A Teddy Bear Named Mohammed
Britain is all caught up with the news of teacher Gillian Gibbons being thrown into jail in Sudan, facing a 15-day jail term followed by deportation. At one point, it was reported that she might be looking at the business end of a whip - 40 times. Her crime? Letting her class of 7-year-olds name their class teddy bear "Mohammed."
All over the world loud, disbelieving gasps can be heard, accompanied by the typical "they must be joking, surely!" Foreign Office is scrabbling about trying to stop the Sudanese government from lashing out on the poor bewildered woman.
One of the guys in my course even made fun of it the other day. That made me think - they don't get it, do they?
While it is tragic that the poor lady has been thrown in jail, laughing about it or passing disparaging comments about the attitude of "those people" doesn't help matters. Much as the British might see it as nothing short of ridiculous to get het up by something so trivial, the matter couldn't be more serious to the other party. If one looks at it from the Sudanese government's point of view, the teacher has committed a blasphemy, by naming a teddy bear after the Prophet. So, in their minds, she deserves to be punished. In fact, had it been a Sudanese citizen who had committed this act, retribution would have been swift.
This is not the first time the West has been caught with its foot caught in a religious quagmire. A few year's back, an enterprising outfit in America called Sitting Pretty released a range of toilet seats named, 'Sacred Seats'. The collection carried images of Lord Ganesha and Goddess Kali in glorious technicolour. Retailing for a whopping sum of $130, the line was augmented by such compelling prose such as this:
"Ganesha the Hindu elephant god, removes all obstacles, destroys evil and provides you with protection on your journey."
Say goodbye to constipated bowels! Taking the dump and prayers at one go - what more could a harried Hindu want?
Of course, the Hindu community got into a major uproar and the line was withdrawn. A while later, a San Francisco company released "designer footwear" carrying images of, you guessed it, Ganesha and assorted members of his illustrious family. Outraged squawks from all quarters made sure the shoes weren't released into the general market. Despite this, flip-flops and Hindu gods were once again merged in 2003 by American Eagle Outfitters and the result was pretty much the same. Then there was this French shoe manufacturer who put pictures of Rama onto shoe fronts.
Why would someone do it? While one can arrive at a whole lot of answers, what it all boils down to is that the people behind these never realised (or cared enough to realise) what these images represent and what kind of sentiment they carry for the millions of Hindus around the world. Unfortunately enough, no one seemed to understand the reason behind the furore caused by these incidents so that the circumstances need never be repeated again.
What does all this have to do with this divorced teacher and her impending, frightening future in Sudan? Personally, nothing. She merely went with her students' wishes, the papers say - after all, why wouldn't she let them name their toy? That she did not understand the weight the name Mohammed carries and therein lay her misfortune.
The teacher's inadvertent error just reiterates the fact that it is high time the Western countries start taking into account other cultures, customs and religions. It is that classic rule "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you." To this, one more statement could be added: "do not judge everyone or everything by your standards."
Does the teacher deserve what she gets? No, no, emphatically no. Do the general Western populace need an education on what goes and what doesn't, with respect to the world's religions? A definite yes.
A Teddy Bear Named Mohammed
- » Published on December 02, 2007
- » Type: Opinion
- » Filed under: