Wednesday, June 9, 2010

My "Muslim" name.

“The search for knowledge is an obligation laid on every Muslim."
(Ibn Majah, Baihaqi).

I have thought about what to write about for a few days now, wondering where I was going to take my story next. I have written a lot about the ignorance of Americans in Islam, but it isn’t only the non-Muslims in the world who have ignorant views on Islam. One of the very first things I learned about Islam is always check what you are told about Islam. Sometimes people say things that have good intent, but in fact have no basis in Quran or Hadith. We must always check sources, take what we are taught to the next level and understand it to a complete degree, ask to see it in hadith or quran so you can better understand.

There are a few questions that are repeatedly asked to me when I meet a Muslim. I am always asked what brought me to Islam, which I never hesitate to talk about. Most questions never bother me. However the question, what Muslim Name will you take? Is a question asked out of ignorance. When I took shaahda I was told to start thinking about what my new name would be. When this happened I went to the books, researching. I wanted to see why the name changes occurred in the time of the prophet Muhammad (PBUH) so I began to look for name changes. Most of the companions kept their names when reverting to Islam. In fact, the only mention of name change I could find was when someone’s name had bad intent, for example, if you name’s meaning was the one who worshiped the sun, then you should change your name.

So my first reason that my name is Joshua Cooke

Joshua is the English version of Yusha.

My parents when selecting my name at birth gave me a “Muslim” name. They didn’t know it. I share the name of a great prophet in Islam Yusha, just a different form of his name. So the meaning of my name is has no bad intent.

My second reason for my name is Joshua Cooke:
Your Lord had decreed that you worship none but Him, and that you are kind to parents whether one or both of them attain old age in your lifetime. Say not to them a word of contempt or repel them but address them in terms of honor and out of kindness lower to them the wing of humility and say: "My Lord, bestow on them your mercy, even as they cherished me in childhood".
(Quran 17:23-24)
Indeed there was an occasion when Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) commanded a believer to care for his non-Muslim parents rather than participate in Jihad (holy war).
Abdullah ibn Omar relates: "Once a person came to the Messenger of Allah and expressed his desire to participate in jihad in order to please Allah. The Holy Prophet asked him "Are your parents alive?" The man said "Yes. Both are alive". The Holy Prophet said 'Then go and serve them well".
(Bukhari and Muslim).
And also:
Mu'aviyah ibn Jahimah reported, Jahimah came to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and said: "O Messenger of Allah! I intend that I should enlist in the fighting force and I have come to consult thee. He said "Hast thou a mother?" He said, "Yes." He said: "Then stick to her, for paradise is beneath her two feet.
I felt that it was important that my parents who are both practicing Christians should realize that I was not rejecting them, my upbringing or most of the things they held dear. It was simply that I had come to a new understanding of theology. Rejecting the name they had given me could really have been interpreted as being quite insulting to them, which in itself would be contrary to Islam. I am thinking here of the following ahadith:
"He, who wishes to enter paradise at the best gate, must please
his father and mother."
(Bukhari & Muslim)
One who cuts ties of relationship will not enter paradise.
(Bukhari, Muslim).
The Lord's good pleasure results from a father's good pleasure, and the Lord's displeasure results from the father's displeasure.
"Messenger of God, who is most deserving of friendly care from me?" He (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) replied, "Your mother." He asked who came next, and He replied, "Your mother." He asked who came next and He replied, "Your mother." He asked who came next and He replied, "Your father."
(Bukhari, Muslim).
Indeed according to one hadith, Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) states that showing kindness to parents takes precedence even over striving in the cause of Allah:
"Once the Prophet was asked: 'Tell us, which action is dearest to Allah?' He answered: 'To say your prayer at its proper time.' Again he was asked: 'What comes next?' Mohammed said: 'To show kindness to parents.' 'Then what?' he was asked, 'To strive for the cause of Allah!' "
(Ibn Masad, Bukhari)
In my case, I felt that abandoning for no good reason the very name given me by my loving parents would have been straining the ties of relationship, creating displeasure and certainly not indicative of showing kindness to or taking friendly care of my mother and father.

My third reason my name is Joshua Cooke:

A majority of the reason I was afraid of Islam before becoming Muslim is simple. It was alien; it was the religion of the Arabs in the Middle East I thought. Of course we know this not to be true; it is the region of all humanity. Most “Muslim” names are simply names from the regions of the Middle East nothing more. So by not adopting a “Muslim” name I can show others that it is a religion that is for the western world as it is for the eastern world. The following excerpt from an article on Islam written by Andrew Marr in the liberal British Sunday newspaper, The Observer, in January 1999 illustrates just how difficult most westerners find it to relate to Islam, even those who like to pride themselves on being open-minded and unprejudiced. Marr writes:
Here is a movement which declares its undying opposition to Western liberal values; whose militants engage in terrorism; which dreams of a huge, sprawling Islamic community or 'umma', recreating the days of greatness of the early Caliphate. It has adherents round the world.
It looks and sounds alien. Alien is not a word this newspaper approves of generally. But for a Western liberal, it has a literal truth when applied to Islam: I can see my fellow human, the Muslim, and touch, and talk of many things. But there is a thick, impenetrable mental bubble between us.
As Muslims we should be breaking down the barriers! Let Islam, the truth spread. It is the fastest growing religion in the world, in spite of some Muslims who are uninviting to new Muslims and in spite of Muslim who create an alien world for westerns to see Islam as.
On a completely different note, I do understand adopting new names after reverting for some, the symbolic new birth, which I respect. These are simply the reasons I have kept my given name. But please, if you feel I am wrong in my analysis of Islam or can show me something I have not seen yet, please do.


  1. Salam brother,

    You raise some very good points. I myself have adopted a 'Muslim' name, though I have not changed my legal 'English' name (which incidentally is derived from Latin), and I still keep my 'ethnic' name. And then there is my second 'Muslim' name which is customarily bestowed on initiation into a tariqa, thus I may be known by up to four different names!

    So basically, I have the opportunity to utilise a different name for each differing contexs.

  2. Salam Joshua,

    I agree with you in stressing that Islam should not be arabicized. The key is the meaning of the name. In some cases, we take arabic names because of the meaning. For example, my birth name Steven, means 'crown', which of course there is nothing wrong with. However, the name Abd. Lateef has a much more beautiful meaning with more spiritual overtones. Furthermore, we should not be afraid or ashamed that Islam is a tradition that does stem from the Arabic language, being the language of the Qur'an. That is why many Muslims, like me I think, feel the desire to keep our birth names, but also adopt Arabic names, both for 'spiritual' reasons as well as the acknowledgment of our common tradition. It's a good issue for discussion though. Thanks. wassalam