Friday, October 3, 2014

A Muslim by Any Other Name

Asalamu Alaykom,

I used to have an All-American name.

When I took shahhaddah, I felt that I was really done with it.  I changed it to "Yosra" which was an Arabic name that my Muslim man and I had picked out.  The reasons for choosing "Yosra" had more to do with how it dovetailed together with his name than about religion.  At the time, I didn't even know it appeared in the Holy Quran.  Getting a new name was a kind of re-birth---a re-packaging of the NEW AND IMPROVED ME!

I am Yosra and "yes" that's my legal name.  I paid my money and I have it on all my documents.  I carry around my official name change decree when we visit government offices in Egypt (just in case there's an issue about it somewhere).

I've been Yosra since February, 2003.  My mom, who gave me my beautiful birth name, stood up in court on that day and said that she was aware that I wanted to change it.  It's part of the legal process.  That must have been hard on her---as a LOT of my life has been hard on her.  May God forgive me and reward her.

I had thought that I could change my whole name when I married but NOPE I couldn't.  You can only change your last name.  I didn't have a problem changing my first name but that last name was an issue.  That day we were to pay for a marriage license, I actually sat stupefied in the waiting area mulling over what I should.  Something just felt mixed up.

What would have really helped was some Islamic guidance but because I was with a non-practicing Muslim man who was not forthcoming.  At this time, I had already been married and had given up my maiden name (my surname or family name).  I was trying to build a future but I had another man's family name still pulling me into the past.  That felt wrong but it was the same last name as my kids from that marriage had.  I liked being connected to them---if only I could keep our connection without being connected to the ex.

Should I go back to my maiden name now that I was no longer a maiden?

Should I take the family name of my new husband?

I actually told my man that we had to go.  I couldn't think any more.  So despite having taken a number and having waited for our turn, I gave up our spot in order to think clearly.  I would be "Yosra" but Yosra----What?

I talked it over with my dad.  I had already given up the name, he reasoned, so the deed was done.  No need to feel badly about it now and going backwards.  He thought that I should just move forward.

Here's one of the problems reverts face:  we get council from all over God's green earth, because that's what we're used to doing, but we don't go to God.  Yes, the answer was there but I didn't know I could find it so I didn't look.

Islamically, a woman is ALWAYS part of her family; it's part of her identity.  She doesn't lose her self when she weds.  Now, someone try to tell me that feminism is a Western ideal.  No way!

We did go back to that government office and take another ticket to wait in line.  I was a bit shocked.  The previous week our ticket number had been 322 and I had remembered it since the number 22 was our special number.  I even kept the ticket!  Now, I was looking, once again, at 322.  Subhanallah.  What were the chances?  I took it as a sign that God was with us---and of course God always is.

Sadly, I did sign off to change my last name once again.

I would now trade my easy-to-pronounce last name for a new chance at family life.  When I married that November, I became All-American First Name + Unpronounceable-Arab Last Name.  Three months later, I went to court to become Yosra Unpronounceable-Arab Last Name.  

On paper, I now looked like I was from the Middle East not the Midwest.  Little did I know, the month after the change, I would be out of a job and searching for employment with that name.  I'm sure you can all imagine how well that went.

Four years later, our marriage ended.  Divorce is never easy but it is harder for a woman who has given away her name.  What should you do?  Keep a name from a family that no longer considers you kin?  Give away a name that your child has?  This time, on my divorce decree, I signed away my foreign moniker and went back to my Scottish roots.  I was now Yosra American-Last-Name.

I liked it.  I saw me better for what I was:  I was a mix but no longer mixed-up.  Although I was Muslim, I was never Arab!  I could never be Arab on paper and Anglo in person.  I liked that my name represented the full circle of my life.  I had started in one place but ended up another; I had made choices; I was dynamic.

I vowed that day that I would NEVER give up my family name again and I haven't.

In 2010, I married here in Egypt and kept my family name.  Ahmed, who observes his faith, never even considered that I would change it.  That's a big positive difference.


As for my first name, I learned after a year of having it how beautifully "yosra" was used in the Quran.  I have come to embrace its important for my faith and to slough away the other reasons that once were tantamount in my mind.

Letting go of what you once held dear is part of coming to Islam.  Staying in Islam necessitates reflection, realization and recollection of who you really are.


My Own Fairytale said...

To be honest,i never understood
the name changing thing of converts. (except when you a have a name with a bad meaning)
Yes your life changed, but your past doesn`t change anymore.
But ofcourse everyone should do what feels good for them and makes them happy.

Helen van Mierlo said...

Awh, very true and a great lesson. I haven't changed my name either, because I felt that I was becoming a muslim, but not an Arab, so it wouldn't fit me.

You know, it's very good that you kept your last name, because I've recently discovered this :)

'' It is not permissible for a human to attach lineage other than his father. Allah says “Call them (adopted sons) by (the names of) their fathers, that is more just with Allah”, and stern warning has come regarding changing the lineage to other than father. And based on this, it is not permitted for a woman to change her lineage after marriage to her husband as is done among the Kuffaar and those who imitate them from amongst the Muslims. With Allah is guidance and peace and blessings of Allah be upon our prophet.''

The Permanent committee of Scholarly Research and Ifta: Shaykh Bin Baaz, Shaykh bin Uthaymeen and Shaykh Naseerudding Al Albani.

Yosra said...

Asalamu Alaykom FairyTale,

I tend to understand others because I'm very sensitive. I won't always agree with the choices but I always find a way to understand. It's a bit of a burden to be getting into the minds of others on a regular basis! On the plus side, it helped me with acting, and currently it helps me with interpreting literature and teaching middle school kids.

I didn't detail all the problems I had leading up to Islam. I know them and, at this point, I don't feel the need to share them. I felt really sullied by Dunya---and not all as a victim as too much of it was by my own actions.

That feeling of not being clean causes us to change things. We change our clothes; we change our hairstyles; we change our homes; we change our religions. No, I didn't have to change my first name but I really felt a need for new. I was so used to changing my name---I had used four different variations of my given name throughout my life. I was used to being called something else through theatre. I really didn't feel that the name change was as impossible as it might seem to others.

Thank you for being honest and saying that you didn't understand. Hopefully, with my additional comments here, you can get into my mind a bit more and accept that I had my reasons.

Asalamu Alaykom Helen,

Nice to hear from you. I do count on my readers to add some quotes in comments because I tend to leave them out. What I write all comes from the knowledge I've gained through studying Islam but I rarely give the tenets to readers. Thanks for your help.

Love and Light to both of you!

Marie Pop said...

I gave up my family name when marrying. And I have to say it's quite hard for me now, as I am nearly divorced. My son as his dad surname. That's fine. As for me, I keep using my maiden name. I feel it's part of who I am. I am sure now that I will never change it again. It's part of who we are and I definitely think all this "taking the husband name" is nonsense. It makes me think that by marrying we become somebody else, like we are losing ourselves.
I like the idea that women would be free to keep their names.