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bullet Topic: Why is this offensive?
    Posted: 26 November 2007 at 6:23pm

There is a story in the news today about a British schoolteacher in Sudan who was arrested for letting her schoolchildren name their class teddy bear Muhammad.  20 out of 23 students picked this as their favorite name.  Yet when the parents found out, they complained and the teacher was arrested.  I don't want to offend anyone myself by asking about this, but I just don't understand.

Here's the story:

Sudan arrests teacher over 'Mohammed' bear

Briton allowed her class of 7-year-olds to choose teddy bear's name

updated 5:15 a.m. PT, Mon., Nov. 26, 2007 KHARTOUM, Sudan - A British primary school teacher has been arrested in Sudan, accused of insulting Islam's Prophet by letting her class of 7-year-olds name a teddy bear Muhammad, her school said on Monday.

Colleagues of Gillian Gibbons told Reuters they feared for her safety after receiving reports that young men had already started gathering outside the Khartoum police station where the Liverpool woman was being held.

Teachers at Unity High School in central Khartoum said Gibbons, 54, made an innocent mistake and simply let her pupils choose their favorite name for the toy as part of a school project.

Police arrested Gibbons on Sunday at her home inside the school premises, said Unity director Robert Boulos, after a number of parents made a complaint to Sudan's Ministry of Education.

Boulos said she had since been charged with "blasphemy," an offense he said was punishable with up to three months in prison and a fine.

A spokesman from the British Embassy in Khartoum said it was still unclear whether Gibbons had been formerly charged. "We are following it up with the authorities and trying to meet her in person," he said.

Boulos said he had decided to close down the school until January for fear of reprisals in Sudan's predominantly Muslim capital. "This is a very sensitive issue."

"We are very worried about her safety," he added. "This was a completely innocent mistake. Miss Gibbons would have never wanted to insult Islam."

Class voted on toy name
Boulos said Gibbons was following a British National Curriculum course designed to teach young pupils about animals and their habitats. This year's animal was the bear.

Gibbons, who joined Unity in August, asked a girl to bring in her teddy bear to help the second grade class focus, said Boulos.

The teacher then asked the class to name the toy. "They came up with eight names including Abdullah, Hassan and Mohammed. Then she explained what it meant to vote and asked them to choose the name." Twenty out of the 23 children chose Muhammad.

Each child was allowed to take the bear home at weekends and asked to write a diary about what they did with the toy. Each entry was collected in a book with a picture of the bear on the cover, next to the message "My name is Muhammad," said Boulos.

The bear itself was not marked or labeled with the name in any way, he added, saying Sudanese police had now seized the book and had asked to interview the 7-year-old girl.

Boulos said the first he knew about the course was last week when he got a phone call from the Ministry of Education, saying a number of Muslim parents had made formal complaints.

One Muslim teacher at Unity, who also has a child in Gibbons' class, said she had not found the project offensive.

"I had no problem with it at all," the teacher said. "I know Gillian and she would never have meant it as an insult. I was just impressed that she got them to vote."

The country's state-controlled Sudanese Media Centre reported late Sunday that Gibbons had been arrested for "insulting the Prophet Muhammad." It said charges were being prepared "under article 125 of the criminal law" which covers insults against faith and religion.

No one was immediately available for comment from Sudan's ministries of Education or Justice.

Unity, an independent school founded in 1902, is governed by a board representing major Christian denominations in Sudan, but teaches both Christians and Muslims aged 4 to 18.

Edited by Chelle
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bullet Posted: 27 November 2007 at 12:55am

It was probably a misunderstanding on behalf of the parents who might have thought that she intentially did it to offend the prophet. Also, in Islam, we are to respect all prophets, not just Mohammed, there would have been the same unfortunate results if the teddy bear had been named Jesus or Moses or any other prophets name. This is because in Islam we are to revere and respect all prophets and to name a teddy bear after one of them would be viewed as not befitting to a prophets high held status in Muslims hearts and even in any Christian or Jews heart. Im sure you as a westerner might think what is the big deal and probably this may seem as a bit too extreme of a reaction, but it is just out of strong respect to them that we do not associate them with anything that may seem belittling to their status.


Edited by Arab
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bullet Posted: 27 November 2007 at 1:20am

You know, there are many many people with the name Muhammad with varies spellings. Many people have the name Jesus also, not so much with Mose I don't think, but some people have named their cat moses.

So with naming a teddy bear, the problem is....

I understand the respect but if many people have these names then there shouldn't really be a problem with naming a teddy bear.

