The Name of Our Fathers

An issue Hebrew Muslims face when they first come to Islam is the changing of their names. There is so much pressure to fit in and be just as Muslim as you can. The only template you have at that time is the group giving you the message and calling you to Islam. This is a very special time as you are being introduced to the Deen. But, this can also be where you are losing something too, even though you may not even realise it.

The only template that you will have at that point is the one presented to you by those calling you to Islam. Therefore you will naturally model your acceptance and how to be a good Muslim based on the example in front of you. If that example reflects your particular circumstance, cultural and historical background then it will be more suited to you as an individual. But, if your historical journey, cultural needs and current circumstance are not reflected it may be imposing on you cultural norms that are unsuitable or even damaging to you.

Virtually all of the tribes that came in to Islam after the death of the Prophet g were pagan with idolatrous customs and worship.  The names they carried were reflective of their pagan beliefs. When the blessed Prophet (saw) came across these names from amongst the believers he would order them to change their names to ones that reflected tawheed or at least did not offend against tawheed. Names which were not idolatrous he did not order them to be changed but left them because names and lineage were deemed essential by Allah (swt) and were to be maintained. Even the Prophet’s (saw) adoption of the his servant boy, Zaid bin Haritha (ra), whom he loved dearly and adopted as his own son was not enough of a reason for Allah (swt) to allow the Prophet (saw) to change his name. The Prophet (saw) was chided for attempting to change Zaid’s (ra) name away from the names of his fathers.  So, this gives us a very strong basis from which to question the whole idea of changing our names when we accept the blessed Muhammed (saw) .

Hebrew names were virtually all biblical either being the names of prophets or other biblical characters. Therefore all the names would have been Muslim. No one will dispute that the names of the prophets are Muslim names therefore it would be considered ignorance to ask someone named after a Hebrew prophet to change his name. Also, there is the other issue of changing names that are the names of our fathers. The names of your tribe and lineage were considered so highly important that Allah (swt) did not allow the blessed Prophet (saw) to change them with the only exception being in the case of shirk.

Muslim does not mean Arab just as when the Arabs were still deep in jahiliyya with no wahy Banu Israel didn’t mean Muslim either. If Allah (swt) wanted to make everyone Arab he would have done so but in His infinite wisdom he decided not to. The pressure to give non-Arabs Arab names is not from the sunnah and the changing of the names of your ancestors goes against Allah’s (swt) explicit decree, except in the matter or shirk. It makes perfect sense to change the names of your tribe if it was pagan with pagan names.

It is time we, just like other tribes, keep the names of our fathers and keep the names given to us by our parents that were biblical, changing them makes no sense when they are Muslim names that reflect your tribal identity. Other tribes have no problem keeping their tribe names and there never seems to be an issue when they, rightly, do so. The only difference is the cultural dislike of anything from Banu Israel which has nothing to do with the Quran and the sunnah. Banu Israel has a right to be just as proud of their lineage as any other tribe or nation. Our forefathers were prophets of Allah (swt) and brought tawheed therefore our names and history should be something we equally hold on to. We are ordered to remember our history in the Quran and the favours we received which are unique. One of the favours we duly received was our lineage and the fact that we are the descendants of prophets therefore changing our names especially when they are the names of prophets would seem to go against both the Quran and the sunnah.

The removal of the pressure to adopt Arab names and culture would remove a key obstacle to calling more Hebrews to Islam. Many non-Muslim Hebrews see the cultural aspects of the Muslim community, whether that be Asian or Arab culture, as being integral parts of the Deen itself when in fact these cultural aspects are nothing to do with the Deen. It would go a long way in breaking down the barriers to dawah to the Hebrew community if they did not feel pressured to get rid of their identity in favour of a foreign identity when it is totally unnecessary and their identity was already based in a monotheistic culture.

Many Hebrews have lost their direct family names due to the trans-Atlantic kidnap. Many of the family names we have are foreign not indicating lineage but the first names our parents gave us are usually biblical therefore we should keep them as a sign of identity. But, the tribal names we had before we lost them were sub-tribes and sub-sub-tribes while our nation and main tribe name was Israel. Could we technically use this as a tribe name or surname, yes definitely, do we have to, no. But, it would be no coincidence that we would be ascribing to the name of our forefathers just at the time we are returning to Islam as was predicted in the biblical text.

Islam has never been the imitation of the Arabs or any other tribe but it is the submission of one’s true-self to his or her Creator. Therefore the Hebrew should not seek to imitate another tribe in order to come closer to Allah (swt), Islam does not require it, but only seek to master his or herself by spiritual purification of the heart and the refinement of one’s character. This is done by obeying Allah (swt) and following his blessed Messenger (saw).

Your identity is an essential part of you and your name is a key part of your identity. Celebrate who you are by keeping your identity by not changing your names for the names of other than your fathers.