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Saudi Arabia: It's all in the name

It is common practice for converts to Islam to adopt Muslim names. But is it necessary – and what kind of name is appropriate? One Saudi blogger ponders the question, while some others are thinking about the use of aliases in the blogosphere – and yet another encourages the government to ‘name names’.

Zuhair asks whether you need to change your name when you change religion, in a post entitled ‘What if my name were Peter?‘:

سؤال يخطر على بالي حين اسمع عن تحول احد غير المسلمين الى الإسلام. ا ذاو ما يفعل بعد النطق بالشهادتين هو تغيير اسمه الى اسم عربي. ولا ادري كيف أصبح الاسم العربي هو الاسم الإسلامي؟ وهل لو احتفظ الإنسان باسمه الذي سماه أبواه سيكون إسلامه ناقصا؟ ولست هنا اتحدث عن الناحية الشرعية اذ اني لا اعرفها ولكني أتسائل عن الحكمة وراء تغيير الأسماء. وهناك امر اخر فبعض أسماءنا العربية هي ترجمة لأسماء مسيحية او يهودية مثل يوسف وداود وهي أسماء أنبياء بني إسرائيل ونستخدمها نحن المسلمون. فهل يعني ذلك اني لو ترجمت احد أسماء الحواريين لاستطعت استعماله؟
A question pops to my head whenever I hear that someone has converted to Islam. After declaring the Shahadah, the first thing they do is change their names into an Arabic one. I don't understand when Arabic names became Islamic. Does it also mean that if a convert kept the name his parents had given him, his Islam would be lacking? I am not speaking here from the perspective of Shari'a, which I don't know. I am just wondering about the wisdom behind changing names. There is also another issue. Some of our Arabic names are translations of Christian and Jewish names, such as Yousef (Joseph) and Dawood (David), which are the names of the Prophets of Bani Israel and which we use as Muslims. Does this mean that if I translated one of the names of the disciples [of Jesus] I could use it too?

Ali Al Omary wonders whether using a pseudonym online is a good thing:

يتخّفى معظم كتاب المدونات والمنتديات خلف أسماء مستعارة أو أسماء وهمية, وقد يمتلك بعضهم عدة أسماء يكتب مرة تحت هذا الاسم ومرة تحت ذاك!!!
وقد يعتبر البعض أن هذه الظاهرة ظاهرة شكلية لا يجب الوقوف عندها أو السعي إلى التخلص منها, وأنا لا أتفق مع هذا البعض, بل أرى فيها أحد أهم العوامل المتسببة في فقر الويب العربي وتدني مستوى التواصل والحوار بين أفراده.
صحيح أن التخفي خلف اسم مستعار, من شأنه أن يمنح المتخفي هامشا أكبر من الحرية والانطلاق دون قيود, إلا أنه سيضعف لديه الإحساس بالمسؤولية الأدبية, وقد يبدد من نفسه الطاقة التي تدفعه إلى بذل الجهد في إنجاز عمل ما بشكل جيد.
بالطبع؛ لا مانع من أن يكتب البعض تحت اسم مستعار حين يكون هنالك ضرورة تسّوغ له ذلك, أما أن يتحول الإنرنت إلى حفلة تنكرية, فلا أظننا سنعزز من وجودنا في هذا العالم بهذا اللون من الهرب الجماعي.
Many of the bloggers and commentators on online forums hide behind pseudonyms. Some of them may even have several names, and write under this in one post and under that in another!! Some may consider this phenomenon to be a superficial issue which should not be considered or reversed – and this is something I don't agree with. I think this is the one of the main reasons for the poor condition of the Arabic web and the low level of communication and dialogue between those who use it. While it is true that hiding behind a pseudonym gives the writer more freedom and enables him to write without inhibitions, it also diminishes his sense of literary responsibility and lowers his motivation in exerting energy online. Of course, there is no harm in some electing to write under pseudonyms when there is a reason for that – but I don't think we will be able to make our presence felt online when we all escape en masse and turn the Internet into a masquerade.

