Find us on Facebook
Lady ‘Aisha is the heroine of the novel. However, she is portrayed as an impulsive, petty, solipsistic, flighty, irrational, irresponsible, vindictive liar who breaks her promises and only wants the glory of the battlefield. And those were only some adjectives I jotted down while reading.
The author is a 21st century western woman, and it filters through. Lady ‘Aisha enjoys her “last day of freedom” before her arranged marriage, “a fate chosen by others, as though I were a sheep or a goat fatted for this day,” and hates the “ridiculous inventions such as purdah and hatun and durra [second wife] and their traditions of male superiority that made chattel of women.”
When she hears the verse about hijab, or veiling, “words I could have lived the rest of my life without hearing,” she says the prophet might as well have “buried [us] alive” or “put blinders on us.” Seclusion to her, which Jones has her endure since the age of six, was living within the “dark, cold walls of a tomb.”
It seems as though Jones cannot quite manage to divorce herself from western mentality and put herself in the shoes of a woman who lived in a very different time and place. She almost forces Lady ‘Aisha into being a feminist, with the criteria being (of course) that she believes veiling is oppressive, women are treated badly, she doesn’t need or want male protection, etc., etc.
“If I were a man, I’d be riding through the desert now. No one would lock me away or call me “parrot” or judge my worth by the number of children I had. I’d be in charge of my life as only men could be, with their swords and their horses, their courage and their wits.”
Okayyy. But c’mon, a six-year-old dreaming of the freedom to choose her own destiny? And wanting a sword in her hand? Wanting to “charge through the desert, wild and free?” Really?
In the end, the book is not really worth all the hype. What is though, is what comes next.
There’s no denying that many Muslims will be offended by the depiction of their sacred figures. I consider myself pretty open minded and tolerant, and yet my gut clenched more than once while reading this book. It’s just very very hard for those who aren’t Muslim to wrap their heads around the respect Muslims give to their prophet, his companions, and the mothers of the believers.
I interviewed the author and I genuinely believe she had good intentions, and just didn’t-quite-get-it. It’s a shame Muslims didn’t pay more attention to her book before it was published. When I interviewed her, she told me that had she known bowing was not a part of Islamic culture (when Lady ‘Aisha becomes the hatun, the prophet and his wives bow to her), she would not have included it. She says no Muslim organization would give her the time of day to review her book.
The question is, have Muslims developed thicker skins? Regardless if you believe Jones was well intentioned and just didn’t get it or cashing in on the Islamophobic wagon, the truth is she’s being given a platform to speak on and has said, more than once, that her intentions were to honor Islam and that she will continue to defend Islam in her public speaking.
So, yeah, I’m sure bombing the home and office of the book’s publisher is the way to go about proving to her and the world that Islam is a great and tolerant religion.
The novel will be published and there is nothing Muslims can do to control that. What they can control are their reactions. Random House deciding to self-censor themselves shows that they already believe the worst about Muslims. I’m not suggesting we put up and shut up, but that we answer free speech with free speech.
Muslims, if they get it right, can use the publication of this book as a platform to educate people about the characters who are so much a part of their lives and as a starting point to really teach non-Muslims about the life of ‘Aisha, who was a woman far more fascinating that Jones was able to portray.
The book, warts and all, does have potential. Jones will have piqued the readers’ interests, and instead of letting the wrong facts in the book stand, Muslims can seize the opportunity to teach many who might never have heard about ‘Aisha and her life about her.
And if they get it wrong, Muslims will end up muddying the image of Islam even more. Is that what Lady ‘Aisha would have wanted?