The Teddy Bear Trial

The Teddy Bear Trial

The story has everything to galvanize the UK: Khartoum, a name resonant with British history; democracy mistaken for disrespect; cute kids; a beloved childhood toy; a middle-aged Liverpool schoolmarm; possibility of cruel punishment; love of learning.

Gillian Gibbons, a new teacher at an English school in Sudan’s capital, herself the mother of two, motivated her class by letting the 24 seven-year-olds vote on a name for the class teddy bear. Youngsters took the bear home in turn, writing about him in their personalized notebooks. Parents got a circular about the project. Ms. Gibbons even decorated each student’s notebook with the bear’s picture and name.

The problem: the kids voted to name the bear Mohammad. A parent heard about a teddy bear named Mohammad, took it as a religious insult, and denounced the teacher to the Sharia Court for disrespect of the Prophet and Islam. The teacher was arrested. The customary penalty: six months imprisonment and forty lashes.

After a week, the court ruled: 15 days imprisonment and banishment from Sudan. Sighs of relief. Two weeks in a Khartoum jail is no walk in Hyde Park, but it could have been worse. Foreign Office officials are working for an early release.

Here is what I haven’t heard:

  1. What about the bear? Will he face exile or was he re-named and adopted by the class?

  2. How many of those seven-year-olds in that class are boys who bear the given name or patronymic Mohammad (or Mahmoud), the most popular male name in the world?

  3. Do the Sudanese judges know that Mohammad is now the second most popular name in Britain?


Image by Mike Licht. Name the bear yourself. No, not “Yusef”  .  .  .  . Nevermind.

5 Responses to “The Teddy Bear Trial”

  1. kevmoore Says:

    I find it chilling that Mohammed is the second most popular name in Britain. Because that means that 20 years down the line, you’ll have a generation of disaffected youths who hate the country they feed off. Glad I got out in time.

  2. Mike Licht Says:

    I wouldn’t worry, kevmoore. There will always be etc. etc.

    Jack is still the number one name and the top 20 UK baby boy names are all statistically close, with plenty of Apostle, Old Testament, royal, and film star names:

    1. Jack
    2. Muhammad (all 14 spellings)
    3. Thomas
    4. Joshua
    5. Oliver
    6. Harry
    7. James
    8. William
    9. Samuel
    10. Daniel
    11. Charlie
    12. Benjamin
    13. Joseph
    14. Callum
    15. George
    16. Jake
    17. Alfie
    18. Luke
    19. Matthew
    20. Ethan

    Feel better, mate?

  3. kevmoore Says:

    mmm…at least we can be thankful that the Kylie and Jason naming spree seems to have died a dignified death!

  4. Teddy Bear Tribulations « NotionsCapital Says:

    […] teacher Gillian Gibbons is in a Khartoum jail for 15 days, convicted of insulting Islam for letting her seven-year-old Sudanese students name a teddy bear […]

  5. So Long Sudan « NotionsCapital Says:

    […] outrage, registered the complaint with the Education Ministry herself, claiming the Western teacher defiled the Muslim prophet by allowing her 7-year-old students to name the class teddy bear “Mohammad.” Although […]

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