During a recent trip to North Africa to visit my in-laws, I began to notice a subtle but super irritating trend in the way that all of my interactions with Algerian women seemed to be going.
Them (imagine it in Algerian Arabic dialect): “Oh salaam alaikum! You’re American? Oooooh mashAllah! What’s your name?”
Me (with a big smile, excited to meet someone new): “Wa alaikum salaam! My name is Ashley.”
Them: “No, no, I meant your real/new/Islamic/Muslim name!”
Me (big smile fading): “Ummm….My name is Ashley…”
Blank stares and uncomfortable silence all around the room.
My Husband: “Oh but she really likes the name Asmaa!”
Them: “Ooooh, nice to meet you Asmaa!!”
And this happened pretty much every single time I met someone new. Some just got confused when I told them my name was Ashley, but some just outright refused to call me by my name until my husband stepped in and explained that I also like the name Asmaa. Which is technically true, I do like the name. I like it for my husband or my close friends to call me that. But when I meet a stranger and they refuse to use the name my mother gave me, I am actually a bit offended.
To imply that my name, the name I have used to identify myself my entire 23 years on this earth, is somehow invalid, not real, or that I am somehow less “Islamic” by using my American name is not OK with me.
I am a Muslim. My name is Ashley. Therefore, Ashley is my Muslim name.
After all, Aisha, Asmaa, Khadija, and many others are just Arabic names that happened to become Muslim names when their owners converted. And don’t get me wrong, these women were all amazing examples to be named after. But I’m not (named after them that is).
This is something I see a lot; there is so much pressure on converts, sometimes seconds after they have said their testimony of faith, to change their names. As if their Islam is somehow not valid unless they have an Arabic name. As if the only way to be a full, real Muslim is to start calling yourself one of the various popular Muslim names.
The actual ruling on this? It is 100% not necessary, unless your name means something bad. The only examples of the Prophet (pbuh) telling someone to change their name when they converted was when their old (but still Arabic) name had a negative connotation or meaning (or if it meant something forbidden in Islam). Abu Bakr was Abu Bakr (ra) before and after Islam. Same with Umar (ra), Khadija (ra), Aisha (ra), and countless other companions.
So if there are people putting pressure on you to change your name, gently remind them that Ashley (or Lily, or Bridget, or Kaitlyn, or Elizabeth, etc.) is a Muslim name.
And if you are the one putting on that pressure, please do realise that converts have a lot of other things on their plate, and may need a bit more gentle support and a bit less of a to-do list, especially if they have a beautiful, lovely name in whatever their culture and language is that does not need to be changed just on the basis of not being Arabic.
Until next time,