Meanwhile, the blogger Someone has decided that honesty is the best policy:

الأسماء المستعارة تمنح صاحبها مجالاً واسعاً من الحديث في كل شيء، فللمستخدم مثلاً أن يتقمص فكراً ويكتب بلسانه ويشارك وينتقد ، وهو لا يعتقد بشيء مما يكتب ويقول، ومن دون أن يكون لحديثه أثر شخصي عليه سلباً أو إيجاباً ، وربما تعرض كلامه للسرقة الأدبية من دون أن يكون له الحق في الاعتراض القضائي لأنه مجهول أساسا
Pseudonyms give writers the scope to write about everything. The user is able to adhere to a thought, write, participate and criticise, all the while not worrying about what he had thought and said, and without it having either negative or positive effects on his personal life. But his work may also be plagiarised – and he wouldn't have the right to protest in court because he is unknown to begin with.
…أما الأسماء الصريحة، فأول رسالة نفهمها حينما نقرأ اسماً صريحاً هي مسؤولية تحمل التبعات، وهذه مسؤولية عظيمة وخطيرة ، خصوصاً إن خاض المرء مخاض النقد ، فحالة المجتمع التي نحن فيها لا تسمح للناس بأن يفرقوا بين الكلمة وبين قائلها ، فكل ما يقوله يعود بشكل أساسي إلى شخصه. وكل النقد الذي يتفوه به المرء سوف تعود نتائجه في النهاية إلى رصيده الشخصي عند الناس حتى وإن كانت له سوابق تشفع له ، وهو ما يجعل علاقاته الاجتماعية في خطر محدق، بل في بعض الأحيان حالته الأمنية لن تكون على مايرام.
As for real names, the first thing which comes to mind when we read them is the responsibility of facing up to consequences. This responsibility is great and grave, especially when the blogger is criticising others. The society we live in doesn't allow people to differentiate between words and who is saying them. Everything a person writes will return to this person and every time he criticises something, it will be added to his personal record among people, even if has had precedents which excuse him. This leaves his social relations in danger and at times, his security may be threatened.
انطلاقاً من المسؤولية الفكرية للكلمة التي نكتبها، ومن قيمي ومبادئي التي تفرض على المرء أن يخوض مبادرة الإصلاح والتغيير في شتى الميادين، ومن منطلقاتي التي تنص على تحمل التبعات الشخصية لما أكتب من أفكار ورؤى وتقبل النقد حولها بصدر رحب ، ومن رؤيتي التي تحتم على كل ناقد الإفصاح عن نفسه وشخصه، حتى يؤدي نقده غرضه،
فإني أعلن التالي:

أولاً: تغيير اسمي المستعار “someone” الذي أكتب به التدوينات إلى اسمي الصريح : فهد الحازمي.
ثانياً: الإفصاح عن ما يمكن الإفصاح عنه في صفحة النبذة الذاتية، مثل النشأة والدراسة وغيرها من الأمور.
ثالثاً: إمكانية استيراد البعض من كتاباتي ومقالاتي المنشورة في مواقع مختلفة مثل الإسلام اليوم ومجلة العصر وفضاء الفضائيات وغيرها إلى المدونة مع إضافة تعقيبات وأفكار جديدة حولها.
رابعاً: يُبلغ أمرنا هذا إلى الجهات المختصة.

والله يستر وبس ، ويعيننا على تحمل التبعات.

Stemming from the intellectual responsibility we shoulder for the words we write, and from my values which decree that a person should initiate the process of change and reform in all areas of life, and my belief that a person should be responsible for the ideas he writes and able to accept the criticism he gets, and my opinion that a critic should reveal his name and personality to fulfil his goal, I declare the following:

First: I am changing my pseudonym from ‘someone’ and will write my blog under my real name: Fahad Al Hazmi.
Second: I am declaring what I can in my ‘about’ page, such as my upbringing, education, and other matters.
Third: I will try and retrieve what I can of my articles, which have been published on other sites, such as Islam Today, and update them with new ideas and add them to this blog.
Fourth: I would like the concerned authorities to know about those decisions.

And may Allah be able to protect me, and enable me to shoulder the consequences of all this.

And speaking of names, John Burgess, a former US foreign service officer who blogs about Saudi Arabia, comments on the importance of ‘naming and shaming’, in a post entitled ‘Time to Start Naming Names in Saudi Arabia‘:

There is a tendency in Saudi Arabia – as in most other Arab countries – to not air dirty laundry in public, even other people’s dirty laundry. Thus, we hear about crimes, but never about who committed them. … It was quite a shock, in fact, when the Saudi Ministry of Interior released names and photos of Al-Qaeda terrorists within the Kingdom in 2003, creating the first public ‘Most Wanted’ lists. If government acknowledges that crimes against the public have been committed, it does have a duty to inform the public that there are dangerous people about. It’s not enough to arrest them as the vagaries of the Saudi courts could very well mean that these people are out of jail and again committing crimes and the public has no warning whatsoever. Shame is a powerful tool in Arab culture. Governments and media should use it, when appropriate, to reach ends in the service of society.

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