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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 December 2007, 16:48 GMT
Muslim culture tests recommended
Teacher protest in Khartoum
Some Sudanese sought a tougher sentence for teacher Gillian Gibbons
Westerners going to live and work in Sudan should pass an exam on the local culture, a Sudanese official has said.

Khalid al Mubarak, media counsellor at London's Sudan embassy, said the orientation courses that were mandatory in the colonial era "worked very well".

He said a two-week course could help people avoid accidental insults.

Teacher Gillian Gibbons has returned to the UK following eight days in custody in Sudan, convicted of insulting Islam after pupils named a toy bear Muhammad.

High standards

Mr al Mubarak, who was at secondary school in Sudan when the country gained independence, said the orientation courses prevented mistakes people might otherwise have been unaware they were making.

He said: "They were very meticulous, and if someone failed they would not get their promotion or appointment until they resat the exam.

"The knowledge of the local traditions was an important component in the way the British were viewed in Sudan."

Mr al Mubarak said the courses, perhaps run through local colleges in Sudan with guest speakers from the British embassy, "should consist of educating somebody of what is acceptable and what is not acceptable in Muslim cultures".

"For example, it is not acceptable to hand somebody something with the left hand; if I hand somebody something I had better do it with my right hand."

Something like this I think would be very useful, not only for Sudan, but for other countries as well
Khalid al Mubarak
Sudanese embassy

He said the cultural reason behind this is that Sudanese Muslims use their right hand to eat with, and only their left to go to the toilet, hence it is seen as unclean.

Mr al Mubarak also gave the example of a mistake made by his teacher while he was a teenager at school.

In a class dealing with vocabulary for clothes, the teacher referred to the zips in coats and trousers.

In Arabic, the word for penis sounds almost exactly the same, except the "p" in zip is replaced with a "b".

It was also crucial for Westerners to understand the proper way to speak to women, who must be treated with deference and modesty, Mr al Mubarak said.

"Something like this I think would be very useful, not only for Sudan, but for other countries as well."

A Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokeswoman said: "The thing is we do offer advice... about the need to be aware of local customs."

Providing courses was not part of the department's responsibility, she added.

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