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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 November 2007, 19:48 GMT
What can't be named Muhammad?
The Magazine answers...

Teddy bears on sale in Khartoum, Sudan
A teddy on sale in Sudan
British teacher Gillian Gibbons has been jailed for 15 days after insulting Islam's Prophet by allowing her pupils in Sudan to name a teddy bear Muhammad. What are the rules on using the name?

The Arabic name Muhammad is now the second most popular name for baby boys in Britain, adding together its 14 different spellings in English.

Muslim families - of which there are an increasing number in the UK - often choose names which honour the Muslim Prophet or show a link to their religion in another way.

Opinion is divided
Some say Muhammad can only be given to boys, others are less strict
But is it acceptable for Muslims to name a toy Muhammad? The arrest and subsequent jailing of Ms Gibbons has sparked debate in Islamic circles. As is the case in so many religious matters, the question is open to interpretation.

The issue has been a vexed one for Muslims through the ages. Some believe that the name can only be given to boys - to give it to an object is idolatry (excessive veneration). Others say that pets and toys can bear the name.

Ibrahim Mogra, chairman of the Muslim Council of Britain's interfaith relations committee and an imam in Leicester, says the name should be reserved for boys. "Some of us believe we are assured of heaven if we name our children Muhammad."

But he says it's ridiculous that Ms Gibbons is being punished for a "miscalculation".

Gillian Gibbons, of Liverpool, may face blasphemy charges
Gillian Gibbons asked her class to name the bear
"If someone clearly intends to insult and cause offence with a toy in the form of a pig, for example, and someone knowingly and intentionally names it Muhammad, we know exactly where they're going with it - the idea is to cause offence. If it's just a miscalculation, we don't need to go overboard."

Dilwar Hussain, of the Islamic Foundation, has no problem with a teddy bear called Muhammad. For some years, the Islamic Society sold a soft toy made for British Muslim children named Adam the Prayer Bear. "Adam is also the name of a Prophet."

Would it be acceptable to give a religious name to a pet? In much of the Muslim world, he says, animals are seen as functional and so are rarely given names.


But Adel Darwish, the political editor of The Middle East magazine, says that Muslim children - "like children everywhere" - give their pets the names of characters they liked, be it a religious figure, sports hero or pop singer.

A regular part of the BBC News Magazine, Who, What, Why? aims to answer some of the questions behind the headlines
"Millions of Muslim children in Muslim nations give their dolls, pets and teddies Muslim names of the Prophet and his mother, daughters and wives."

Gill Lusk, the associate editor of Africa Confidential and a specialist on Sudan, says the incident will have offended many in the country. As Sudan is a place where religion is never mocked or satirised, it's "unthinkable" that a toy or pet could be given a religious name.

"You're not supposed to give a religious name to any objects - it could be seen as idolatry."

But the majority of Sudanese people won't have wanted to see Ms Gibbons in trouble for the naming of the teddy bear.

"People are very forgiving of foreigners, particularly Europeans. Nobody would think she was trying to offend them - they would just think she was ignorant."

Below is a selection of your comments:

This matter has been blown out of proportion. Whilst some Muslims may be outraged, I attribute their outrage to narrow minded and misguided teaching. Why can this toy not be named, as was chosen by the school children? Muhammad is a common name in most Muslim communities; there was no intention to used the toy as a representation of the Prophet, so the question of idolatry does not arise at all. Islam, like other religions, has been misused time and again by tyrants, unscrupulous politicians and terrorists, but in fact the religion is, like all others, founded on the concept of fairness, openness, peace, and harmony - not oppression, closed mindedness, fighting, fear and discord. I sincerely hope this that matter is quickly and sensibly resolved and Gillian Gibbons is released unharmed and unconditionally.
Abdul Karim, Seremban, Malaysia

What we really have here is a non-Muslim teacher in a school run by a non-Muslim board that allows Muslims and non-Muslims to educate and be educated together. While some would applaud this, I am sure that many "Islamists" in Sudan would be appalled at such a thing and have been waiting for an excuse to close the school down. There are bigger issues than soft toys and ignorant children and teachers.
Jon, Birmingham

