My Teddy Bear is called Muhammed

This morning, the story of Gillian Gibbons was sprawled all over the front pages of every newspaper I could lay my hands on. Gibbons, a 54-year old Liverpudlian teacher in Sudan has been jailed for allowing one of her seven-year old pupils to name their teddy bear “Muhammed”. Declaring this as blasphemy, the Sudanese authorities ordered the immediate closure of the school and arrested the teacher in question. Gibbons is now facing punishment of 40 lashes, six months imprisonment, or a hefty fine.

It beggars belief that the naming of a teddy bear to “Muhammed” would cause such outcry amongst Sudanese officials and parents alike. Friends of Gibbons say that “she was fully aware of religious sensitivities” and it seems like she just made an innocent mistake.

Muslims living in Sudan have missed a few very obvious points – Firstly, the school was in Sudan (a predominantly Muslim country), the children were asked to choose a range of names themselves, the teacher did not submit these names, so it is not surprising that the child was drawn to a Muslim name. So if you think about it, maybe those twenty-three seven-year olds were being blasphemous and should be held to account. Seems absurd doesn’t it?

Second, it shows that the commonality of the name “Muhammed” is such that even non-Muslim children are naming their toys after him, proving the universality of the name Muhammed, which is separate from religious affiliation or culture. This, in my opinion does not cause any offence. The final Messenger of Islam was referred to with many names, including “Amin”, meaning “trustworthy” – does it mean to say that people should no longer use the name Amin?

Instead of embracing this diverse and inclusive culture, the Sudanese authorities add fuel to the ever-infuriating debate on blasphemy amongst level-headed Muslims globally.

In the words of Saadi,

Of one Essence is the human race,
Thusly has Creation put the Base;
One Limb impacted is sufficient,
For all Others to feel the Mace.”

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9 Comments

  1. Really. What’s next, charging the CHILDREN for naming the teddy bear and insulting the prophet? Please, people, PRIORITIES!!!

  2. Assalamu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullah
    I pray that you are in the best of health & imaan.
    This is a short message to notify you that this entry has been selected for publishing on IJTEMA, a venture to highlight the best of the Muslim blogosphere.
    To find out more about IJTEMA, and how you can further contribute, please click here.
    May Allah bless you for your noble efforts.
    Wa’salam

  3. […] Zareen points out some other facts that counter the Sudanese position. […] the children were asked to choose a range of names themselves, the teacher did not […]

  4. Thank you for your comments. Recently I was told by one reader of this site that there was a strong focus on Islam / race issues. I have been racking my brain to come up with more general stories since. While I am still contemplating a few non-theological articles, I did feel a strong sense of obligation to write about this. Today, Joan Smith of the Independent wrote this article: http://comment.independent.co.uk/commentators/joan_smith/article3201543.ece She is a prime example of a fundamentalist secularist who blames the world’s ills on religion (namely Islam) and continues to hail secularism as the way out of everything. While secularism separates the affairs of the state from affairs of theocracy, it does not prevent the malfunctioning of any society.

    She goes on to brand this current “blasphemy” example with the recent rape-flogging incident, as well as Salman Rushdie’s provocative Satanic Verses. I see why she would do this – to highlight her one pathetic argument, that Islam is bad. While I see her point (but cannot understand it, for I am an intelligent educated British citizen), she cannot, in my opinion, argue that secularism is a better option – secularism doesn’t stop corruption (current Labour party funding); it doesn’t stop rape (current Bill to introduce further powers to make the word of “rape victims” more believable); it doesn’t permit freedom of speech / expression (my previous article on the hairdresser in hijab and the more recent arrest of the so-called “terror poet” in London).

    Her views are no doubt echoed by many in “modern society” – but I wonder how many of those who question the morality of Islam actually question the morality of secularism?

  5. This is ridiculous- another stupid thing done in the name of Islam!
    I know many kids who have named their teddy bears Muhammed- and for me thats a good thing. Wonder what people who think like this would have to say about Allah that appears in all Christian churches in Arabic speaking countries!

  6. Lets not forget how much this story distracts international attention from the real issues happening in Sudan – The govt involved in a protracted civil/guerrilla war that is killing and displacing hundreds and thousands of people….

    For those who are using this as a story about the brutality of Islam – Its not. Its a violent govt diverting attention from its real crimes.

    Lets make sure we don’t forget this, and use this as an opportuntiy to create real change in its internal Darfur policies…

  7. Thanks FW (who was this btw?) While I see your point, I’m not sure I fully agree with that angle. Why would a government use this particular issue (purposely) to distract media attention away from its own internal civil policies? If anything, this issue heightens attention of the country and makes even the layman ask – where on earth is Sudan and why is it so bad? I don’t think the teddy bear incident deflects media attention, instead it attracts further focus on a war-stricken, poverty-filled state with a history of civil conflict.

    I agree with the part about misrepresentation of Islam though – it is precisely this attitude that we need to eradicate, and this can only happen through the unanimous voice of Muslims globally. In basic terms, this poor woman went to Sudan to teach, some seven year old kid decided to call the teddy bear Muhammed – the non-Muslim teacher should not be held responsible, she should be commended for encouraging diversity within the classroom. I live in the west, I have often had colleagues and classmates mess up my name, or even try to ‘westernise’ it, but with time, and through more cultural awareness, people began to pronounce it the way it should be and eventually my “difference” was celebrated – leading to an all-inclusivity I hold dear.

  8. a corrupt government taking advantage of the oppressed masses by using islamic superstition to mobilize those people to hit the streets demanding the beheading of a schoolteacher instead of directing their rage appropriately at the corrupt government…do any other religions have the caveat that anyone should be “beheaded” for misuse of the name of an imaginary being. perhaps the leaders in the mosques should tell their flock the truth, that allah (and god, and jehovah, and yaweh, zeus, thor, etc etc) is an imaginary being, my my they might be very pissed off that all these years they have been duped by priests, like in any other organized religion. the truth of this, and most other religions, is based in fear, not in liberation or freedom. the basic tenet is that humanity should NOT feel free, rather should feel afraid, guilty, shameful, fearful, all kinds of things to stop individuals from enjoying life on this earth. my take on it is this: Religion: if i can’t sing, if i can’t dance, if i can’t walk free on the face of the earth with the sun in my face and the wind in my hair, THEN I’M NOT INTERESTED. I’m also NOT INTERESTED if i can’t say good morning to my neighbours who happen to be male without incurring social reprobation (you guessed it, my sex is female).

  9. Wow, that sounds like a pretty emotional rant Dissenter – I’d be interested to know a bit more about your background if you’re willing.


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