The FAQ section is aimed at trying to answer some of the common questions: about Islam, that converts ask and basic fiqh (Islamic rulings) questions.
If you have a questions please contact us and we will get back to you as soon as we can inshaAllah.
Does a convert have to change their name?
Every Muslim has the right to a good name. Therefore only if a converts name does not have a good meaning does it need to be changed.
Most of the companions of the Prophet (upon him be prayers and peace) kept their names, out of the foremost - the rightly guided caliphs - Abu Bakr, Umar, Ali and Uthman only one changed his name. Abu Bakr's forename was 'Abd al-Kabah (Servant of the Kabah) which was a name synonymous with paganism. So the Prophet (upon him be prayers and peace) changed it to Abdullah (Servant of God). He did not necessarily change names because they were non-Arab, (although there does seem to be accounts that he did, at times, change names of non-Arab converts to Arab names). We do know that Māriyah (who was the wife of the Messenger of God, may Allah bless him and grant him peace) and her sister Sirīn, who were Egyptian Copts, did not change their names even though their names were not of Arab origin.
It makes no difference whether your name is Arab or otherwise, the only condition is whether it has a good meaning; for example, if someone converted having the name 'William' (from old German meaning 'protector') there would be no harm in keeping it. We find, even within the Pakistani community alone, many names which do not have an Arab origin. Many of their names are Persian or Turkish such as Farzana or Shahana.
Yet, it has become a custom throughout Muslim history for many who accept Islam to change their name, and in my humble opinion, I think it is a good thing. It attaches you to the Muslim tradition outwardly by taking on a name of someone who exemplified Islam in the past and thus it gives you something to live up and aspire to in the hope that some of the qualities of that name or that person, whose name you are taking on, will have an effect on your own character. From another angle, people in the community are generally more accepting and warmer to you if you have a ‘Muslim’ name.
Should one change one’s name legally?
That is up to you. It is not incumbent. Many do not change it because they think it will cause complications with past paper work, upset parents unnecessarily and also cause problems at the airport, especially in the current climate. However, there are people who have changed it either completely or by putting one’s original name before or after one’s Muslim’s name and have not had any problems.
Why do Muslims have to pray in Arabic all the time and not English?
Firstly it is important to make a distinction between the five obligatory prayers (salah) and supplication (du’a); salah should be performed in Arabic whilst du’a can be made in any language. Whilst certain etiquette's should be observed, in du’a, you can say whatever you wish and speak to God in a more personal way.
Perhaps the fact that salah needs to be in Arabic is one of the most striking signs of the position of the language within the religion of Islam; the two are intertwined. A brief study is enough to highlight the significance of this. For example; the word in English for reality comes from the Latin root ‘res’ which means thing; the equivalent word in Arabic, haqiqah, has the root ‘ha/qa/qa’, which is a name of God (Al-Haq – The Real). The two languages perspectives of reality are quite different, English sees reality as made up of things which you can touch and see etc. whilst Arabic sees reality as God. God is the absolute reality; our reality is merely contingent; the entire universe is dependent upon Him. The language of Arabic is always turning us back to Almighty God. There is much linguistic theory about the influence of a language on a people’s perspectives and indeed vice-versa.
To love God you have to know Him. One way of doing this is to understand His revelation to mankind – the Qur’an. Although a translation serves as a sort of crutch it in no way encompasses the entirety of meaning within the Qur’an. Any translator normally takes a relied upon commentary and translates accordingly, thus giving only one possible meaning. Recitation is an integral part of prayer which can only be in Arabic, for the Prophet (upon him be prayers and peace) said: ‘There is no prayer without the Fatiha (the first chapter) and another chapter with it’ [Tirmidhi]. Prayer is a means to reach God and for the same reasons why the Qur’an cannot be fully translated neither can the prayer. It is our responsibility to raise ourselves to understand the words of the prayer and indeed the Qur’an.
The Qur'an's eloquence is a proof of it's Divinity, which no translation can ever retain. Would Juliet's saying: 'What's in a name? that which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet.' have the same impact as the factual statement: 'What matters is what something is, not what it is called?' This eloquence is not only in poetic license, but also sound. The very recitation itself has made people weep despite them having no knowledge of Arabic. The Qur'an and the other elements of salah, recited correctly are a key to our very soul.
From a legalistic (fiqh) perspective the ruling that salah should be in Arabic is due to the words of the Prophet (upon him be prayers and peace): ‘Pray as you see me pray’ [Bukhari]. He (upon him be prayers and peace) performed prayer in Arabic at all times despite the ability to speak any language. This was the practice of His Companions and has been of all Muslims until the present day, it is something agreed upon despite the presence of many different languages amongst the early and latter Muslim communities - the Prophet (upon him be prayers and peace) said: "My Ummah shall not agree upon error," [Hakim].
This answer is in no way exhaustive and has merely been a brief overview of what I and my teachers know. What needs to be remembered is that sometimes the reason behind Divine legislation, especially spiritual aspects, are not always clear. It does not mean they are irrational, but rather rationality beyond our limited intellects; it comes from Almighty God whose Wisdom and Knowledge cannot be encompassed. For example, why is the Noon prayer (Zuhr) four rakats (cycles) whilst the Morning Prayer (Fajr) is only two? No one knows, but we follow it with humility because God through His Bounty has given us a means through which we can reach Him even if we do not fully understand the how’s and why’s of it. Islam literally means submission and it is part of the character of the believer to say: ‘We hear and obey’ [Qur’an: 2:285] and it is in so doing that meaning is unveiled, for God’s Messenger (upon him be prayers and peace) has said: ‘Whomsoever practices what he knows, God reveals that which he did not know.’ And God knows best.