Under the heading Disappointing But Not Exactly Surprising:
There will no Turkish edition of The First Muslim. My Turkish publisher received a reader’s report on the book from an un-named “academic member of Islamic history” at the Faculty of Theology at Marmara University, and today emailed to say that “The report showed more than a few aspects about your book which, considering the current political situation, might not be desirable and welcomed in Turkey. I am apologetic to tell you that our company has decided not to proceed with your book.”
Since the book had already been translated and was ready for publication next month, this is a decision that comes at some cost to the publisher.
Here’s the upshot of the report:
The work seems successful in general. However it has some lack of knowledge and misinformation. Besides, it has an attitude imputing the prophet Mohamed and Muslims especially when it comes to Jews… The book is the product of a serious labor. Nonetheless it is concluded that the translation of the book to Turkish is not appropriate when it is considered lack of information mentioned above and negative comments which are sometimes beyond the purpose and sometimes understood to be made consciously.”
The full report is here. It seems I should have simply skipped over the tension between the early Muslims and the Jewish tribes of Medina, which culminated in the massacre of the men of the small Qureyz (Qurayza) tribe, and was, the academic reader argues, the fault of the Jews themselves. (This argument is very familiar to me, since I’ve debated it many times with fundamentalist-leaning Muslims, both in public and in private. I am equally familiar with most of the other points raised by “the academic member” — though the one about Jesus having or not having a father struck me as particularly picayune.) The real complaint, of course, is that the book is not a hagiography, and does not conform to the requirements of piety.
As the publisher wrote, this is a political decision. These are edgy times in Turkey, where Prime Minister Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party seem intent on deepening the instititutionalization of Islam despite strong secular resistance. Three months ago, Taksim Square was the epicenter of the secular/religious clash. Inevitably, my book falls into that same volatile intersection of religion and politics. That’s the realm I’ve been exploring for years now, and will continue to explore.
Just not, it seems, in Turkish.