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On Naming Teddy Bears (Sudan & the British Teacher)


Apparently anxious to defy the stereotypes, some Sudanese protesters are now calling for Mrs Gillian Gibbons, the 54 year old teacher whose students chose the name ‘Muhammad’ for their class mascot, to be killed.

Hundreds of Sudanese Muslims have taken to the streets of Khartoum demanding death for the British school teacher convicted of insulting Islam after her class named a teddy bear Mohammad.

It’s no wonder then that Latin phrases such as civis Romanus sum and its more modern equivalent civis Britannicus sum are experiencing a revival; or that calls are being made for a cessation of aid to Sudan in retaliation for their treatment of a British citizen.

Needless to say, the circumstances seem so bizarre, it is hard to believe that this is really all about the teacher and the teddy bear. As one former student of the school writes of the current Sudanese government, it is “prickly, obstreperous and wont to childish displays of inferiority complexes” so maybe Mrs Gibbons is just a pawn in all this.

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What is clear, however, is that much of the discussion around it being completely and utterly forbidden for teddy bears to be given the same name as Prophets is somewhat misinformed. There is a reason, for example, why we haven’t seen the hordes calling for the people selling Adam the Muslim Prayer Bear or Adam’s World to be decapitated.

Sheikh Salman al-‘Awdah’s Islam Today provides a timely answer to the question:

Ever since this issue about the teddy bear named Muhammad has surfaced, I have grown concerned. I never thought about the issue like that before. I want to know what the ruling is. I have videos of “Adam’s World” with a very fanciful looking puppet named Adam who teaches children about Islam. Is it right or wrong to name plush toys and puppets with the names of prophets? If not, should I dispose of these videos? Also, my daughter has named her plush toys with different names. She has a toy horse named Ahmed, a toy cat named Aisha, and a toy rabbit named Muhammad – these are the names of her uncles and her aunt. Is this alright? Am I sinning by letting her keep these names for her toys?

Here is the answer.

(Cross-posted at Austrolabe)

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The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.



  1. Amad

    December 1, 2007 at 6:11 PM

    I too wonder how such an outcry could really be a simple teddy bear issue. Especially when this story is SO convenient for the islamophobes to latch on and boast about yet another example of Muslims and their uncivilization.

    Is there more to the story as you have pointed out? And the more tricky question is should Muslims immediately become part of any new wave against such incidents based on what mainstream media is telling us (not forgetting how it has over and over misinformed if not lied about Muslim affairs)? At what point do we become complicit (by not talking about it) versus cautious (waiting for all the facts to come out)?

  2. abdullah's mama

    December 1, 2007 at 7:30 PM

    There is something odd and fishy about this story indeed. Initially it seemed from the news that most Sudanese were indifferent at most. One can only wonder how Muslims can challenge their energies in more positive directions than street demonstrations if indeed this is going on.

  3. zuneera

    December 1, 2007 at 9:09 PM

    my mother and I were talking about this issue the other day and I said that even if she did have the intention of naming that stuffed animal after the Prophet salallahualyhiwasallam, the sentence she is being given is totally disproportionate and it would be a very pitiful way to get back at Muslims. Subhan’Allah, I read this story when it first came out on the ‘stupid news’ section of and now its mainstream news! I can’t believe that our Muslim brothers and sisters can get so intolerant over something so minute. May Allah protect us from all evils, Insha’Allah.

  4. Pingback: Asim Khaja’s Blog » On naming teddy bears

  5. MR

    December 1, 2007 at 11:03 PM

    Why do Muslims do dumb things!

  6. Amad

    December 1, 2007 at 11:28 PM

    You know MR, I was thinking about this…

    Our whole world perspective is so different from the perspective of Muslims living in many parts of the world. Here we are Americans and we have the burden of “dual” loyalty… in the sense that we are Muslims knowing what is happening in the Muslim world, but we also see the compassion and goodness of everyday Americans and the amazing benefits of living in this country, with all that America endows its citizens. On the other hand, those who face the wrath of misguided American foreign policy, whether directly or indirectly, aren’t thinking about offending Americans or other Westerners. For them, it is all about the imperialism and the persecution of American occupation or by proxy of Western puppets in their nation. So, in this indignation, it seems to me, people become unreasonable.