I don't believe naming a teddy bear 'Muhammed' is offensive. Children will often name their toys with names they like, or are familiar with, both of which apply in this case. Further, I don't believe that the lady in question meant any malice - she was simply offering the children the opportunity to reach a collective decision of their own, which was then agreed by the parents by letter. There does not appear to be any slur or insult intended at all - quite the reverse, the teddy seems to have been part of an education and literacy programme of which I'm sure the Prophet Muhammed would have been proud. I ask the Sudanese authorities to live up to the values of generosity, understanding, common sense and 'soft sweet words' which are the bastions of the Islamic ethos.
Shelina Zahra, UK

It's so obviously unintentional and it does seem like they have over-reacted. But when you go to another country, you should live by their rules, however strict they may be. But saying that, how many people come here and live by our rules?
Kelly Chandler, London, UK

Without wishing to cause offence here, am I missing something? I thought it was the children that named the teddy bear, not the teacher. It is highly unlikely that the teacher is responsible for the religious education of these children, then how can she be held responsible for their choice of name for the bear? If this choice is seen to be offensive, then surely is it the children's religious educators who are at fault?
Laurence, Worcester

I am a mid-30s liberal Christian and yet I wonder how I would react if the teacher of my children named a toy bear Jesus. All innocence aside it just doesn't seem the right thing to do.
Jonathon, Brisbane, Australia

Jonathon, you're missing an important point. As Abdul in Malaysia sensibly points out, Muhammad is a very common name in Islamic countries - Jesus is not a name often used for children in English-speaking Christian countries. I'm sure there are many Spanish teddy bears called Jesus, just as there are many Spaniards who go by that name.
Steve R, Winchester, UK

I am Muslim and sometimes I feel embarrassed that there are people in this world that blow things completely out of proportion. The poor woman is teaching Muslim kids to make their lives better and she has obviously made an honest mistake and is now paying for it. This is why people who have no idea of the religion only see this side of it - because this is the type of story that makes the newspapers.
M Hanna

What is ridiculous about this is that the children named the bear. If it was such an obvious taboo then why were the children not aware of it? And why the drama of an arrest? Surely a parent could have simply said something to the teacher or the school and it could have been easily resolved internally?
Shelley Green, London

This woman might have made a mistake by allowing her pupils to name the teddy Muhammad. It's however not fair to say that her action is OK or permissible. We should know that what she's done is wrong, even if she did it by mistake. We should therefore stop blaming those who arrested her but should convince them that she did it not with any bad intention.
Ademola Mustapha, Ibadan, Nigeria

This is utterly ridiculous. It goes to show the full extent of how primitive, medieval and wholly unacceptable many branches of Islam are. There is no place in the modern world for this kind of backwards thinking. It's a teddy bear. The child named it.
ID, London, UK

I wish that those in the Muslim community who stand for moderation, reason and logic would stand up and be counted as opposed to letting the extremists always have their voice.
Martin Reynolds, Dundalk

I'm really not sure why this is such a big issue. In fact it's getting to a slightly pathetic stage, not helped by the media frenzy around the topic as it gives them yet another opportunity to start screaming about fundamentalists... oh sorry can't use that now, can we... BBC's favourite new term is Islamist.
N Akram, London UK

This is a sad indictment of the Muslim faith, and demonstrates precisely why this and other faiths attract fundamentalism. For intelligent grown adults to protest about a completely harmless action such as this is unfathomable. Clearly there is a lot of progress needed before the world becomes a truly global community which respects difference and is tolerant of others who do not conform.
Eddie, Warrington

"People are very forgiving of foreigners, particularly Europeans. Nobody would think she was trying to offend them - they would just think she was ignorant." How jolly good of them, woe betide us foolish, ignorant Europeans.
Alex Hendy, Bristol

Alex, your sarcasm is unwarranted, unhelpful and tainted with implied racism. It is clear that in this context, "ignorant" means "lacking knowledge or comprehension", which she seems to have been. Whether or not she (or you, or I) agrees with the sentiment behind the offence caused, cause it she most certainly did - and most probably through "lacking knowledge".
Pete, Leicester

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