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Ask A Muslim: Conversion and Changing Names

Ask A Muslim: Conversion and Changing Names

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By Maimoona Harrington

When you join Islam, why do you have to change from mother-given names to Arabic?

I am answering this question from my own personal experience. My husband is a revert — someone who converted to the Islamic faith — so some of my close relatives raised the concern that his name should be changed. 

This notion of name change is strongly believed and practiced in most Muslim cultures. Because this question was raised for my husband, I researched and found that, from a religious point of view, simply changing someone’s name after they accepted Islam is not mandatory. It’s not an obligation and is permissible, if desired.

However, there are a few exceptions to this. Name change is only required and recommended if it conflicts with Islamic teachings and has an inappropriate meaning. If the name is one of the attributes of Allah Subhanahu wa ta’ala (God), then it should also be changed. For example, a person can’t be named and called Al-Rahman only because Al-Rahman (Most Gracious) is an attribute of God. However, if the word Abdul (slave of) is added before Al-Rahman, then it’s acceptable to name someone Abdul Rahman, meaning “Slave of the Most Gracious.”

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