Changing names is not mandatory when someone converts to Islam
BELOW is a conversation that I always have whenever I communicate in Mandarin with a Chinese:
"Wah, you can speak Mandarin!"
"Of course, I'm a Chinese," I replied.
"But why are you wearing a headscarf?"
That is usually the immediate response of a Chinese person I am meeting for the very first time in Malaysia. The reason for such a response is that, in Malaysia, Islam is a religion that is synonymous with the Malays.
When a non-Malay converts to Islam, it is as if he or she has also "converted" into a Malay and has lost his or her heritage. That is why we always hear of the phrase "masuk Melayu".
This misconception is so widespread in our society that when a person wears a headscarf, she is immediately labelled as a Malay.
Ironically, when a Chinese or Indian converts to Christianity or any other religion, there is no such perception of changing ethnicity. They are not perceived as switching to a "foreign" identity.
It is a paradox to even use the phrase "changing ethnicity" as one cannot change his or her ethnicity (as well as the DNA).
Different ethnicity is a way for humans to try to know each other, as stated clearly in the Quran.
What a convert does is to change religion. A person can change the religion that he or she is born with although it may not be a popular choice.
Ethnicity and religion should not be viewed as the same entity.
If Arabs and Islam are one entity that cannot be separated, then who are those Arab Coptic Christians living in Egypt; who are those Arab Christians living in Lebanon?
Even the number of non-Arab Muslims in Southeast Asia is much larger than Arab Muslims in the Middle East.
If Chinese and Buddhists are one entity that cannot be separated, then who are those 10 million Chinese Muslims living in China?
What about Indian Muslims living in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, England, Canada, America and South Africa, who have been Muslims throughout the ages?
It is also misleading to change the name of a convert if the name does not have a blasphemous meaning.
It is not an obligation to change the name to "... bin Abdullah" or "binti Abdullah", which literally means "son of Abdullah" or "daughter of Abdullah" (Abdullah -- servant of God).
This never happened during the time of Prophet Muhammad as Umar ibn al-Khattab, Uthman ibn Affan, Khalid ibn al-Walid, Salman al-Farisi, Bilal ibn Rabah and so on were not instructed by Prophet Muhammad to change their names after conversion.
Some famous converts also retained their names, such as James J. Yee, Malcolm Little or Malcolm X, Timothy Winter, Yvonne Ridley, Mike Tyson, Jerome Jackson and so on.
The prophet even strongly advocated against "changing" one's fatherhood especially after a verse in the Quran was revealed as meaning, "Call them (adopted sons) by (the names of) their fathers, that is more just with Allah" (Chapter 33, Al-Ahzab, verse 5).
The prophet further said, "There is no one who knowingly calls himself after someone other than his father, but he is guilty of Kufr" (narrated by al-Bukhari and Muslim).
The prophet also mentioned that "Whoever claims to belong to someone other than his father will be cursed by Allah, the angels and all the people, and Allah will not accept any deeds or excuses from him on the Day of Resurrection" (narrated by Muslim).
Changing a convert's name to "Abdullah" when knowing the real name of the father of the convert is an injustice to the convert.
It confuses the lineage of the convert and it may also cut the ties between the convert and his/her family.
The convert's father would be deeply hurt to know that his child had given up his name and he would blame the teaching of Islam though he does not know that this is not what Islam preaches.
The consequence is that the convert would have a difficult time with his or her family.
They might have difficulties accepting him or her as a Muslim. It would be difficult for him or her to carry out dakwah or convey the message of Islam to his/her family.
In conclusion, changing names is not mandatory when someone converts to Islam and changing religion does not equal changing ethnicity.
Religion and ethnicity are clearly two different entities that should be made clear to all Malaysians.
I am a Muslim and I am a Chinese. It is not that hard to accept, is it?