Insult, what insult?
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Just when the latest round of knock-ons from the Undercover Mosque hatchet job were starting to fade away, the story of the British teacher jailed in Sudan for a supposed insult to the Prophet (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) brought “Muslim intolerance” back into the media. The teacher worked at a fee-paying school attended by wealthy Sudanese, and in September - two months ago! - invited the infant-school children to vote on a name for a class teddy bear. The children voted on Muhammad, which just happens to be the name of the most popular boy in the school. There are reports that the case may be linked to disputes over tax and that certain people want to get their hands on the school’s land (see this Guardian report). (More: Osama Saeed.)
I’m no Islamic scholar, but having read the relevant sections in a translation of Qadi Iyaad al-Yahsubi’s famous text Al-Shifaa’ and heard other scholars talk about the rulings on this matter, particularly in regard to offensive writings attributed to certain Indian Islamic scholars of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it is obvious that this lady’s actions do not constitute an insult. For one thing, she did not name the teddy bear after the Prophet (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam), but simply used the name because it was the name of a boy in her class. Second, despite this being done in public - albeit in front of children - no offence was noted for two months.
Third, and most importantly, there is no suggestion that an insult to, or even a reference to, the Prophet, sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, was intended. For someone to be punished for an insult, it has to be intended, even if not premeditated. Someone coming from outside the Islamic world cannot be expected to understand that naming a teddy bear Muhammad might cause offence, because it is not something with well-known negative connotations. Teddy bears are cuddly, fluffy toys which are used for comforting children at night, even if real bears are not cuddly at all, but dangerous predators which can kill a man with one swipe of their front paws. The toys are given human-sounding names because they look human (even if real bears do not). Outsiders well know that Muslims are not fond of pigs or dogs (count the number of well-groomed pet or guide dogs on the streets of any predominantly Muslim city), but a teddy bear is a teddy bear.
As one Muslim from Singapore pointed out on the BBC’s write-back page, there are men named Muhammad who behave worse than animals. The Sudanese authorities could easily fix this problem by quickly consulting any reputable Islamic scholar, of which I’m sure Sudan has many, and telling them the whole story. I do not believe she should have been arrested at all, much less held for three days, and Allah knows best.
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