    If you can imagine having control over someone, like a kid in a school. And you are the bully and you constantly abuse, disrespect and belittle him… eventually this kid will start doing unreasonable things and he would care little what you think of him. I am not justifying any of the foolish actions (and I say this ONLY IF the stories are true, which I have many good reasons to doubt) but I am trying to understand the psychology of “foolish” actions. What drives people to be so worried about teddy bears? Or about cartoons, etc.? It can’t be possibly “real” Islam because some, if not many of the same people don’t even pray, or fulfill the basic tenets of Islam. What drives people to these rallies and these bouts of angers? Does it help relieve some of the frustrations and the indignations, as well as providing an opportunity to vent? Is the teacher really the target or is it Western hegemony that these people are venting at?

    I know that the Western discourse through its mainstream media want us to believe that these people are animals who are driven by radical Islam to act like this. But that sort of supremacist discourse is exactly that… a power-trip of arrogance, and Muslims should be very careful of letting that fly without protest.

  7. Hood

    December 2, 2007 at 2:24 AM

    @ Amad

    While your allusions to foreign policy pressures would be warranted had this been an issue directly related to foriegn policy, however in this case there is absolutely no excuse for this type of behavior.
    Agreed that this should not be a springboard for Anti-islamic sentiments in the media, but it should act as a springboard for Muslim condemnation of these acts and understanding, especially given the current climate in the media.

    The only thing that events like these accentuate is the small-mindedness of those acting out, the dismal state of the educational systems in these countries, and the inability of their gov’ts to deal with crisis as it arises. I am in no way putting blame on the Sudanese government, but instead on Sudanese society as whole, indeed on Muslim societies as a whole for their inability to deal with such “insults” with the maturity at least on par if not greater than the grade level that this teacher was instructing in Sudan.

    The inability of many in these societies to see past their very 3rd world and archaic view points not only causes embarrassment to Muslims as a whole, but make defending legitimate cases of offense even harder.

    The roots causes of this anger are much deeper and much more nuanced than many in these parts of the world (and in the islamic west) are willing to admit. However there is no immediate solution for such problems, as they are grounded in broader topics of education, world view, and religious dogma.

  8. MK

    December 2, 2007 at 5:00 AM

    I think we are missing the point here, if a person goes to work in a foreign land they should be familiar with the laws of that land. If they then break the laws the due course has to take place.

    Yes, the teddy bear thing sounds terrible trumped-up BUT only when we use the western yardstick to measure. By Sudanese standards a bear is a lowly creature (even as a toy) and therefore would not give it the name of your most beloved hero.

  9. Muslimah

    December 2, 2007 at 1:49 PM

    The Q&A you posted is exactly the same one that the post links to already. jazakillahkhair -MM

  10. Amad

    December 2, 2007 at 2:56 PM

    ASA Br. Hood…. I believe you missed my point. I wasn’t justifying the behavior and I said so clearly in my comment. But, what I was asking is what causes such reactions, and why is there a completely inability or lack of desire to understand the psychology of “immature”, “uncivilized” or fill-in-the-blanks behavior?

    Is it simply an education issue? Perhaps some of it is, but we know that many highly-education people also become delusional, so it cannot be just that, can it?

