OPINION

A Teddy Bear Named Mohammed

December 02, 2007
DesiGirl

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.

Ganesha on the toilet seatThis 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?

Minelli shows with Lord Rama adorning themOf course, the Hindu community got into a major uproar and the line was withdrawn.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.

Writing is my passion and music is my soulmate. When I have a book in my hand and my music blasting in my ears, I am on top of the world. I would love to be a published author someday. But till then, I shall enthrall you all with my creative genius. :)
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#1
Deepti Lamba
URL
December 2, 2007
09:58 AM

Sentiments versus freedom of expression. Some may even protest as to why DC is carrying the above pictures even though your intentions are well meaning;)

Back in Dayton in an adult store I saw an undergarment with a picture of Jesus and Jesus Juice written on it. So..ummm...when they don't spare their own why will they spare others?


Also recently there was an uproar about the swastika bags and a restaurant with swastika signs in Mumbai.

So where do we draw a line? if we censor one then we have to censor every little thing that offends someone's sensibility.

Its a slippery slope.

#2
smallsquirrel
December 2, 2007
10:05 AM

I agree Dee...

also, it's not just the west that needs a lesson. when I was admitted to hospital here they see my skin and immediately check off christian. I tell them, no, I am Jewish. Blank stares all around. Then they think I am a Jehovah's Witness. No I tell them. Then it's around and around and around.They want to know why they cannot just check Christian. What does it matter, they ask me.

And what about the Hitler themed restaurant in Mumbai.. at the openining, many bollywood actors were interviewed about it, and their reaction was "oh it's all in fun" or "I don't know too much about Hitler but he could not have been too bad or they would not have made a restuarant after him"

it's a worldwide problem, not just one of the "ignorant" west

also I see a difference between a teacher innocently making an error (maybe she thought it was alright since some of her students who suggested the name were Muslim themselves) and the people who put the Hindu gods on items and knew full well it was a deity. Although I agree that since the teacher was headed to the Sudan she would have done well to brush up on Islam.

#3
Kim
URL
December 2, 2007
10:10 AM

Its not like she named the Teddy bear - "Prophet Mohammed" (PBUH) That would be completely disrespectful.

In Egypt, where I am based right now, at least 80% of the men are named either Mohammed or Ahmed. The numbers should be similar for Sudan to.

Mohammed is such a commonly used name. If the students named the bear Mohammed, it would be out of familiarity rather than disrespect.

To look at it from an Indian perspective, would we throw a teacher in jail for calling the class doll Laxmi or Saraswati or Vishnu or Krishna ? They are names after all, that are used in daily life.

#4
Sam
URL
December 2, 2007
11:03 AM

I wonder how many criminals carry the name Mohammed?

#5
Respect My Cult
December 2, 2007
11:51 AM

I and many other followers around the world (many millions) have been worshipping the Teddy Bear Mohammed for nearly a century now. We take great offence to our religion being called blasphemous! Just because we don't force our religion into people's faces, like Muslims or Scientologists, does not mean we are asking to be despised.

Please have respect for all religions and treat them equally, those with billions of followers and the smaller alike, those with enlightened doctrines and those without respect for fur alike!

May the cuddliness of the divine Teddy Bear Mohammed embrace us all!

#6
Aaman
URL
December 2, 2007
11:52 AM

The Teddy Bear is greater than the Flying Spaghetti Monster!

#7
temporal
URL
December 2, 2007
12:52 PM

illiteracy is a curse

#8
rocket
URL
December 2, 2007
01:22 PM

You printed misinformation in your article and are totally ignorant of the facts.

The Teddy Bear was not named after the Prophet Mohammad, but after a students name who was Mohammad. Many Muslims name their children Mohammad. Sudan acted irresponsibly by charging her with insulting the prophet. There was no such act on her behalf.

#9
MR
URL
December 2, 2007
01:48 PM

Greetings, I am young Muslim American and I am against this. Please see my post about this:
http://www.mujahideenryder.net/2007/12/02/to-the-sudanese-teddy-bear-protesters/

#10
A. S. Mathew
December 2, 2007
01:53 PM

If the teacher does't have the sense to realize
that naming a Teddy Bear " Mohammad' will
insult the whole Islamic world, I pity her
foolishness. Why didn't she put her name for the
Teddy Bear?

