Name a Teddy Bear, Land in Jail: How Naming Mohammed Landed Gillian Gibbons in Jail


Is a trip to jail an appropriate punishment for naming a teddy bear Mohammed? (Todd Bennett/MCT)

Published: December 13, 2007

When you think about someone going to jail, you would think it would be for a serious crime, right?  Robbery, murder, assault and other things of that sort are all legitimate reasons to go to jail; so to think that a person could go to prison all because of a name assigned to a teddy bear just seems crazy!

Gillian Gibbons, a 54-year-old British teacher, was arrested in Sudan after allowing her seven-year-old students to name a teddy bear Mohammed.  It is understandable that people in the Muslim society would be offended by a bear having the sanctified Prophet’s name, but it seems as though the consequences Gibbons had to face were really unnecessary.

She was sentenced to 15 days in prison for insulting Islam by permitting her class to use the name Mohammed, since it is a holy Prophet’s name. Naming one’s pets, toys or objects after him is frowned upon in the Islamic world and seen as a form of disrespect. I think, in this case, using the name Mohammed was an innocent gesture and Gibbons did not intentionally set out to disrespect the Islamic religion in any way.

The name Mohammed is the most common name among Muslim boys, which is probably why, when the children were given a choice to pick a name, Mohammed is what they went for. The children have young, innocent minds and wouldn’t think of the controversy that the name would cause. Some of the children’s parents, however, were deeply offended and reported the teacher, which led to her dismissal.

Under Sudanese law, Gibbons was charged with violating the law that prohibits insulting religion and inciting hatred. I can understand that each country has its own set of rules and regulations, but the charges against Gibbons are just ridiculous.  When she left the choice up to her students to pick a name, and they decided to use Mohammed, I don’t believe she was thinking that this would be the perfect way to poke fun at the Islamic religion.

I mean, come on, she is living in a country in which the majority of the population is Islamic—why would she try to deliberately set herself up?  It just seems so silly that something as simple as this is causing such an uproar in Sudan. She was spared the 40 lashes which, according to the country’s law, is the punishment for this offense; the idea that she could have possibly been whipped is just insane.

I believe Gibbons really didn’t think anything of giving the bear its name. She is a British teacher, who perhaps wasn’t aware of every single law in Sudan and didn’t think much of it at the moment.  Even the fact that she has to serve 15 days in prison just doesn’t seem appropriate.  There could have been other measures taken, rather than the extremes she faced.  To send a teacher to jail for this reason alone is just beyond me.  I can understand why Muslim citizens would be offended by a teddy bear having the sacred Prophet’s name, but the way the government and school officials handled this case was just over the top.  It seems surreal for people to make such a big deal about this because there are way more serious issues in the world today. Really—it was just a teddy bear, get over it!