Short Answer: No! You do not have to change your name, and we don’t even recommend that you do. Islam is for all people, not just Arabs with Arabic names. In fact, this name change to an Arabic name that does not sound familiar to people will confirm the misconception that Islam is an Eastern/Arabic religion, not an international message and it will alienate the new Muslims from their own family and people, which is not good for the sake of da`wah (call for Islam).
Salam (Peace) Dear Bailey,
Thank you for your questions and for contacting Ask About Islam.
Despite the fact that the issue of names is not a core issue in Islam but rather a peripheral one, I think that bringing it up opens a very important subject, which is the issue of language and Islam.
Islam did not come for Arabs only
Yes, God Almighty chose Arabic to be the language of the final revelation He sent to humankind, the Quran.
However, Islam, as a way of life, does not assume that every Muslim is Arab or even Arabic speaking.
The Quran Is Only The Quran In Arabic
In the Shari`ah (Islamic Law), the only words that all scholars require to be in the Arabic language is the reading of the Quran in the daily Prayers.
And this is because every translation, as you know, is a sort of interpretation.
And given the sacredness of the Quran—being God’s word itself not just a paraphrase of it— accuracy is required.
Therefore, a translation is not enough because there is no sentence in one language that is absolutely equivalent to a sentence in another language.
The choices of words will always be dependent on how the translator understands both languages. Even a literal word-for-word translation is not going to be accurate, either.
Of course, new Muslims are allowed to read Al-Fatihah (the opening surah of the Quran, which must be recited in every Prayer) in their language until they are able to learn it.
However, all Muslims should try their best to learn the Arabic language so that they have their own first-hand experience with the word of Allah (the Quran) without interpretations.
Other than the reading of the Quran, every nation should go about its life in its own language.
Changing Your Name Is NOT Required Or Advised
Regarding the name change for new Muslims, according to the tradition of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) it is not required Islamically, except in the following two cases:
- If the name implies a form of disbelief, like `Abd-ush-Shams (the slave of the sun) or Saint Clare, etc. I would suggest that people keep the part of their names that do not contradict with their Muslim belief. For example, `Abd-ush-Shams should be changed into Shams, and Saint Clare should be changed into Clare, etc.
- If the name implies a form of aggression or is a shameful name (according to one’s culture). The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) asked a few companions to change their names, such as Harb (which means “war”) and Sa`b (which means “difficult”), etc.
Some new Muslims, however, consider the matter of changing their name a mark in their lives between one stage (before Islam) and another (after Islam).
This is something that is totally according to the individual.
However, in my view, I think that new Muslims should not change their names.
What is the difference between Iman and Faith, David and Dawud, Rose and Zahra, etc?
In fact, this name change to an Arabic name that does not sound familiar to people will:
- Confirm the misconception that Islam is an Eastern/Arabic religion, not an international message.
- Alienate the new Muslims from their own family and people, which is not good for the sake of da`wah (call for Islam).
What Steps To Take In Order to Convert
Regarding your question about logical steps for conversion, it is actually just one step: To declare that there is absolutely no god but One and to declare belief in all His Messengers, including the final one, Muhammad.
A person who witnesses that there is no god but One and that Muhammad is His Messenger is immediately a Muslim.
Then starts a new life of Islam (submission to the One and Only God), which requires the new converts to learn how to lead their lives as Muslims (those who submit to the One and Only God).
A major step on this new road of submission to the One and Only God is to learn how to pray.
The ritual Prayer (salah) is a pillar of Islam that all converts should concern themselves with the moment they choose to submit to the One and Only God.
I hope this answer is satisfactory, and if you have any more questions, please do not hesitate to send us again. Thank you again for your questions, and please keep in touch.
(From AboutIslam’s archives)