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Sudan Ecumenical Forum Questions Sharia for Non-Muslims

ICC Note

The recent case of teddy bear row raises a question of applicability of Sharia inspired laws on non-Muslims in Sudan .

By Wolfgang Polzer

December 4, 2007 (ANS) — In the aftermath of the teddy bear row the chairman of the Sudan Ecumenical Forum has questioned the wisdom of the Sudanese judicial system.

The Islamic Sharia should not have been upgraded to the state penal code applicable to all inhabitants of the North, according to the retired German Protestant church leader Gerrit Noltensmeier, who heads the forum.

As Noltensmeier told the German evangelical news agency “idea”, there are non-Muslim minorities in Northern Sudan . The fact that they are unfairly subjected to the Sharia is scandalous, said Noltensmeier.

The Ecumenical Forum, a platform for the churches and Christian relief organizations in Sudan , will discuss the teddy bear row concerning the British schoolteacher Gillian Gibbons at its next meeting in December. Noltensmeier emphasized the need for religious sensitivity in the Muslim world.

Islam is the state religion in Sudan . Of the 35 million inhabitants 65 percent are Muslims, 24 percent Christians and 11 percent animists.

Gillian Gibbons returned to the UK , December 4, one day after she was freed from jail in Sudan . She had been convicted of insulting Islam because she had allowed seven-year-old schoolchildren to name a teddy bear Muhammad.

This triggered outrage by Muslim extremists. The 54-year-old teacher was arrested November 25 and four days later sentenced to 15 days in jail. After intervention by two Muslim members of the House of Lords – Baroness Sayeeda Warsi and Lord Nazir Ahmed – the Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir pardoned Mrs. Gibbons.

She has repeatedly emphasized that she had no intention of insulting Islam. She had high respect of the religion, she said, and was treated well during her tome in Sudan .

After her divorce from he husband Peter, the teacher from Liverpool had been looking for a new adventure in life. In July, she went to Khartoum to teach at the private Unity High School .

The church backed institution was founded in 1902 as a girls’ school. It went co-educational in 1985 and has always been open to students regardless of their religious or ethnic background. The Anglican Bishop Ezekiel Kondo heads the school board.