BirthCert-Z

Naming conventions pt. 2

On the subject of names, one curious naming convention here has to do with converts to Islam. I don’t know what the actual rate of conversion in Malaysia is, but it is significant. I’m forever running into converts. My next door neighbor turns out to be an Iban convert. As you probably know, it is customary when converting to take or be given an Islamic first name. Although very common, it is by no means a requirement of conversion. Many American converts will simply add the Islamic first name to their existing name, like my friend Muhammad Steve, or never officially change their name at all. The only time Nabi Muhammad changed somebody’s first name was when it had an explicitly unislamic meaning, such as Abdul ‘Uzza, meaning the servant of the pagan god Uzza.
Anyway, here in Malaysia, many people believe or are instructed that they must drop their family names and take the last name “Abdullah” when they convert. This is a huge obstacle to conversion for many people. Even if they themselves are amenable to the idea, it is a slap in the face to the family that many interested in conversion are unwilling to do. There is no reason why a convert should need to do this. To my knowledge, Nabi Muhammad never changed a convert’s family name. The names of the Noble Companions of the Holy Prophet are replete with family names predating Islam, like Sayyidina Omar Al-Khattab or Sayyidina Othman Al-Affan, may Allah be well pleased with them.
If converts knew the circumstances under which it is necessary to add “Abdullah”, they would be even more resistant if not offended. It is in the case of bastard children. Muslim children born out of wedlock do not take their father’s name; there is no relationship between the father and child at all. In this case, the child will take the last name “Abdullah”. I don’t mean to say there is anything wrong with the name Abdullah or any stigma attached to the name itself. It is a beautiful name in its own right, and many children are given this name, which means the servant of God. Nabi Muhammad said that he was happiest when Allah Almighty called him by that name. According to Islamic spirituality, all people have eight true names, one of which is Abdullah. So far from being a scarlet letter, it is a veil of modesty cast over people coming from an unfortunate situation. But it does not apply to converts.