Sherry Jones’ novel The Jewel of Medina tells the story of the prophet Mohammad and his child bride A’isha. A’isha was the daughter of Abu Bakr, an early follower of the prophet. He offered the forty-nine year old widower Mohammad his six year old daughter to strengthen their bond of friendship and devotion. The wedding ceremony took place when A’isha was nine, but the marriage would not be consumated until after menarche.
Jones portrays A’isha as a high spirited and willful child who feels stifled by the restrictions that her community has placed on women. She longs for the priviledges of men. She longs to be free to go where she will and do what she likes. Mohammad encourages her to learn to wield a sword. A’isha would like nothing better than to wield it in battle against the enemies of Islam.
A’isha, although devoted to Mohammad and to Islam is insecure and jealous to the wives that, one by one come into the harem as Mohammad seeks to make alliances with various potential allies. Her plots and schemes create discord and havoc and, at times turn Mohammad against her. She also faces the wrath and determined opposition of Muhammad’s military chief Umar, a tyrant when it comes to women, and of Mohammad’s daughter Fatima and her husband Ali. It is on the advice of Umar that Mohammad decrees that women in his household be hidden behind a curtain and not allowed to be seen by men.
“You in the now, they cover with shrouds or with lies about being inferior. We, in the past, they erase from their stories of Mohammad, or alter with false tales that burn our ears and the backs of our eyes. Where you are, mothers chastise their daughters with a single name. ‘you A’isha!’ they cry and the girls turn away in shame. . . .The girls turn away because they don’t know the truth: That Mohammad wanted to give us freedom, but that the other men took it away. That none of us is ever alive until we can shape our own destinies. Until we can choose.”
Jones’ Mohammad is a sympathetic and very human character. He himself, does not pretend to be a divinity, but his devotion to Allah is total and all-consuming, and everything he says and does is with the intention of spreading the word of Allah.
In writing this book Jones hopes that her readers “will be entertained and uplifted,. . . .and empathetic to this other culture that we in the West know so little about, but that we tend to demonize because we are at war in the Middle East. Muslim, Christian, Jew, athiest, Buddhist-we are all human beings with needs, desire and fears, all ‘created from the same soul.’ The sooner we as a species can embrace the concept of unity the closer we will be to achieving paradise right here on Earth. Because Paradise means living continually in the presence of God, and as the Bible says, ‘God is love.’”
These are noble sentiments, but it seems to me that our religions tend to divide us and stand in the way of this unity. There are no easy answers.
Sherry Jones has done a tremendous job of research in this novel and I highly recommend this book to anyone who wishes to enhance their knowledge and understanding of the develpment of Islam.