WASHINGTON (Map, News) – Little did Teddy Roosevelt know what a storm would one day break over the renaming of a bear carrying his name. Earlier this month, a British teacher working in Sudan allowed her pupils to name the class teddy bear “Muhammad.”
As a result, Gillian Gibbons was convicted of insulting Islam and sentenced to 15 days in prison. Sword-waving Muslim fanatics called for her death, but intervention by leading British Muslims resulted in her pardon this week.
Gibbons’ 15-day prison sentence is mild compared with what befell Mahmud Muhammad Taha, who was hanged for apostasy by the Sudanese government in 1985. His offense had been to call for a total revision of Shariah (Islamic law) to make it more liberal, peaceable and rational.
It is mild compared with the fate of more than 2 million Southern Sudanese (primarily Christians) who died in the civil war of 1983-2005, a war fought over the issue of the imposition of Shariah and the Arabic language by the Northern Islamic government on the predominantly non-Muslim, African peoples of the south.
What has befallen Gibbons is not simply the political machinations of the Sudanese government against the West. Nor is it the way-out action of a bunch of fanatics. Rather, it has a firm basis in Sudanese law, which is itself based on Islamic Shariah, the first source of legislation listed in the Sudanese constitution.
The situation is much worse in Pakistan, where Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code lays down a death penalty (now mandatory) for “whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him).”
The “Holy Prophet” is, of course, Muhammad, considered in Islam to be the last and greatest of a long stream of prophets, which includes Jesus. Had Gibbons been teaching in Pakistan, she would, according to that law, almost certainly have been sentenced to death.
Muslim leaders chant the mantra that Islam is a religion of peace, tolerance and equality. The 138 Muslim religious leaders who issued an “Open Letter and Call” to Pope Benedict XVI and other Christian leaders on Oct. 13 asserted that Islam and Christianity are both founded on love for God and love for neighbor, but this rings hollow.
Currently in a Saudi prison is a young woman who had been repeatedly raped by seven men at knifepoint. She was arrested for being in a car with a man not related to her at the time of the gang rape attack. She was sentenced to 200 lashes and six months in prison.
Today, global jihad in all its manifestations is a reality. Acts of violence, the suppression of non-Muslim minorities, the subversion and infiltration of systems — all are happening now in our world.
The time has come for liberal Muslims to stand up and to say no to an Islamic tradition that is at best medieval, with its outdated interpretations of the Islamic sources and truly to embrace principles of justice based on a distinction between religion and state, the separation of faith from political power, the rejection of all acts of violence linked to religion, and the reform of Shariah, that inherently discriminatory legal code that is so unjust to women, children and non-Muslims.
When is the naming of an animal not to be considered an insult to Islam? Naved Siddiqi, a spokesman for the Islamic Society of Britain, has intriguingly stated, “There is actually no law in core Islamic teachings which advocates punishing those who mock prophets or even God.”
On this basis, there should have been no death-sentence fatwa against Salman Rushdie for “The Satanic Verses” in 1989, no furor over the Danish cartoons in 2006 and certainly no punishment for the naming of a teddy bear Muhammad in 2007.
Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo is author of “Global Jihad: The Future in the Face of Militant Islam.”