    You see I have a problem with any 1-sided or supremacist discourse. Why is it an issue to ask “why”? The same thing happened with 9/11. When people originally started asking “why?”, there was a media blitz in order to squelch the “Whys?”. And why was that? Because fingers were pointing at the Israeli occupation as one of the root-causes for terrorist, insane behavior. But no one was justifying the actions of the terrorists, people were asking “why”, because if you don’t ask why or understand the root-causes of destructive behavior, history is bound to repeat itself. I have an analogy that I like to use:

    Lets imagine that there is a particular town or an area which has a disproportionate number of pedophiles emanating from it. While we would not excuse the behavior of the pedophiles and insist on maximum punishment, wouldn’t it be in our interest to understand why that town/area has the disproportionate stats? I think it would be in our interest to do so, in the hope of turning the tide in that town and protecting our children.

    So, asking questions is not equivalent to justification. That was the unfortunate Israel-lobby-backed spin that precluded tough questions about American foreign policy post-911.

    Thus, I ask again, was the Sudanese peoples’ reaction related to the constant barrage of Western criticism and threat/implementation of sanctions? Was the teacher just an excuse for deeper anxieties?

    I don’t know the answers, but Abu Easa echoes some of what I feel about this issue (in this latest post), the Saudi issue and other stories where the Western do-gooders scream about human rights in Muslim societies, yet forget at the same time the human-rights abuses that they either turn a blind eye towards or actively sponsor (consider the Uzbekistan story).


  11. Omer Choudry

    December 2, 2007 at 5:04 PM


    @MK: it is not against the law in Sudan or in Islam to name a teddy bear Muhammad. Unless of course its done mockingly and everyone knows that thats not the case here.

    @Amad: I agree with your analysis but I think the reason why people act irrationally in the Muslim world has moreso to do with their governments’ repression of freedom of speech rather than Western foreign policy. Since their views are suppressed everytime it is at odds with the government they get irritable. And as all this inner frustration builds up, it explodes when they are finally allowed to vent in officially sanctioned situations. This helps the government also. When they stir up all this passion in their subjects around stupid issues that dont matter like teddy bears and cartoons, they let off some of the steam and divert the publics attention from areas they want them to ignore.

  12. talib

    December 2, 2007 at 5:20 PM

    salam aleykum

    I think any event of this magnitude only serves the dawa of islam well. more and more people will ask who is muhammed (peace and blessings be upon him and his family). non practicing muslims will also learn from this issue how much love muslims around the world have for the prophet and islam.

    The video where the sudanese brothers while riding horses and holding green flags and thick swords..subhan allah i thought this was a nice gesture of love, but kill the white lady part was not so good.

  13. Umm Reem

    December 2, 2007 at 5:41 PM

    If what is happening as being shown then obviously it is very sad & unfortunate, and may Allah azzawjal ease the situation there.

    But, sometimes some things are judged based on previous experiences/events. It is quite common in western countries by westerns to mock the Prophet , sallallhualihi wasalam. In fact, many times ‘mocking’ becomes a very small word to use for their behaviors. Of course, not everyone does it but it does happen.

    So, keeping this in mind, it may have been quite easy for those people in Sudan to believe/assume, based on previous events, that the teacher was trying to mock the Prophet, sallallhu alihi waslam.

    In any case, if someone can be jailed just for denying holocaust, then…

  14. Pingback: Response to Tarek Fateh on Sudan, Teddy Bears, Genocide, and World Domination | Global Intifada

  15. Amad

    December 2, 2007 at 6:35 PM


    I think any event of this magnitude only serves the dawa of islam

    Talib, I’ll have to completely disagree. Such events serve as a very negative form of Islamic awareness. If we want to really do the proper dawah, how about acting as good Muslims? Acting upon the Sunnah? As I mentioned, I don’t believe this has anything to do with “Islamic-inspired outrage”, but culmination of other responses.

    Instead present the image that the Prophet (S) was all about:

    Muslims are taught the tradition of the woman who would regularly throw trash on the prophet as he walked down a particular path. The prophet never responded in kind to the woman’s abuse. Instead, when she one day failed to attack him, he went to her home to inquire about her condition.

    And more here on CAIR’s website

  16. Muadh Khan

    December 2, 2007 at 6:53 PM

    Asslamo Allaikum,

    I have searched and searched on Arab & Sudanese media and there is almost no major coverage of this event.

