Publisher recalls book on world religions

NEW YORK (AP) — Simon & Schuster said on Monday that it is recalling all 4,000 copies of a children’s book, agreeing with a Muslim group that the book unfairly portrays the prophet Mohammed as a bloodthirsty hatemonger.
The unusual step also included a letter of apology to the Council on Islamic-American Relations, which had complained about “Great Lives: World Religions” after a child of Muslim parents brought it home from a library.
Written by noted historian William Jay Jacobs, the 280-page book contains biographies of 32 religious figures, ranging from Buddha, Moses and Jesus to Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mother Teresa.
Most are depicted in positive or neutral terms, but the chapter on Mohammed said he “loved beautiful women, fine perfume and tasty food … took pleasure in seeing the heads of his enemies torn from their bodies by the swords of his soldiers” and “hated Christians and Jews, poets and painters, and anyone who criticized him.”
In addition to that passage, the council objected to a picture of Mohammed waving a sword, implying that Muslims are warlike.
“We agreed that the book was unfairly negative and not properly balanced,” Simon & Schuster spokesman Andrew Giangola said.
The book was written for MacMillan Co., which Simon & Schuster acquired in 1994, and was taken over by a new editor during the transition, Giangola said.
“While there is a fact-checking process, this one simply slipped through the cracks,” he said.
Simon & Schuster didn’t know how many of the books were sold to the public, but most were still in warehouses, Giangola said.
The letter of apology to the council from Rick Richter, publisher of Simon & Schuster’s children’s division, said the recall would be done at considerable financial loss to the company. Published reports estimated the cost at about $15,000.
Islam teaches that Mohammed, who founded Islam in the seventh century A.D., was a simple, peace-loving man and the last of several prophets chosen by Allah to reveal the divine word. It does not allow physical depictions of Mohammed.
Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Islamic council, said that in objecting to the book, it was “not advocating censorship, but seeking to correct inaccurate information” about Islam.
“This kind of thing is fairly common, although not always as egregious as this,” he said. “For some reason, children’s books always seem to have some kind of negative slant.”
The council, an advocacy group for Muslims in the United States, welcomed the publisher’s response. The publisher asked the organization to choose scholars to help revise the book, which is aimed at 10- to 12- year-olds.
“That’s probably what should have happened in the first place,” Hooper said.
The book came to light after a child found it in a library in southern Maryland and showed it to a parent, who called the council.
Jacobs, who studied religion around the world and has written other books on government and human rights, is in frail health. His family asked that he not be asked to discuss the matter.
“This has been quite a shock to him,” Giangola said.