March 21, 2005

Muslim Names

I've read a lot of silliness in the past few days on Beliefnet regarding whether reverts to Islam should adopt Muslim names or not. This person, who shall remain nameless - and who should know better, has claimed that "converts want to become fake Arabs, changing their names and donning Arab dress." In addition, this person has either intentionally or unintentionally misinterpreted my challenges to her posts, and so I address this topic in the clearest possible language.

  • Is it wrong for a revert to Islam to take a Muslim name? No.

  • Is it permissible for a revert to Islam to take a Muslim name? Yes.

  • Does a revert to Islam have to take a Muslim name? No.

  • Should the revert to Islam be encouraged to take a Muslim name? Yes.
  • There is no sin if a revert does not take a Muslim name, nor should reverts be pressured in any way to take a Muslim name; however, there is nothing wrong with encouraging converts to take a Muslim name either.

  • Is there a need for the Muslim ummah to encourage a "diversity" of names? No. Granted, there are many "Muhammad's" and "Ali's" around the world, but there already is a great diversity of Muslim names in use around the world. Encouraging "diversity" in Muslim names is a red herring.

  • By taking on a Muslim name, will a revert be considered a "fake Arab?" No. In my experience, the only people who equate all Muslims with being Arab are ignorant non-Muslims. (Only 18% of the entire Muslim population is Arab.)

  • Is Muhammad Ali (Cassius Clay) a "fake Arab" because he took on a Muslim name? No.

  • Is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Lew Alcindor) a "fake Arab" because he took on a Muslim name? No.

(I may add onto this list in the near future, insha'allah.

This argument strikes me as equivalent to saying "Chinese people cannot adopt English names; they may only use their given Chinese names." Which, if I told my told my Chinese colleagues and students (e.g., Pamela, Nigel, Louis, Kitty, Johnson, Eunice, Michelle, and so on) that, I'm sure they'd all have a hearty laugh.

A rose by any other name...

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