    Surely you can’t imprison people just for naming a teddy “Muhammad”? And people can’t be calling for her head just for that!

    Does anyone know the Sudanese side of the story?

  17. sahmed

    December 2, 2007 at 8:24 PM


    My husband and I were discussing this issue and he posed a question that made me think about this issue in a different light. The punishment that they are proposing for this non-Muslim teacher may be a harsh one for the act which was committed, whether it was done intentionally or not, to insult Islam.

    From another perspective, what if a White teacher were to name a class pet or teddy bear “Nigger”? What would be the response of the public then? I’m sure it would not be a very positive one and would probably might even make national headlines. In the same way, why should a non-Muslim “play around” with a name that is sacred to Muslims, especially when she is livng in a mostly Muslim-populated land?

  18. Musa Maguire

    December 3, 2007 at 12:36 AM


    That is a fairly outrageous comparison. “Nigger” is an inherently offensive word. There is no possible scenario where a teacher could use it with any hint of benevolence or respect.

    Conversely, I’m sure the lady thought she was doing this out of respect for the culture, not trying to have the children learn through Western names, etc., which is in fact noble. The kind of people who like to revile Islam and Muslims do not choose to go live and work in a country like Sudan.

  19. Hood

    December 3, 2007 at 1:11 AM

    @ Amad

    While you make some good points, I am prone not to over analyze the political reaches of issues like these. While yes in many of these countries the gov’t are under scrutiny and foreign pressure, and yes they deny their citizenry freedom of expression, Why don’t we see these types of violent expressions of bottled up rage in other parts of the workd? That is my whole question.
    There is something ideological behind this type of reaction. What is it remains to be seen and researched, but these types of actions still remain inexcusable.

  20. Amir

    December 3, 2007 at 5:38 AM

    She’s been “pardoned”.

    I agree with Hood. There is obviously something very wrong with these societies and it needs to be explored and understood. Sure, there are economic and political pressures but these are by no means unique or necessarily worse than other societies who don’t seem to share these same pathologies.

  21. Amad

    December 3, 2007 at 11:22 AM

    There is obviously something very wrong with these societies and it needs to be explored and understood.

    Yes, that was part of my point.

    After reading these stories at BBC (here and here), it does seem that the lady is quite pleasant and humble, constantly being generous about the Sudanese people despite the trials. She doesn’t sound someone who would be going after Muslim sensibilities deliberately.

    I am proud of the two British Muslim leaders who went to Sudan and secured her release. By this action, they were probably at least able to repair some of the damage this incident has caused to Muslim image.

    Not to be outdone, the Islamophobic evangelist quarter is on the other hand absolutely about offending Muslims and Islam. See the story at Islamophobia Watch, where the bigot, Bill Keller, host of LivePrayer, shows a youtube video with a swine named Muhammad, audhubillah.

    And thus the consequences of behaviors… emboldening of the real Islamophobes to be even more outrageous.

  22. Sequoia

    December 3, 2007 at 11:31 AM

    Having taught for a few years after I finished university, I have a guess that what instigated this situation was a parent who had a personal vendetta against the teacher. Maybe the teacher was rude to the student or parent, or maybe there was a general distrust for any number of reasons. When you teach, you enounter wonderful parents (most of them, thankfully) and crazy ones who think their kids are the greatest thing on this earth. I witnessed these crazy parents both when i was teaching in California and in Turkey, so these parental attitudes have no religion or culture. I can imagine that this was the excuse to get the teacher fired, but somehow the story got bigger than anyone imagined and then groups with their own agenda took control of it. The appropriate response i belive would have been to explain to her why this is hurtfu and maybe had a parent teachers meeting where the teacher could apologize and explain her misunderstanding.

    I view this case as completely different than somone who purprosefully disrespects Islam for “free speech” or any other means.

