The Jewel of Medina
by Sherry Jones
Reviewed by Margaret Donsbach
The Jewel of Medina is about A'isha bint Abi Bakr, the third and according to Sunni tradition the favorite wife of the founder of Islam, the Prophet Muhammad. In 622 A.D. at the age of nine, A'isha was formally married to Muhammad, then a man in his fifties, though according to custom the marriage was not consummated until after she reached menarche.
Little is known about Muhammad's wives, but history records that at fourteen A'isha was involved in a scandal that threatened her marriage. Jones imagines how this might have come about, writing with great sympathy of A'isha's life in a time and place in which Muhammad's respectful attitude toward women was a radical departure from traditional customs which gave a husband absolute power over his wives.
Because A'isha was so young when she married and still not out of her teens when Muhammad died, this is essentially a coming-of-age novel. Jones portrays her as an active, intelligent and strong-willed child who chafes against restrictions that keep her largely confined first to her parents' house and then to Muhammad's. As she grows to sexual maturity, she struggles with feelings of jealousy over her many sister-wives.
As impulsive and self-absorbed sometimes as teenagers still can be, A'isha learns lessons that remain relevant today. "I loved Muhammad, but I realized now that love was more than a feeling. Love was something you did for another person…" As she fights to be heard and understood, Muhammad also learns from her. By the last touching scene of The Jewel of Medina, readers will appreciate why a man such as Muhammad might have grown to love his youngest wife so deeply. (2008, 358 pages, including an author's note discussing the history behind the novel)
More about The Jewel of Medina from Powell's Books
Other novels about the early years of Islam:
Khalifah: A Novel of Conquest and Personal Triumph by John Elray (2002), about power struggles within the Islamic movement during the decades after Muhammad's death. More info
The Adventures of Amir Hamza by Ghalib Lakhnavi and Abdullah Bilgrami (may date as early as the seventh century A.D.), an early saga about an uncle of the Prophet Muhammad. More info
Nonfiction about A'isha and Muhammad:
Aishah, The Beloved of Mohammad by Nabia Abbott (1942). More info
The Wives of the Prophet Muhammad by Bint al-Shati (2002). More info
In the Footsteps of the Prophet: Lessons from the Life of Muhammad by Tariq Ramadan (2007). More info
Muhammad: A Prophet for Our Time by Karen Armstrong (1992). More info
Aishah bint Abi Bakr, a short biography of A'isha at the USC-MSA Compendium of Muslim Texts.
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