006, a booklet of 56 pages) a lot, which certainly induced mixed feelings in Muslims, too. But so far, I have not heard about any protests (I have purchased it in Kuwait). In the 2nd chapter, Muhammad is described as a womanizer, to whom all women surrender. About Aisha, Weinberger writes (p. 30):

“He married Aisha known for her learning and wit, when she was six, and consummated the marriage when she was nine; she was the only virgin among his wives. When she was accused of adultery, Muhammad received a verse that proved her innocence. They took baths together; he prayed lying in her arms; he received verses lying in her arms; he died in her arms, when she was eighteen, and was buried in her house. Muhammad was once asked what was his favorite person. ‘Aisha.’ ‘No, I mean among men.’ ‘Her father (i.e., Abu Bakr),’ Muhammad replied. He said that Aisha, compared to other women, was like tarid, a dish of meat and bread, to mere food.”

Weinberger relies on the Qur’an, Ahadith, Abu Jafar Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari’s Tarikh al rusul wal-muluk, and Muhammed Baqir ibn Muhammad al-Taqi al-Majlisi’s Hiyat al-Qulub.

In his Afterword Weinberger writes:

“During the first Gulf War, I began to read the poetry and history written during the Abbasid caliphate, from the period, a thousand years ago, when Baghdad was the most civilized city in the Western (!) world. With the invasion of Iraq, my antidote to the daily newspaper was books on Islamic philosophy and traditional sources on the life of Muhammad.

“Writers are irresistibly drawn to retelling old stories, and particularly the stories from the major religions. In this case, I thought that recounting some fragments of the legends and biographical facts about Muhammad – familiar to Muslims, but little-known elsewhere – might give a small sense of the awe surrounding this historical and sacred figure, at a time of the demonization of the Muslim world in much of the media.”

A similar motivation as my engagement in Islam while living in Kuwait.

Even the Prologue of Sherry Jones’ book does not correspond much with the respective report in the Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) biography by Ibn Ishaq (d. 767).

Intercultural competence is at least as important as freedom of expression, especially when it comes to idiocy.

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