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Last Updated: Sunday, 2 December 2007, 15:42 GMT
'Muslim pupils need Muslim teachers'
The furore in Sudan over 'Muhammad' teddy teacher Gillian Gibbons raises questions in some people's minds about both the wisdom and the suitability of Christian teachers educating Muslim children.

Friends and colleagues of the 54-year-old divorcee insist she made an innocent mistake by allowing her class of seven-year-olds to choose the Prophet's name for the bear and would never have intentionally insulted Islam.

Iftikhar Ahmad
Iftikhar Ahmad doubts UK schools would let a teddy be named 'Jesus'

But critics argue that such a mistake - which sparked furious protests in Khartoum and forced the school to close temporarily for fear of reprisals - would never have occurred with a Muslim teacher.

Earlier this week Dr Khalid al Mubarak, spokesman for the Sudanese embassy in London, insisted there was a open-minded approach to mixed schooling in the Sudan.

"We have Christian schools in the Sudan, we have Christian teachers who teach Muslim children, which shows a great deal of tolerance," he told BBC News.

Role models

Unity, the independent school at the centre of the row, educates Christian and Muslim children aged four to 18 and is governed by a board representing major Christian denominations in Sudan.

It prides itself on providing a British-style education to students, whatever their gender, nationality, religion or ethnic origin, "whilst encouraging mutual respect".

But many Muslims believe it is at best injudicious and at worst dangerous to allow western teachers to educate Muslim children - particularly when they are very young.

A non-Muslim teacher is not in a position to provide any kind of Islamic guidance to very young children
Iftikhar Ahmad

Iftikhar Ahmad, of the London School of Islamics, an educational trust, campaigns for state-funded Muslim schools because he believes that "Muslim children need Muslim teachers."

"It is the duty of the teacher to guide young children but a non-Muslim teacher is not in a position to provide any kind of Islamic guidance to very young children," he told the BBC News website.

"Education from the age of three to 15 is during a very important development period and they need role models.

Pent-up anger

"There should be a positive correlation between school and home life. But for Muslim children it is not a positive correlation.

Gillian Gibbons
Critics say Mrs Gibbons is not a suitable role model

For example, we teach our children that pigs and dogs are unclean animals, but the English love dogs and eat bacon and are going to teach them that."

Mr Ahmad, 68, who came to the UK from Pakistan in 1967, claims Mrs Gibbons was wrong to let her charges name the bear.

"She was in the wrong place at the wrong time, but if she was Muslim she would not have allowed the children to name the teddy bear. How many schools in England give a teddy bear the name Jesus?"

He says the demonstrations are understandable given the pent up anger among many Muslims over Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad which sparked widespread outrage in 2006.

"Muslim youths are being searched in the streets and hundreds are in prison without trial. At least she (Mrs Gibbons) was given a fair trial and a lenient punishment," he adds.

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