An episode of the British cartoon show “Fireman Sam” has been removed from circulation this week after a character on the show appeared to trip over a page from the Koran, Islam’s holy book, causing a public outcry.
The episode was first broadcast in October 2014 on Channel 5, according to the BBC, but because the piece of paper covered in Arabic text appears on screen very briefly, many people didn’t appear to notice what it was until very recently. However, a quick Twitter search indicates that some saw it as early as 2015.
The controversial scene comes a few minutes into an episode of the children’s TV show, with one of the cartoon characters slipping on a piece of paper. As the fireman falls to the ground, pieces of paper fly in the air — one of them from the Koran.
It wasn’t until a swarm of people caught wind this week and voiced criticism that the production firm Mattel took notice and removed the episode.
“[I] have no idea what went through the producers’ minds when they thought this was a good idea,” tweeted Miqdaad Versi, assistant secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain.
The production firm also removed the episode from circulation and vowed to take steps to “ensure that this never happens again.”
Despite the public apology, Muslims remain torn on how this mix-up occurred in the first place and are unsure about whether it really was an innocent mistake.
“Was it a mistake or was it premeditated? We can’t know,” Asad Dhunna wrote for the Independent. “I believe in the benefit of the doubt and do genuinely wonder why, if someone was intending to cause offence, they would go to such lengths to keep it buried and then present it in such an obscure way.”
Social-media users also voiced similar sentiments:
However, the production firm has reiterated that it was an innocent error. “It’s just an unfortunate incident where someone from the production company thought they were just putting in random text,” a Mattel spokeswoman told the BBC.
Muslims revere the Koran. The holy book is the primary source of both spiritual and life guidance used by 1.6 billion Muslims around the world. As in all Abrahamic religions, there is a tradition in Islam of handling scriptures and holy books with proper etiquette and respect.
There are general rules that Muslims must follow while handling the Koran. It is widely known that the Koran should never be placed on the floor because it is considered disrespectful. That is why many people were confused and surprised to see a cartoon character apparently slipping on a page from the Koran.
The controversy comes at a time of rising anti-Muslim sentiment. As my colleague Adam Taylor has written, a recent poll by the Pew Research Center shows that unfavorable views of Muslims living in Europe have increased this year and organizations in Britain have reported an uptick in hate crimes and discrimination against Muslims.