"Sacred seats" displaying Hindu divinities was
another foolishness done by some fanatics. When the believer of one religion offend the diety
of another religion, there the friction starts and it will lead to an inferno and blooshed.
Everybody must have the freedom of preaching his
religion but not preaching and doing anything,
by deliberately tarnishing the deity of another religion. That is the worst kind of bigotry.

#11
My name is mo
URL
December 2, 2007
05:15 PM

You can help support Gillian by getting a teddy:

http://www.cafepress.com/mynameismo

#12
Mike Snow
URL
December 2, 2007
08:46 PM

Excellent piece, on that many Christians need to read.

#13
Heathen
December 3, 2007
01:41 PM


Well, firstly there is a lot of difference between peaceful protests against footwear carrying god's pictures and demanding the death of someone who made a small mistake.

But we need to realize that the moment we give too much importance to religion, it only leads to bloodshed and violence. Can someone give an example of any single cause which caused more deaths than religion ?

Religion is the greatest evil of all times.

#14
sam
URL
December 3, 2007
02:16 PM

Can someone give an example of any single cause which caused more deaths than religion ?

Nationalism, tribalism, communism.

Take your pick.

#15
temporal
URL
December 3, 2007
04:24 PM

sam:

narcissism!

(ego)

;)

#16
Lakshmikanth
URL
December 3, 2007
04:49 PM

sam: extremism...

Dee/SS/and others
if you look at disney's Indian Jones adventure ride here in california. Its one of the most racists and boorish portrayals about indian culture. Wonder why no one is making a big deal about it. Especially on the fact that it is based on a monumentally racist crap of a movie: indiana jones and the temple of doom :) equals the racist adventures of rudyard kipling.

Free speech is a fundamental right so is democracy. The fundamental problem with both of the above is that it assumes that people know everything and act just. Both of which are not true. examples:- WMD in Iraq and bush voted in for a second term. This is happening in one of the most literate places in the world.

#17
Lakshmikanth
URL
December 3, 2007
04:50 PM

sam: extremism...

Dee/SS/and others
if you look at disney's Indian Jones adventure ride here in california. Its one of the most racists and boorish portrayals about indian culture. Wonder why no one is making a big deal about it. Especially on the fact that it is based on a monumentally racist crap of a movie: indiana jones and the temple of doom :) equals the racist adventures of rudyard kipling.

Free speech is a fundamental right so is democracy. The fundamental problem with both of the above is that it assumes that people know everything and act just. Both of which are not true. examples:- WMD in Iraq and bush voted in for a second term. This is happening in one of the most literate places in the world.

#18
Athreya
December 3, 2007
05:26 PM

Ignorance permeates all skin types and religions ! It is not racial but quite rampant : SS had her moments at the hospital in India; I usually have 9 of 10 people butcher the pronunciation of my name(including my manager of 5 years); at the mention of Asia, people fold hands (Tyra Banks was in China and she was doing namaste every 2 seconds!) ; drapes of gaudy silk sarees passes as Indian themed curtains on TV makeover shows...

Two weeks ago on a marketing trip, presented with sheer intelligence, I had to react thus:

Her: How are Indians so good at software? I just don't get it!

Me: Thanks, but why? What's so surprising?

Her: But isn't India like, full of slums and poor people?

Me: Yes, We do have abject poverty in areas...

Her: So how can they teach computers to so many people? I don't get it ..

Me: We are usually trained on old Remington typewriters till we land in the US!

While ignorance is omnipresent, tolerance is not. The teacher was made a scapegoat for her ignorance. And they threatened execution! give her a break..

#19
sam
URL
December 3, 2007
05:42 PM

I always get:

Oh you speak English very well.

Which always reminds me of the episode from Mind your Language where Ms Courtney says the same thing to an Arab.

His response: "I'm glad my 15 years at Oxford were not wasted!"

Is pretty similar to mine :D

#20
Mike Ghouse
URL
December 3, 2007
11:57 PM

You have a great mind, a mind that seeks peace and has the ability to see another point of view.

Last night I was watching Geraldo Riviera at large, he was interviewing a reporter in Khartoum, who was coming out of a church after the prayer service. Riveira asks the reporter "Aren't the Sudanese ashamed of what the world thinks of them?... ho ho ho.

I hope he asks the same question to our president, "aren't you ashamed of what the world thinks of us? " Very few journalists have the guts to ask that question.

But it demonstrates your point as well. It is easy to jump on others. I have written a piece called " Where is the Muslim outrage" on this forum.

Mike Ghouse
www.Mikeghouse.net

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