Conversion and Name Changing at Gun Point – Valid?

While driving today, I heard a piece on NPR’s Day to Day program. Steve Centanni the Fox News reporter that was kidnapped while in Gaza said he did not know enough about Islam to know if his conversion was valid or not but that his captors seemed to believe that it was.

Behrooz Ghamari-Tabrizi, a professor of sociology and history was the Islam “expert” (I would like to know how they find these people) on the program. He correctly claimed that both of the journalists’ conversions were invalid and that in order to convert all one needs to do is to say the shahada of their own free will and may even say this in seclusion without witnesses.

The professor mistakenly claimed that a person that converts to Islam must change his or her name. It never ceases to amaze me just how many non-Muslims and Muslims, converts or otherwise, also believe that one is required to say the shahada in a masjid, with witnesses, and change his or her name.

One is not required to say the shahada in front of witnesses or in a masjid. When I converted to Islam, I said my shahada in front of my computer screen reading the transliteration off some website. About two years afterward, some sisters asked me how I took my shahada and when I told them, they asked who were my witnesses. I told them that my witnesses were Allah and the two recording angels and they were shocked.

They immediately called the nearest masjid and asked the brother who answered the phone and he told us to come after asr so I could take my shahada. So after asr salah, I took my shahada for the second time with three sisters and two brothers behind a curtain partition present. The brothers then advised me that I needed to learn al-fatiha and begin praying which of course I already knew as I had been practicing for 2 years prior to that.

I have not changed my name and do not intend to but I do have a “Muslim” name which I generally go by in the Muslim community which was given to me by a brother I met on the bus because he said that was his little sister’s name and I reminded him of her. He also was under the impression that I had to change my name and so he gave me that name because I couldn’t decide on one for myself.

That “Muslim sounding” name kinda of just stuck because it is easier for most people to pronounce than my given name but I am thinking of telling the Muslims in my community to just call me by my original name from now on.

I hope this does not cause any controversy or people questioning or worrying about my iman. Iman is firmly implanted in my heart and manifested in my actions. I like the name my parents gave me which has no negative connotations whatsoever.

People calling me by two names causes confusion and since I do no intend to legally change my name I would like the simplicity of keeping my name the way it was before I converted to Islam. Although, I do not mind people calling me Muslim Apple while online.

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Author: Ify Okoye

Muslim woman, RN, & rebel with a cause.

4 thoughts on “Conversion and Name Changing at Gun Point – Valid?”

  1. Asalaamu Alaikum;

    Thanks for visiting my blog! (Underwater Light) 🙂 I, too, have kept my original name and in truth, most of the converts I know have done the same. No one’s ever given me grief about it, alhumdillah; I’ve only ever known one sister who had to change her name because of the meaning of her given name.

    When I first converted, I thought you *had* to change your name because doing so was so much in vogue back then (1999/2000). But it really didn’t take me long to figure out that really wasn’t the case & that I much preferred the name my mother gave me to any other that I might use.

    Getting most people to call me by my name was fairly easy; getting my husband to do so took nearly five years! He’d only ever known me by my Muslim name. These days he tries to get away with calling me by my kunya (UmA1), which is generally a failure because I don’t usually realize that someone’s said the “Um” part of “UmA1”. I just hear “A1” and think my son’s the one being called. Poor Mr. Husband. 😉

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