Gillian Gibbons, a private school teacher in Sudan, has found out the hard way just how much trouble naming a teddy bear can be. Gibbons was arrested for allowing her class of 7-year olds to name a teddy bear “Mohammed.” Those making charges are accusing her of enciting hatred toward those who practice Islam. Those with a more realistic view of things are calling this a harmless incident, and that Gibbons had no intention of causing such panic.

The 54-year old teacher didn’t even name the fuzzy creature, but allowed a student to suggest the name. Mohammed is an accepted name for men in the Middle East, but apparently giving an animal such a name is blasphemous.

This situation would border on absurdity except that the penalty for this kind of offense is pretty stiff: 40 lashes and a year jail sentence. It’s hard to imagine that Gibbons, who was a new teacher at the school, could suffer in a severe way for a seemingly innocent action. The British government is involved as well as some women’s rights groups.

It’s important to show sensitivity toward all religions, and I would like to think that Gibbons could have avoided this whole mess if she had known how offensive giving a Teddy Bear the prophet’s name could be. So much for a class project. I am very sympathetic toward her situation and hope it can be resolved without her suffering any more.

The whole incident raises another issue, in that I wonder whether the Prophet Mohammed would have acted this way toward someone who did this. Islam is a religion that we’d better come to understand, because there are adherents whose militant ways have already been demonstrated all too well. Christianity has its fundamentalists too, and there has been outrage directed at toy companies who are making a “Jesus doll” in time for Christmas. However, I don’t think there will be any jail time for this offense. I couldn’t imagine Jesus asking for 40 lashes to be given to someone who gave a teddy bear the same moniker. Besides, Jesus was in the business of taking lashes.
Freedom of religion (and from religion) is a precious right we Americans have and it is difficult to understand a worldview with such hostility toward a teacher of 7-year olds. Yes, there should definitely be respect for other religions. Perhaps an apology would help matters. And, in a season of “peace, good will toward all people” a gesture from both Gibbons and the government in like manner would be in order.