ING Statement on the British Teacher in Sudan

(12/01/07) Gillian Gibbons, a British teacher, who allowed her students to name a teddy bear Muhammad was found guilty on Thursday, November 29, by a Sudanese court and sentenced to 15 days in jail & deportation. According to an AP article, “during her trial, a weeping Gibbons said she intended no harm. Her students, overwhelmingly Muslim, chose the name for the bear, and Muhammad is one of the most common names for men in the Arab world. Muslim scholars generally agree that intent is a key factor in determining if someone has violated Islamic rules against insulting the prophet.” In another misplaced demonstration of love for the prophet Muhammad, reminiscent of the Danish cartoon fiasco, the Sudanese government has acted in a manner that is the opposite of what the prophet Muhammad preached. One of the main principles in Islam, emphasized by a prophetic saying, is that “actions are judged by intentions.” It is clear that the teacher’s actions were motivated not by religious hatred or bigotry, but out of love for her students who chose that name for the teddy bear out of their love for the Prophet Muhammad. A teddy bear is the most common symbol of affection for young children, and is often used in classrooms to inspire love and caring.

The Sudanese government’s overreaction is more emblematic of the sense of humiliation that often characterizes the Muslim world’s interaction with the West, and is a common strategy of governments to focus on meaningless issues to deflect criticism of their own shortcomings and garner popular support. This action has been condemned by many British and Muslim groups worldwide.

According to an Economist article, “some western Muslims have been emphasizing that they share the general horror over the affair, and their dismay over the Sudanese authorities’ reaction. Many stressed that the treatment of Ms Gibbons was at odds with a Koranic injunction to treat visitors hospitably. “Sudan’s official response to this incident is the exact opposite of the model that Muslims are supposed to emulate,” said Firas Ahmed, deputy editor of Islamica. Musharraf Hussain, a well-known imam from the English Midlands, said Ms Gibbons had set out to help Sudanese children with “great enthusiasm and sincerity” and it was embarrassing for British Muslims to see her being punished for making an unintentional cultural mistake.””

Today, reported by Reuters, “Two Muslim British nobles went to Sudan on Saturday on a personal mission to secure the early release of an English teacher convicted of insulting religion by letting her class name a teddy bear Muhammad. Lord Ahmed, from the ruling Labour party, and Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, an opposition Conservative, met Gillian Gibbons, a 54-year-old from Liverpool sentenced to 15 days in jail and deportation, a source close to the Sudanese government said…They have arrived and they have a series of meetings lined up, including with the president, said the source.””

Also today, reported by BBC, “British Sudanese Muslim scholar with a PhD in comparative religious studies, Dr. Imad Hassan, 45, said that this incident is not the true face of Islam and Sudanese anger is not shared by Muslims in Britain. “I feel insulted as a Muslim by the government of Sudan, not by Mrs. Gibbons,” he told the BBC. “Describing the lovely children’s toy with the name of Muhammad is a compliment, it is not an insult.” Dr. Hassan says he feels compelled to generate support for Mrs. Gibbons among British Muslims. “I will try my best to motivate scholars to speak out to show the original conviction was unfounded…to show that there was no insult to the Prophet and clear her name. I feel a sense of responsibility. I would like to send my apologies to her family on the behalf of the Sudanese nation.””