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                A Manifest Injustice
  
                  by Ajibola Aries
                                                                                             Article written in October 2007

                     
                             
               Gibbons

This is an interesting but rather sad story that came from Sudan.
It started  just like any other normal thing in September 2007.
A Christian teacher in a Unity High School in Khartoum, while teaching some small children about animals and their habitats, asked the children to vote for a name for a teddy bear. Among the names given as options were Abdullah, Hussain, Muhammed, etc.
The children voted for the name Muhammed, since according to them, Muhammed is the most popular name in that community. Investigations show that one of the pupils, a 7-year old, voted for the name 'Muhammed' because the name is the same as his own. At the end of the class, one of the pupils took the teddy bear home and then made a drawing of the teddy bear with the inscription: 'I am Muhammed.'
Trouble started when the parents of the pupils lodged a complaint against Ms Gibbons, the female
teacher who is a British Christian. The parents' complaint was prompted by the report made to them by one of the staff of Unity High School who was apparently displeased by what the pupil did. The matter rapidly became a public issue, got to the authorities and Ms Gibbon was suspended  from her teaching post, arrested and put in custody. The school was then closed, not intended to be opened till January 2008.
  By the evening of the day of Ms Gibbon's arrest, many Muslim youths had gathered around the prison in which Ms Gibbons was detained, expressing readiness to deal with her for insulting Islam's holy prophet.
Drawing or depicting the picture of Prophet Muhammed is considered as forbidden in the Islamic religion.
 Mrs Gibbons' trial was rapid. Contrary to expectations, especially in the West and among certain educated Muslims in the Sudanese bureaucracy, the charges against Ms Gibbons were not dropped. She was sentenced to 15 days imprisonment and deportation 'for insulting religion'. 
The following day, hundreds of protesters, coming out of mosques and armed with swords and sticks, gathered outside Khartoum's presidential palace to vent their anger against Ms Gibbons, chanting, 'By soul, by blood, I will fight for the Prophet Muhammed.' According to the Associated Press, among the protesters were many who demanded that Ms Gibbons be executed. Some others chanted,'No tolerance: Execution' while yet others chanted,'Kill her, kill her by firing squad.'
 Outside Sudan, the court decision has been criticized by many as being too harsh, even though Ms Gibbons could have bagged worse sentences such as between 6 months and one year imprsonment or 40 lashes. The British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said he was 'extremely disappointed' that Ms Gibbons' charges were not dropped. 
On the other side of the divide, Abdul-Jalil Nazeer al-Karouri, a well known hardline Muslim cleric, during the friday prayers at the Martyrs Mosques said: 'Imprisoning this lady does not satisfy the thirst of Muslims in Sudan. But we welcome imprisonment and expulsion,'  However, Abdul Jalil merely expressed his opinion and did not urge his listeners to protest. Yet, Muslim groups had earlier distributed leaflets in which Ms Gibbons was called an 'infidel' guilty of the 'the pollution of children's mentality' and the protesters promised a 'popular release of anger' come friday. And that threat of  'popular release of anger' was carried out.
 In a way, this incident is ridiculous. Without prejudice to the judgement of the Sudanese legal system, it could be said that the incident was a case of unfortunate misunderstanding. Ms Gibbons is certainly a victim of circumstances as the name 'Muhammed' was the choice of the children who voted. Specifically, Muhammed, a 7 year  old and one of the children who voted for the name 'Muhammed' to be used for the teddy bear, revealed that he chose the name 'Muhammed' because that is his own name.
Secondly, the children themselves have risen  to the defence of their teacher, who they obviously love, and pointed out that the name was chosen because it was the most popular name in that environment, being a Muslim one.
Thirdly, Ms Gibbon's decision that the children should vote could be understood against the background of the fact that the 54 year-old woman had origins in a Western society where the accepted method of making choice is by popular voting.
Fourthly, the pupils who chose the name of Muhammed were such immature children who made such choice unaware of the implications of their choice.
 It is the position of this website that the crisis generated by the incident was entirely unnecessary, since available details point to the fact that it was not the historical Prophet Muhammed of Islam that the pupils involved and their teacher had in mind -it was merely the choice of the people of that community to assume that it was meant to insult Prophet Muhammed. It could be argued that, had the voting took place among Christian children in a Christian environment, the children could as well have voted for a Christian name that they found popular in that environment.
Interestingly, many Muslims have defended this point of view. The Sudan Embassy in London said the situation was a 'storm in a tea cup' based on cultural misunderstanding. Dr Khalik al Mubarak, embassy spokesman had earlier said he was confident that Mrs Gibbon would be cleared quickly.
Inayat Bunglawala, assistant secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain says the incident appeared to have been 'quite a horrible misunderstanding' and that Ms Gibbons ought never to have been arrested.
  It needs to be pointed out that care should be taken to avoid a situation whereby every utterance made by non-muslims with regards to Muhammed leads to unnecessary turmoil. While non-muslims have certainly made transgressions against Muslims and Islam in the past, the ease with which many Muslims get provoked at utterances and actions of non-muslims which concern the Islamic religion, is quite disturbing. It will be very wrong to always assume that all these utterances and actions are consistently said and done with evil or malicious intent towards Islam.
  It is also important that non-muslims make efforts to understand the Islamic religion better - if only for the purpose of a more harmonious inter-religious relationship. As this and other similar incidents has shown, the assumption of non-muslims that Muslims' reaction to such matters will be similar to Christian reaction under same circumstance, is a dangerous simplification. Non muslims should consequently understand Muslim concept of religious loyalty to be capable of finding expression in ways not necessarily the same as theirs.
In 2005, a Sudanese newspaper was closed for three months and its editor was arrested for reprinting articles that questioned the roots of  the Prophet Muhammed. This incident also caused angry protests. The newspaper editor was later abducted from his house by armed men and beheaded. Such incidents like this are quite horrifying and could have been easily avoided had reason been allowed to prevail. For example, such an article that questioned the origins of Prophet Muhammed  could have been responded to, in a corresponding intellectual manner.
It would be recalled that in Nigeria in the early  90's, a Christian scholar, G.J.O Moshay, published a book entitled 'WHO IS THIS ALLAH?'  which sought to question the fundamental roots of the Islamic religion. This did not lead to major violent reaction from Nigerian Muslims (which shows some difference in the temperament of Muslims in different societies). However, not long after that, a Muslim scholar, Hussain Yussuf Mabera published a rejoinder entitled 'ALLAH IS THE CREATOR'  which effectively punctured the arguments in Moshay's book. 
 Thus, rather than provoke violence, such incidents are supposed to give rise to robust debates and intellectual enquiry, while caution should also be exercised by writers in the process of making publications that deal with issues as sensitive as religion.
 Indeed, it is the position of this website that, for the purpose of intellectual progress and the ultimate goal of finding the truth, nothing should be beyond question. Earlier important scientific discoveries and certain progress in the arts and social sciences have been achieved as a result of the ability of some people to question existing phenomena and beliefs. What is sad, however, is that such arguments like this are hardly appreciated by ordinary uneducated townsmen who normally form the main body of violent protests when such controversies arise. 
 The unfortunate case of Ms Gibbons is an eye opener for members of different religions, to the effect that caution, tact and tolerance should be the watch-word for everyone in all matters that have been known to be sensitive.

