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What is an “Islamic Name?”

What is an “Islamic Name?”


What constitutes an “Islamic name”? What is an “un-Islamic” one? This has never been clear to me, I just know that many Muslims around the world take on Arab names for some reason. But these names existed in pre-Islamic times, too.

Salaam alykum,

While we should be wary of equating Arab culture with Islamic dictates, the reality is that what defines an “Islamic name” is a two-fold process.

In the Arab world there are names that are ambiguous, like Ashraf, which can be used by either Christians or Muslims. Then there are names, like my own, Osama, which while not associated with The Qur’an explicitly, it is a name that Christian or Jewish Arabs would not use for their sons.

So there’s that.

Then there’s the simple issue of the fact that there are names of personalities in The Qur’an itself. Therefore Mariam, Yusuf, Suleiman, etc are all names that are derived from The Qur’an through this process. Names of Prophets who are held as prophets in Christian and Jewish traditions are also used by Arabs who are of those faiths, but, for non-Arab communities the use of the specific name “Ibrahim” versus “Abraham” would denote the relative Islamic nature of a name.

So, while a name like mine existed in pre-Islamic Arabia, the fact that it existed means little to whether it is Islamic or not, in that, those named Yusuf in pre-Islamic Arabia would have what is considered an Islamic name in non-Arab Muslim cultures, but in the Arab context it is the Arabic name for what English speakers use for Joseph.

So, on the one hand, there are names listed by The Qur’an which are in Arabic which define “Islamic names” for many non-Arab societies, but are simply the Arabic versions of names of shared prophets by Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Arab populations. Furthermore the names of the personalities named in early Islamic history, which do not have serious problems (i.e. Abu Lahab, for example) are considered part of this “Islamic pool of names” because of what they mean today.

In short, what is an “Islamic name” varies from place to place, and while names like Yusuf or Manaal can be used by various religious populations in the Arab world, at the same time, certain names (that are not specifically in The Qur’an) can be “designated” as names given exclusively to Muslims in the Arab world, again, such as my name.

So what defines an Islamic name is not clear because it matters what context you are speaking about, and also, what your definitions are. If an Islamic name is only one that Muslims use, then many names (again, Yusuf, for example) would make that difficult, but to many populations the name Yusuf is clearly Muslim, without question.

So it matters what you mean and what are your parameters. I mean, calling a kid “Christian” is not a very Islamic name, so it matters what you define as “Islamic” and from what cultural context and assumptions you are talking about.

I pray this reaches you and your families in the best of health and Iman, insha Allah.

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