  23. AnonyMouse

    December 3, 2007 at 1:41 PM

    This whole issue is driving me crazy. We’ve got talk show hosts who usually discuss celebrities trying to act as “experts” on this issue! And the people are just lapping it all up!
    *Bangs head on wall*

  24. ummali

    December 3, 2007 at 2:31 PM

    I personally think they are taking this to far. The teacher had the students pick the name, she herself did not pick the name. The teacher did not do it to insult anyone and the name did not have anything to do with the Prophet(peace be upon him). She said she was sorry and meant no offense.

    Now I am not taking up for her, but we as Muslims are taught to look at both sides and take the side of the right, Muslim or non Muslim.

    None of us knows the whole story as the media never is 100% true. My opinion is only based on what I have read.

  25. talib

    December 3, 2007 at 4:03 PM

    brother amad

    i think you misunderstood my point. what i ment to say is any form of negative media blown out of proportion..only after a while end up serving the islamic da3wa ulema addressing this issue and explaining it according to the sunnah like sh. salman odah did in his website and many more have spoken on this issue. In the long time all negative events in the past was a plus for muslims.

  26. talib

    December 3, 2007 at 4:11 PM

    just to add..i also believe western media have used this story and the issue in pakistan to cover up or divert peoples attention from the issue in iraq n afgahistan. what happened to the 30 min coverage of iraq war every few hours on cnn and fox…the divertion obviously worked and its actually sad i think.

  27. Ashmin

    December 4, 2007 at 4:17 AM

    Subhanallah! My husband and I have been looking at this issue with Awe, but still confused of “well, how do we really approach this?”

    So, jazza kallahu khairin for the answer that was given by islamtoday.

    I know what we were thinking is that, subhanallah they should have been more merciful towards her after addressing this issue of being a form of insult. Because our Prophet (salilahu allihi was’salam) did not allow the sahaba’s to kill the man who urinated in front of him INSIDE the masjid.

    Allah Knows best.

  28. Nasir

    December 4, 2007 at 8:30 AM

    The worldwide coverage of incidents such as this one is no more than another attempt to destroy the public image of Islam.

    I agree the woman should never have been charged, and what she did wasn’t a crime.

    But the punishment she received of 15 days is pale in comparison to the blunders of other judicial systems.

    Just last month we heard about a case in the US where a 17 yr old man was given a 20 YEAR SENTENCE for receiving oral sex from a 15 year old girl.

    Not to mention in countries like Egypt muslims can get more than 15 days for insulting Mubarak.And its pretty much the same with other muslim countries.

    I’ve heard stories that people have been tortured, imprisoned for months and in some cases disappeared for insulting Al Saud!

  29. Abdulrazaq

    December 5, 2007 at 5:38 AM

    With respect to this issue. I just wish we muslims could be more tolerant. Agreed she shouldn’t have named the teddy bear Muhammad in Sudan. Still we have to look at her background. She is from a society where u name a pet or a toy after someone very special or after a special event (correct me if am wrong). She ought to have reasoned that she isn’t in a secular society and hence the need to be cautious. As for her intentions it is not for any of us judge. Only Allah can tell if she intended it as an insult against the Prophet or otherwise.
    As to the punishment, I am not aware of an Islamic injunction that permits pardon of an offence after punishment has been pronounced. Under the Shari’a once u have been found guilty of an offence you must serve that punishment. I can’t recall any tradition where a person was found guilty of an offence and then he was pardoned. the question here is did the woman serve out her punishment as pronounced? For I heard she was pardoned. doesn’t this have a political undertone?

  30. Amad

    December 5, 2007 at 9:19 AM

    Br. Abdulrazaq, welcome to MM. You are right that we need to become more tolerant. I think the intolerance is related to many things, some of them already mentioned like education, false religious motivations, etc.

  31. Faiez

    December 6, 2007 at 3:22 PM

    Maybe we should kill the Teddy Bear for being named as such without putting up any resistance?

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