October 6, 2008 / 10:31 PM / 9 years ago

Mohammad wife novel released early in U.S. after fire

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A controversial novel about the Prophet Mohammad's child bride was rushed to U.S. stores on Monday, nine days ahead of schedule, after the office of the book's British publisher was attacked.

Beaufort Books picked up "The Jewel of Medina" by journalist Sherry Jones after it was dropped by Random House in May because of concerns it could incite violence.

Beaufort said it sent out an initial print run of 40,000 copies.

The novel traces the life of the child bride, Aisha, from her engagement to Mohammad at age 6, until the prophet's death.

The headquarters of the book's British publisher, Gibson Square Books, was set on fire on September 27. No one was injured, but the publication date was suspended. British police arrested three men on suspicion of terrorism.

Beaufort's president, Eric Kampmann, said neither he nor Jones, 37, had received threats but both wanted to get the book out as soon as possible.

"We felt that, given what was happening, 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," Kampmann said in an interview.

Random House said in August it had received "cautionary advice not only that the publication of this book might be offensive to some in the Muslim community, but also that it could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment."

The decision sparked controversy on Internet blogs and in academic circles. Some compared it to previous cases where portrayals of Islam were met with violence.

Protests and riots erupted in many Muslim countries in 2006 when cartoons, one showing the Prophet Mohammed wearing a turban resembling a bomb, appeared in a Danish newspaper. At least 50 people were killed and Danish embassies attacked.

British author Salman Rushdie's 1988 book "The Satanic Verses" set off riots across the Muslim world and the author was forced into hiding for years after Iran's supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a death edict, or fatwa, against him.

Jones, who has never visited the Middle East but spent several years studying Arab history and said the novel was a synthesis of all she had learned.

Beaufort is the same publisher that took on "If I Did It," O.J. Simpson's book about the murder of his wife, after it was dropped amid public outrage by its original publisher, Regan books, a unit of NewsCorp's HarperCollins.

Editing by Michelle Nichols

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