The Gibbons incident in pictures.
Protesters in Khartoum

Protesters at the height of the drama.


Police outside the court in Khartoum
The first day of  Ms Gibbons' trial. Police stand by  at the court premises.


HAPPY ENDING: Mrs Gibbons was eventually released from jail on Monday December 3, 2007 following the intervention of two Muslim members of the British House of Lords,  Nazir Ahmed and Sayeeda Warsi, who visited Sudan and persuaded the Sudanese president to grant her pardon.


SIMILAR INCIDENT

THE ORIZZONTE PROVOCATION

Italian Muslims swiftly reacted to stop the sale in local stores of toilet seat covers that feature verses of the Quran in an unprecedent blasphemous act, by reporting the matter to the appropriate authorities, who have been forthcoming.
 'I would like to thank the Italian authorities who responded positively to our complaints against this profainity,' Samir Al-Khalidi, the head of the Islamic Centre (Al-Huda) in Rome said.
'We reacted astutely to this provocation and threw the ball in the court of security officials and politicians, demanding them to seize the products immediately to head off angry Muslim reaction,' he said.
 The Lazio based Orizzonte Company recently unveiled a new collection of bathroom products including the offensive toilet cover seats. They feature verses from the Quran printed on the double face of the toilet cover seats and intersected by colourful flowers and Latin words.
 Following Muslim complaints, police raided the four branches of  the company in the town of Latina, 60km south of Rome, and seized 2,000 such pieces on sale.
  Interior minister Gouliano Amato met with Italian Muslim leaders at the main Rome Mosque to reassure them that Italy would not tolerate such outrageous acts.
'This is an insult to the Muslim faith,' the Imam of Lazio town of Latina's mosque, Sheikh Yussuf said.
Amato reassured Yussuf, saying: 'I would like to tell our friends from Latino that we've been informed of this matter and are taking action because it is offensive.'
 Strange enough, the Orrizonte Company denied knowledge of the meaning of the  Arabic Quranic texts on the toilet cover seats.
 The muslims in Italy have shown a high level of maturity in reacting to this act of provocation, an act which was apparently meant to be used to instigate unnecessary unrest.
 Italy has a muslim population of approximately 1.2million, including 20,000 reverts, according to unofficial estimates.

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