The British teacher jailed and convicted in Sudan for inciting religious hatred says she doesn't want the world to hold the incident against Muslims or against Sudan.
"The Sudanese people are a wonderful, warm and generous people and you can't hold a whole nation accountable for the actions of a few," Gillian Gibbons told ABC's "Good Morning America" today in an exclusive interview.
Gibbons, 54, ran afoul of Islamic law after allowing her class to name a teddy bear Muhammad, which is also the name of Islam's sacred prophet. The coincidence didn't amuse Sudan's government.
The act landed Gibbons in jail on Nov. 25. She was convicted and sentenced to 15 days in jail. But after appeals from Muslim leaders in the United Kingdom, Sudan pardoned Gibbons and she was allowed to go home. She spent a total of eight days in jail
She doesn't think of herself as a victim and didn't want to leave after the ordeal. "When you're a guest of a country you have to respect the law. … If I had been allowed to I would've gone back to school," she told "GMA's" Robin Roberts.
What Gibbons feels guilty about is leaving her students. "I feel very bad about my class because I know they were very upset because I was their teacher and they trusted me, and I let them down."
Gibbons has now moved back to the United Kingdom with her family and is visiting New York this week. She's looking for a new job and is optimistic about the future.
The response she has gotten has shown her a "huge wealth of human kindness. … I learned that though there are some people in the world who aren't very nice, the vast majority are utterly fantastic."
Since 1991, Sudan has ruled by Shariah, Islamic law, which condemns any physical depiction of the prophet as blasphemous. Thousands of Muslims responded by protesting in the streets, carrying swords and calling for Gibbons' death.
Gibbons says she moved to Sudan because she was "looking for a bit of an adventure."
Her class named the teddy bear in October. "None of the parents complained and nobody said it was a problem." Students would take turns borrowing the bear and write a diary about his life, a popular exercise at schools in Britain.
Gibbons says it was a secretary with a grudge whom she worked with at the Unity High School, who raised the objection with the school's director in late November.
The school filed the complaint with the ministry and before she knew it, there was a warrant for Gibbons' arrest. She went to the city court, thinking she just was going to make a statement, but was detained without warning.
"It started off in a holding cell and it was very grim, really awful," Gibbons said of the city jail where she was initially held. "In Sudanese prisons you don't get any furniture at all. … It's just a floor and walls, no chair, no table, nothing."
"I never really got any information. … That was the worst part," Gibbons explained. She didn't know that she faced 40 lashes or how long she would be held. Finally she was moved to a second detention center. "I had no idea if I was going to the airport or to another prison and it was very frightening."
After five days prison guards took Gibbons to her trial. Parents from her class and other teachers at the school volunteered to speak on Gibbons' behalf. "They were very brave and I appreciate it greatly," she said.
During that time she was only dimly aware of mobs of protesters condemning her and the uproar abroad over the incident. "The British Consul came to see me every day. They gave me a little bit of information, but I had no idea of the international storm that I had actually caused."
"This whole thing has staggered me. I've been so shocked by the amount of press coverage."