Teddy Bear Blues

UK teacher jailed over teddy row

Gillian Gibbons

Britain said the incident was an ‘innocent misunderstanding’

Bishop’s reaction

A British teacher has been found guilty in Sudan of insulting religion after she allowed her primary school class to name a teddy bear Muhammad. Gillian Gibbons, 54, from Liverpool, has been sentenced to 15 days in prison and will then be deported.

She escaped conviction for inciting hatred and showing contempt for religious beliefs, and will now appeal.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband has expressed “in the strongest terms” the UK’s concern at her detention.

The Sudanese ambassador, Omer Siddiq, was called back to the Foreign Office to explain the decision.

Officials said that during his 45-minute meeting Mr Miliband also spoke to the Sudanese acting foreign minister for 15 minutes on the telephone.

“There will be further contacts overnight and tomorrow in the search for a swift resolution of this issue,” the Foreign Office added.

I have called in the Sudanese ambassador this evening to explain the decision and to discuss next steps

Foreign Secretary David Miliband

Reaction to verdict

Before the meeting, Mr Miliband said he was “extremely disappointed” the charges had not been dismissed and repeated his view that it had been an “innocent misunderstanding by a dedicated teacher”.

“Our priority now is to ensure Mrs Gibbons’ welfare, and we will continue to provide consular assistance to her,” he said.

“I have called in the Sudanese ambassador this evening to explain the decision and to discuss next steps.”

Staff complaint

Officials at the Foreign Office say the mood has changed as a result of the verdict.

The prime minister, Sudanese embassy officials in London and UK Muslim organisations all expressed the hope that Mrs Gibbons would be released.

But Sudan’s top clerics had called for the full measure of the law to be used against Mrs Gibbons and labelled her actions part of a Western plot against Islam.

She could have faced up to 40 lashes if found guilty on all three charges against her.

In September, Mrs Gibbons allowed her class of primary school pupils to name the teddy bear Muhammad as part of a study of animals and their habitats.

A teddy bear on sale in Sudan

What can’t be named Muhammad?

British teacher Gillian Gibbons has been jailed for 15 days after insulting Islam’s Prophet by allowing her pupils in Sudan to name a teddy bear Muhammad. What are the rules on using the name?

The Arabic name Muhammad is now the second most popular name for baby boys in Britain, adding together its 14 different spellings in English.

Muslim families – of which there are an increasing number in the UK – often choose names which honour the Prophet or show a link to their religion in another way.

THE ANSWER

Opinion is divided

Some say Muhammad can only be given to boys, others are less strict

But is it acceptable to name a toy Muhammad? The arrest and subsequent jailing of Ms Gibbons has sparked debate in Islamic circles. As is the case in so many religious matters, the question is open to interpretation.

The court heard that she was arrested on Sunday after another member of staff at Unity High School complained to the Ministry of Education.

The BBC’s Adam Mynott, in Khartoum, said Mrs Gibbons apologised to the court for any offence she may have caused.

The school’s director, Robert Boulos, told the AP news agency: “It’s a very fair verdict, she could have had six months and lashes and a fine, and she only got 15 days and deportation.”

He said Mrs Gibbons would only serve another 10 days in prison, having already spent five in custody since her arrest.

Prosecutor general Salah Eddin Abu Zaid had said Mrs Gibbons could expect a “swift and fair trial”.

But Catherine Wolthuizen, chief executive of Fair Trials International, said Mrs Gibbons’ treatment was excessive.

She said: “It was a very speedy justice process. Although she has been found guilty of all the counts of causing offence, she has thankfully not been subjected to 40 lashes.

“Having said this, 15 days in a Sudanese prison for an innocent misunderstanding is a serious and harsh punishment indeed.”

But Adel Darwish, the political editor of The Middle East magazine, says that Muslim children – “like children everywhere” – give their pets the names of characters they liked, be it a religious figure, sports hero or pop singer.

WHO, WHAT, WHY?

Graphic

A regular part of the BBC News Magazine, Who, What, Why? aims to answer some of the questions behind the headlines

“Millions of Muslim children in Muslim nations give their dolls, pets and teddies Muslim names of the Prophet and his mother, daughters and wives.”

Gill Lusk, the associate editor of Africa Confidential and a specialist on Sudan, says the incident will have offended many in the country. As Sudan is a place where religion is never mocked or satirised, it’s “unthinkable” that a toy or pet could be given a religious name.

Taken from BBC news.

As one who taught Kindergarten in the past, I can see how this teacher let the children name the teddy bear. I can also see how we really need to know what is acceptable and not acceptable in another country. Just so glad she is not getting 40 lashes, due probably to the outrage expressed worldwide. I am also very thankful for our freedoms here in the U.S. flawed as it is, it beats oppression and 40 lashes.