Being in that kind of area with things being sensitive perhaps it should have been wise to check about it.

Edited by Angel
~ Our feet are earthbound, but our hearts and our minds have wings ~
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bullet Posted: 27 November 2007 at 2:50am


 The reply from Arab was concise, exact and explainatory. Imagine some children in a class naming a dog as Jesus in a christian country. What would be the reaction of the parents to that dog being called Jesus. I believe no one will take it happily. In England and elsewhere, there are laws to protect the honor of Jesus. Such a bad deed may come under blasphemy.

 Also it was silly of that teacher to have named the bear as Muhammad. I am sure being a teacher, she knew who was Muhammad. Why the teacher did it?? There were so many other names available. There is no shortage of names. So it was an under cover bad work of the teacher and the teacher should be severely reprimanded.

 There is a very remote chance of making an innocent, unintentional mistake. i.e. because the children liked the teddy bear very much and they also liked the (best) name of Muhammad. So the teacher let them name the teddy bear Muhammad. What can we say ! Let the teacher speak for herself.

Edited by minuteman
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bullet Posted: 27 November 2007 at 7:20am

Well a bot iff the subject...

Well, if she did allow the bear to be name Mohammed, she is not very bright! Clearly did not know where she was and the background of her students.

Its like when I went to Turkey, I read up o th country. It is against the law to insult Ataturk. Well I  had no plans to do it but it is good to know. Accordingly, it is against the law to insult religion. You should respect the culture. And if you are not sure, ask!!

Chelle, in other places, cultures and societies, they have different outlooks on life. They have different norms. In the US, we think there is "free speech" and to an extent that is true. But for instance, it is against the law to make fun of security measures at airports. You don't have complete "free" speech.  Every place in the world has certain things they value or prioritize.  it is just different.  



When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy. Rumi
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bullet Posted: 27 November 2007 at 8:01am
I understand that, but if these were Muslim parents complaining, it must have been Muslim children who selected the name.  If it's offensive, shouldn't they have known not to do it? 
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bullet Posted: 27 November 2007 at 8:45am
Originally posted by Chelle

I understand that, but if these were Muslim parents complaining, it must have been Muslim children who selected the name.  If it's offensive, shouldn't they have known not to do it? 

Salaams Chelle,

The parents in Muslim countries respect teachers a lot more than here.  And they expect the teachers to use their own judgment when making decisions.  They most likely consider that their children were manipulated by a Kaffir.

Did she know or not?  Only she can tell us what was in her heart.  Only Allah, The All-Knowing truly knows.

I'm not so sure they would have been equally offended if it was named "Eesa".

In a future project, teachers need to take into consideration cultural norms, as Sister Hayfa has suggested, and then have a list for the kids to vote on.

Cultural relativity is a hard thing to understand, but well worth the effort!
Al-Hamdulillah (From a Married Muslimah) La Howla Wa La Quwata Illa BiLLah - There is no Effort or Power except with Allah's Will.
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bullet Posted: 27 November 2007 at 6:20pm

Hi Chelle,

You have got many good responses. I need not say much, actually there's nothing much left.

Let me revive the same, but in a different way.

Prophet Muhammad  holds a a very special place in our hearts. There's a verse in the Holy Quran, which says ," The Prophet is closer to the believers than themselves"

And a hadith
"By the One in Whose Hand is my soul, none of you truly believes until I am dearer to him than his own self, his wealth, his children and all the people."

There are three qualities for  which whoever has it tastes sweetness of  faith and one amongst these three qualities  is , Allah and His Messenger are dearer to him than anyone else.

What i intend u to explain thru these ,above hadith and verse is that Prophet , peace be upon him. always holds a very dear position in our hearts. Its one of the signs of a believer. We do respect him very much. For, he is the chosen person - messenger of Allah. He faced many hardships for the spread of peace. He is our Ideal . How can we tolerate any insults . Be it in any form. Will u tolerate Chelle, a person whom u respect and love, is insulted.

I don't think so that there's any person left who does n't know oF Mohammad {PBUH}. He might atleast know that Mohammad {Peace be upon him}, is someone sacred in Islam. So i feel that the insult was intentional.  If children were wrong, it was the teacher to correct  them , instead of agreeing.

There are many such incidents happening, wherein our feelings get hurted. But alhamdullilah, we are facing them with peaceful protests.

But again, if the teacher agrees her mistake then its okay, Did she apologise ?

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “All the descendants of Adam are sinners, and the best of sinners are those who repent."
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