One of the most personal and recognizable parts of your identity is your name. From the moment you are a child until the moment you die, you are referred to by your name. Yet strangely, for most of us, we did not choose our name. Our parents gave us our names and yet most of us accept this wholeheartedly.
Are names the exclusive property of religions? This post will discuss one of the most common things Exmuslims are told: “Change your name you aren’t Muslim anymore”
Many of the great names of Islam are pre-Islamic. Names such as Omar Al-Khattab, Abu Bakr, Khadijah, Aisha, and so on. Even Mohammad, the prophet of Islam, and Abdullah, his father, their name are pre-Islamic names.
Let’s look at the famous names of Christians. Matthew, Mark, John come to mind. There’s also Adam, Joseph, Jacob, and so on.
One of my best friends’ name is Matthew. He is atheist. My roommate at university was John who was atheist. I have coworkers whose names are Paul and Ben who are atheist. Do you think any of them were asked to change their names because they don’t believe in Christianity?
There are hundreds of non-Muslims who have Arab-sounding names such as Khalid. People who live among Muslims may name their children with Muslim sounding names, such as my mechanic who grew up in Indonesia but was actually Buddhist.
Children are given names for several reasons. They may do it out of respect for a famous or historic individual (ie Muhammad), because of the meaning of the word (ie Zahra which means flower), or for a variety of other reasons. Sometimes they are given a name just because they like it and its common in their culture. My father named me out of respect for his best friend.
Exmuslims, those who leave Islam, even if we choose not to be associated with Islam, whether we were religious or not, we still lived Islam for many years and have a connection to the Islamic culture and identity. We have a unique experience that is not captured by just “atheist” or “agnostic”. We have a common shared experience that only someone who was Muslim would understand.
With Jews, this is far more common. Many of my friends tell me that when they tell Jewish family or friends they are atheist, they will get a response like “Oh but you are still Jewish. They are okay with being Jewish and Atheist at the same time. Many of them see “Jewish” as a cultural reference. Ali Rizvi also coined the term “The Atheist Muslim”, which is the title of his book. It reflects this dynamic of being from a Muslim background while disbelieving in the dogma of Islam.
Can you imagine if we had to change our names on leaving Islam? Having to tell everyone that your name is now different? And then when they ask you, having to explain your family, to your coworkers, to everyone that you know that you are no longer following the same religion? Oh, my name is no longer “Ruqayah”, it’s now “Susan”. From now on, call me “Susan”. Say what?
You don’t have to justify your name or even the choices you make in life to anyone. It’s your own life and the decisions are your own to make!
There’s no need to abandon your name when you leave Islam any more than there’s a need to abandon your name when you accept Islam. Only small-minded individuals think this way. It shows the pettiness of certain Muslims that they would even suggest such a thing. Names are not the exclusive property of any religion and nobody should EVER feel obligated to justify or explain their choices in life. It’s your life. Live it. Own it. Be a boss!
And if you want to change your name, you are free to do so as well, under no obligation to anyone.
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