By definition, a name declares an identity – be it of a country, an organisation or an individual.
The Qurān and Hadīth also emphasise this point. Consider that Allāh has al-Asmā al-Husnā – the Best Names. When a name helps define or declare who someone is, surely the Greatest of all would have the Best Names. Another indication in the Qurān of the importance of names is that when Allāh conferred a son unto Zakarīyā ‘alayhis salām, He also conferred the name – Yahyā – as an additional mark of honour.
al-Imām Abū Dawūd narrates that when someone embraced Islām, but had an Islamically offensive name, Rasūlullāh صلى الله عليه و سلم would immediately change his name. This should be clear evidence of the importance of establishing our Islamic identity through our names.
A Muslim keeps a wholesome name
By adding ‘Abd in front of the Best Names, a Muslim proudly declares himself to be a slave of Allah, for example Abdul Khāliq. Whenever someone calls him, it is a reminder of his divine servitude. The Western habit of shortening names is most disturbing when Muslims omit ‘abd from these names. To call another person in effect “Creator, All-Knowing, the Absolute Truth” etc is impudence of the highest order and an insult to Allāh.
By naming our children after Prophets and pious men and women of the past, we hope to establish a role-model and wholesome guiding figure for the boy or girl.
A name with a good meaning is like a du’ā that the child, and eventual adult, acquires the good qualities embedded in that name.
A good Muslim name identifies one’s religion and facilitates easier connection with one’s co-coreligionists, especially when we live in the West.
Contrast this wholesome bounty of Islām with western naming practices. As long as a name sounds nice or a child is named after some family figure the western parent is satisfied. Consider how many Christian figures of the highest order are named “Mark” which means dedicated to Mars, the pagan Roman god of war. I personally know two Jewish Marks. Such apathy to the origin and meaning of a name is unimaginable to a Muslim guided by the Qurān, Hadīth and the ways shown by the pious.
Living in the West & Identity politics
An acquaintance recently reverted to using his pre-Islamic name. It is sad that he no longer wishes to be identified as a slave of the Ever-Victorious Allāh. I wish I knew why, but he is quite prickly over this issue and refuses to discuss why. When I vocalised the thought that he regarded an Arabic name as Arab/Asian imperialism he still gave no solid feedback.
Be that as it may, a Muslim living in the West faces tremendous pressure to assimilate and act western in all spheres. Some may not go to the extreme of changing their names, but identify themselves in such a way that it sounds, “cool and western” while still soothing their conscious that the “name” is somehow a Muslim name.
The argument goes that shortening names creates greater friendliness. Sure – as if your sense of friendliness, neighbourliness and hospitality exceeds that of the Sahābah ضى الله عنهم. Whatever the merits or demerits of any of our opinions might be, let us ask in all honesty why these nicknames are not only “cool and western” but also so designed that they can pass for being a Christian name?
- Why for example would you insist on being cool, Christian-sounding Joe or Joey? Is it so embarrassing to be identified with Allāh’s Nabī, Yūsuf ‘alayhis salām?
- Allah has praised in His Book a man called Sulaymān. Why is it that a Jewish sounding Solly appeals more to you?
- I hope, I really hope, that I do not have to explain the beauty of the name Muhammad. Why are you so averse to Muhammad and call yourself Moe – a name which to me evokes the image of a red-neck, pot-bellied, beer-guzzler? Why keep a name you intend to desecrate?
Spelling, Language & History
I would encourage Muslims to start a move towards standardisation of spelling of names for the simple reason that many people who do not know Arabic rely upon the spelling of a word for pronunciation and hence pronounce a name incorrectly. Incorrect pronunciation in a delicate language like Arabic can have disastrous effects. A good starting point would be the elimination of our colonialist-orientalist legacy of the letters e and o. Arabic has three vowels. Stick to a, i and u. Mohamed is so British Raj. Please use Muhammad.
When choosing a name a certain amount of knowledge is required. Consult someone with knowledge of at least Arabic, Ḥadīth, Tafsīr and history before naming your child. Whilst Amānī might be fashionable in certain circles, such parents should have been informed how the Qurān uses the word exclusively in reference to disbelievers doomed to Hell.
Again, if the Ummah were to take their effort to learn their history, Muslims of the Orient would not have named their daughters after Salmah son of al-Akwa‘رضى الله عنه. Similarly, Mumtāz and Kulthūm (even when mispronounced as Kulsūm) are masculine names.
Sālim (Saalim) was a common name amongst the Ṣaḥābah رضى الله عنهم. Salīm (Saleem) was not used as a name. I do not raise a question of permissibility or impermissibility, simply the point of which is more authentic and which was actually a name amongst the best of Muslims.
This kind of confusion is not exclusive to those of us living in the West. An Omani read a Ḥadīth about “Udayy bin Ḥātim.” I pointed out that whilst Udayy might be contemporarily more known due to Udayy, son of Saddām Husayn, the Ṣaḥābī was Adī, not ‘Udayy. Whilst he did reread the Ḥadīth, I got that patronising look which perhaps other western Muslims may have experienced – “whatever your lineage and studies might be, we know better than you by virtue of living in the Arab lands”.
When I mentioned this incident to an Egyptian, he brushed Adī aside as an extreme anti-Saddām concoction!
A lady questioned another Egyptian, a graduate of al-Azhar, about her name. Mehjabīn. With full confidence, and without even saying it might be, he declared to the lady that her name is a corruption of Muhazzabīn – cultured males (plural). I pointed out that Meh is Persian for moon and jabīn is Arabic for forehead. He was not happy.
Some recommended names
Here follows some names I have recommended in the past, selecting names of Sahābah which I think are not being used and should be revived. Without prejudice to what I have stated above, spelling here is simply for elucidation. As many people might not be familiar with these names I have spelt them in a manner which will I hope will clarify the pronunciation.
Atheelah -high born/ strong-rooted – Ansaari lady who pledged allegiance to
Rasulullah sallallahu alayhi wa sallam – at least 3 Sahaabiyaat had
Arwaa – most pretty – aunt of Nabi sallallahu alayhi wa sallam – at least 8 Sahaabiyaat had
Umaymah – little leader/little mother – verse 10 of Mumtahinah was revealed for her – at least 31 Sahaabiyaat had this name.
Barakah – blessings – only human to be with Rasulullah sallallahu alayhi wa sallam for full 63 years from birth to death – at least 2 Sahaabiyaat had
Bareerah – desert flower – slave-girl of Nabi sallallahu alayhi wa sallam – at least 2 Sahaabiyaat had
Jaleelah – majestic – 1
Hassaanah – extremely beautiful/good – friend of Khadijah – 1
Khawlah – gift – famous warrior lady – 32
Durrah – pearl – sister-in-law of Nabi sallallahu alayhi wa sallam
Rufaydah – little helper – first nurse in Islam, had mobile clinic at battles, hospital tent in Masjid Nabawi.
Rafi – lofty
Ka’b – prominant
Qays – intelligent
Miqdaad – good physique
Urwah – someone to hold onto
Mugheerah – warrior
Nuaym – pleasure; whilst naeem is an Arabic word it was never used by the early generations as a name. Nuaym was very common. Most famous Nuaym -Nuaym bin Amr al-Ghatfāni رضى الله عنه – read about Battle of the Trench.
May Allah grant the day when we shall purify ourselves of all Shiah influence such as the unspoken ban on the name Yazeed (increase). At least 31 Sahaabah had this name.