Muslims, Toys, and Animals

Figure 1.--These teddies were a birthday present for a 12 year old girl in Tajikistan. I believe she caled them teddy. Source: William Ferguson collection.

We have a number of questions about toys in the Arab and wider Muslim world. We are especially interested in dolls and cuddle toys. Related issues are aditudes toward animals in general. We are also not sure if little girls play with dolls. There are religious prohibitions about creating human images. Apparently this has not been extended to dolls. Nor do we know if children are given stuffed animals to play with. The British term is "cuddle toys". And if so what animals. Teddies are a favorite in the West, but there are many other animals to choose from. We do not know if some animals are preferred in the Arab world. And we do not know if the children name their stuffed animals and if so what names are used. This would all be interesting to know. Hopefully HBC readers will be able to provide some insights. This will help us to understand the Sudan teddy affair.

Stuffed/Cuddle Toys

Stuffed animals appear to be popular in both the Arab and wider-Muslim world. As in the West, they seem to appeal to bth bys and girls. The Muslim world is quite diverse. We are not sure to what extent their popularity varied among countries. Nor do we know about the animals that were most popular. Teddies of course are favorites in the West. I am not sre that this is the same in Muslim countries. Like dolls, cuddle toys seem to have escaped the Islamic distate for depictions of people and other living things. We are not sure about nameing conventins. Teddies seem to have been commonly called 'teddy". A British teacher who has worked in the Muslim world tells us, "Yes Children in Tajikistan had cuddle toys and teddy bears, As they did in Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and Kuwait. Some children had quite large collections of them. One boy, Anvar, had a cuddle teddy that he hugged. He was 11 year old and I recall at that age taking my favorite toy car to bed."

Girls' Dolls

Dolls also seem to be very popular in the Arab and wider Muslim world. This is interesting because generally in the Muslim world, the productin of figurines or art wrk depicting the human form is frowned on and in some cases prohobitited. The Taliban for example rampages through Afgani museums and archives destroying art works and historic photographs. This of course was the exrteme, but except for Shia Islam (with it Persian heritage) sculpture, figurines, and art depicting people has been discouraged. As far as we can tell, dolls for little girls are an exception. A factor here may be the importance that the Koran places on motherhood and the family. The dolls we note are imported Western-style dolls, often from China. This means that many new do not come dressed in local fashions. We do not know to what extent Muslim girls historically played with dolls. Our British reader tells us, "The Kuwait girls were wonderful with their teddy's and dolls. I remember one girl was not doing her maths. She was holding her teddy. When I asked her why she was not working on numeracy she replied that her teddy 'needed feeding'!"

Boys' Action Figures

As in the West, boys in the Muslim world do not play with dolls. I am less sure about action figures that Western boys play with. One related toy does seem popular among Muslim boys--the transformer. This has become a major toy type among pre-teen boys in America and Europe. It is a relatively new item, appearing we think in the 1970s. It is a toy I do not understand at all, presumably because my boyhood came well before the 70s. I do not understand the fascination with these transformers. But they have great appeal to pre-teen boys. And this appeal appears to cross cultural divides.

Nameing Cuddle Toys

Our British reader tells us, "The curious thing I found in Kuwait was that the Teddy had not been given a name. It was known as Teddy. (Teddy in Kuwait would not have the context of a person's name as it does in America and Britain.) As far as I know the Teddy's had no name nor did the dolls either. That is expept the Bratt Dolls there is a group of them and these are already named. As far as I know the name would be the type of animal it was a Teddy Bear might have a name such as Cuddly Bear."

Pet Animals

Our British reader tells us about his exoeriences in the Muslim world, "Real pet animals had names. Parvina's pet cat had a name as does Anvar's pet dog. At Abrorhon's there was an old ill tempered guard dog. It was troublesome for stangers it would not let them pass - me included! The strange thing was an old woman tok it for walks and it never barked once. Then she died and so did the dog later."

The Koran and Amimals

Our tendency in HBC is to look at the Koran when assessing major issues concerning the Muslim world. There are of course a much wider body of Islamic religious worj, but the Koran is the core and it is useful to see just what the Koran says. Tere are several Koranic references to animals, although they are not discussed in great detail. These are the passages we have found. Muslims cncerned about the ethical treatment of animals cite other passages to prove that the Koran requires animals to be treated humanely, but this is through inference, not because animals are explicitly mentioned. And when they are mentioned it is more as parables for human behavior than a passage actually about animals. There are some interesting passages about the conciousness abd value of animals, This is presumably the basis for Islamic law (Shari'ah) concerning the rights of animals which are very elaborate and explicit. We do not note condemnations of animals. Rather the Koran appears to hold animals in high regard. Therecare interesting passages about wildlife. And the Koran does not condemn dogs.

The Koran and Depictions of Living Things


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Created: 12:40 AM 12/1/2007
Last updated: 4:48 PM 12/3/2007