By Ray Fleming
THE release from Sudanese prison of the English teacher Gillian Gibbons will have been received with general relief except in extremist circles in Khartoum which had pressed for her punishment for allowing one of her pupils to name a teddy bear Muhammad. One of the disappointing aspects of cases of this kind is often the reluctance of leading Muslim authorities to condemn the foolish actions of their followers. On this occasion, however, a strong voice came from Dr Yaqub Zaki, the Deputy Director of the Muslim Institute in London. In a letter to The Times he pointed out that the Prophet Muhammad had been an animal lover and might not have objected to having a bear named after him. He also roundly criticised “the apparent failure of the Sudanese authorities to realise how their actions not only visit discredit on their country but on Islam itself”. He added: “Regimes like the Sudanese and the Taliban have made a laughing stock of Islam as well as themselves, so that the Middle East is no longer Arabistan but Absurdistan.” Whether such outspokeness will meet with approval in Muslim circles in Britain and more widely is difficult to say. But in principle Dr Zaki's willingness to criticise extremists whose views and actions have little resonance among the vast majority of Muslims is to be commended. The silence that usually prevails in such circumstances leaves many questions unanswered.


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