NEW YORK — A racy, historical novel based on the Prophet Muhammad's child bride A'isha was supposed to hit book stores in the U.S. Tuesday.
But in a rare case of self-censorship to preempt possible violent reaction by Muslims, one of the world's largest publishing houses pulled the plug on the book just before its release date.
Sherry Jones, author of The Jewel of Medina, said she received word from Random House Inc. that the book's release would be "postponed indefinitely." The decision came after copies of her book were sent to stores, her book tour was scheduled and her work of fiction was accepted by the Book of the Month Club (it was scheduled to be in the August selection).
"My book is a respectful portrayal of Islam, of A'isha, of Muhammad. And anyone who reads it with [an] open mind will come away with an understanding of Islam as a peaceful religion," said the American author.
In a statement to FOXNews.com, Random House said that although it supports a free discussion of ideas, it decided to stop the book from hitting the shelves due to security concerns.
"We felt an obligation to take these concerns very seriously. We consulted with security experts as well as with scholars of Islam, whom we asked to review the book and offer their assessments of potential reactions," the release stated.
But Jones questions the 11th-hour balk.
"I'm going to tell you there are no terrorist threats against Random House. There was never received any terrorist threat," she told FOXNews.com.
"By saying that Muslims will be violent, that they can't intelligently discuss this book, it's disrespectful to Muslims," Jones said. "To me, it feels racist for them to say that someone will try to attack them, that someone will try to go after me."
Jones said Random House will pay her a $100,000 advance, and that it will allow her to seek another publisher for the book.
Terrorism expert Steven Emerson head of The Investigative Project on Terrorism said Random House's decision to scrap the book sets a dangerous precedent for freedom of speech.
"This is one of the most despicable episodes of appeasement," Emerson told FOXNews.com. "You can intimidate publishing and media to not publish anything critical about Islam, and just by an indirect threat of not being happy about it."
At issue is Jones' portrayal of the prophet's wife A'isha, whom Muhammad is said to have married when she was 9 years old. In her novel Jones describes the consummation of their marriage when A'isha was 14.
In an excerpt Jones wrote: "The pain of consummation soon melted away. Muhammad was so gentle. I hardly felt the scorpion's sting. To be in his arms, skin to skin, was the bliss I had longed for all my life."
One Muslim scholar who was given advanced copies of the book said Jewel of Medina turned the "sacred story" of Aisha's life into "soft core pornography."
Denise Spellberg, an expert on Aisha's life and associate professor of history and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, told the Wall Street Journal she was "invited to comment on the book" and described it as a "very ugly, stupid piece of work."
Jones defended her work, saying she wanted to bring out the human element of Islamic history.
"This is historical fiction. It's fiction," she says. "I've not contradicted Koran. I just said, 'Gee what if this happened?' I wanted to show A'isha's maturation."
John Voll, associate director of the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, has spoken with Spellberg about Jones' book.
"What you have then is a clearly controversial highly emotional writing. The author has taken liberties with historical framework, she tried to present a historical novel, but it's a harlequin thing," Voll said. "Denise's position is that the manuscript takes liberties and is historically inaccurate," he said.
Emerson compared this case with others where violent Muslim reaction suppressed the release or discussion of alternative perspectives of Islam.
A series of cartoons that depicted the image of the Prophet Mohammad, which is deemed offensive to Islam, were published in Denmark, leading to worldwide protests when they were first printed in September 2005. Last winter, also in the Netherlands, there were protests when a Dutch lawmaker released a controversial, anti-Islamic film.
"The means the Rushdie rules now reign supreme," said Emerson, referring to author Salman Rushdie's book Satanic Verses, which inspired worldwide protest and death threats when it was published in 1988.
"You can intimidate publishing and media to not publish anything critical about Islam and just by an indirect threat of not being happy about it."
Jewel of Medina has already been withdrawn from bookstore shelves in Serbia, where it was published by Belgrade publisher Beobuk three weeks ago. Some members of the Muslim community there are demanding that all of the published copies be handed in to the publisher.
"It's just surreal that this book is being debated around the world and it hasn't even been published," Jones said, referring to the U.S.
"Fear is an irrational emotion [that] provokes irrational responses," she said. "I was never angry at Random House, but I was bitterly disappointed because I thought they were wrong."