Muslims: Teddy Bear Protesters Don't Represent Us

A Sudanese court convicted a British teacher this week of insulting Islam, and sentenced her to 15 days in prison, followed by deportation.

Her crime was allowing her students to name a teddy bear Muhammad.

In Sudan, thousands of angry protestors have hit the streets, carrying clubs and knives, calling for her execution, furious at what think is a lenient sentence. The incident has outraged many in the West who cannot understand the severity of her crime.

Moderate Muslims have been swift to condemn the events in Sudan. Daisy Khan, director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement, spoke to Bill Weir on "Good Morning America Weekend Edition" about how a school project escalated into a crisis over the Christian and Muslim cultural divide and why it should be seen only as fringe extremism.

Heresy or 'Faux Pas'?

"What we're looking at here is a cultural 'faux pas,' and there's a political undercurrent that's running through this furor," said Khan.

She rejected the idea that naming the Teddy Bear Muhammad was inherently blasphemous.

"There is nothing sacred about the name Muhammad and anybody can use that," she said.

The teacher, Gillian Gibbons, 54, named the bear Muhammad at the request of one of the boys in her class who wanted to name it after himself.

Muhammad is the most popular name for Muslim children. Typically, the name is reserved for people, but protestors feel that nonetheless Gibbons took the prophet's name in vain and have turned her into a symbol of Western malice.

"I think that what we're looking at is a difference of cultural expression," Khan said, "because most Muslims revere their prophets and don't name their prophets in vain.

Calls for Moderation

Khan rejected the idea that the protestors' actions were appropriate for devout believers.

"The Sudanese people need to be reminded that the prophet always said that the greatest gift you can give your children is the gift of education," Khan said.

In the United Kingdom, Muslim leaders were horrified about the incident.

"It's very, very sad, very embarrassing for us," said Dr. Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, leader of the Muslim Parliament in Great Britain, earlier this week. "The Muslim community here has also expressed that this is simply unacceptable behavior from the Sudanese government, and I think the Sudanese have got to realize that this episode is doing immense damage to their credibility outside."

Even in the Sudan, Islamic leaders have been speaking out.

"The greatest scholar in Sudan, Dr. Hassan al-Turabi, has himself condemned this," Khan said. "I think that's an indication that Muslims no longer want to remain silent and do not believe in these extremist views."

The AP contributed reporting to this article.

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