A teacher from England was thrown into a Sudanese jail on Monday after being arrested for insulting the Prophet Muhammed when she named a classroom teddy bear after a student named Muhammed, CNN/Time reports.
Gillian Gibbons, 54, had only recently arrived in the Sudanese capital Khartoum to teach at Unity High School, an exclusive British-run school organized on Christian principles. Assigned to teach six and seven-year-olds, she asked them as a classroom project to dress up and name a teddy bear and keep a diary of his outings.
Debating what to name the bear, the children considered the names Hassan and Abdullah but overwhelmingly voted for Muhammed, the first name of the most popular boy in the class.
The naming of the bear didn’t raise much concern at first, but last week, parents from another class raised concerns with the school. On Sunday Sudanese police came to the school, where Miss Gibbons lives, and jailed her on blasphemy charges. The Sharia law was introduced to Sudan in 1991.
Robert Boulos, the school's director, said the incident had been blown out of all proportion but added the school would remain closed until January when the controversy will have hopefully subsided.
"This was a completely innocent mistake," he said. "Miss Gibbons would have never wanted to insult Islam."
He described the school staff's reaction to the police raid: "We tried to reason with them but we felt they were coming under strong pressure from Islamic courts," said Boulos. "There were men with big beards asking where she was and saying they wanted to kill her."
An angry crowd also had gathered at the Khartoum police station when she arrived there. Miss Gibbons remains in police custody.
Boulos said no parents or teachers initially complained. Miss Gibbons' colleagues feared a disgruntled staff member may have used the issue to cause trouble.
Most parents arriving at the school gates were supportive of the British teacher. One mother, whose seven-year-old son was in Gibbons' class, said her family had not been offended by the name. "Our Prophet Muhammad tells us to be forgiving," she said. "So she should be released. She didn't mean any of this at all."
If found guilty of blasphemy, Miss Gibbons faces either a public lashing or six months in jail.