Naming people or things after Mohammed and Jesus.

Answers to your questions about the news.
Dec. 3 2007 6:09 PM

When Can Muslims Use the Name Mohammed?

Plus, why don't English speakers name their children Jesus?

On Monday, Sudan's president pardoned the British schoolteacher who had been jailed for allowing her students to name a teddy bear Mohammed. What are the official rules for naming people and things after the prophet?

There aren't any; the subject of Mohammed's name doesn't appear in the Quran or in the hadiths, the prophet's sayings. But Mohammed is so venerated that worshippers all know to use his name in a respectful way. Proper etiquette excludes giving the name to objects or to animals, though broadly speaking, it may not go against Islamic principles to name a business after the prophet. According to the hadiths, deeds are judged based on a person's intent, so whether an act is an insult ultimately depends on motive.

Advertisement

In some Muslim countries, almost all males take a religious name, either Mohammed or one of the prophet's other names, Ahmed, Mahmoud, or Mustafa.  Out of reverence for the prophet and also out of practicality, men and boys named Mohammed often go by another first name instead. * In Egypt, the ubiquity of these compound names caused a major administrative problem in the mid-20th century, when the government introduced bureaucratic processes to manage state benefits. An Egyptian male's full name traditionally included his given name, followed by his father's and grandfather's names. If each of these relatives was called Mohammed-something-else, then the names simply grew too long and unmanageable. The practice of having compound names was banned in Egypt in the 1980s. *

Bonus Explainer: How come English-speakers don't name their children Jesus? In observation of the commandment against misusing God's name, English and American Protestants have historically taken a more conservative view on religious names and reserved the name Jesus for the son of God. In England, Mary was considered too sacred a name for common use until about 1300, and it wasn't until the past 100 years or so that naming a baby after an angel ceased to be sacrilegious. Around World War II, many Protestants started giving their sons names like Michael and Gabriel; before then, the bearers of those names would have been identifiable as Irish Catholics or German Lutherans.

On the other hand, Jesus has been a common first and last name in Iberian countries since at least the 14th or 15th century. For many Catholics from Spanish and Portuguese cultures, naming a child is considered a way to honor God rather than a violation of a commandment. (Similarly, Catholics differ from Protestants in their interpretation of the commandment against worshipping images.)

Got a question about today's news? Ask the Explainer.

Explainer thanks Cleveland Evans of Bellevue University, Mohammad Fadel of University of Toronto, Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid of the Council of the Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, and the Rev. Thomas Weinandy of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Explainer also thanks reader Amelia Showalter for asking the question.

Corrections, Dec. 14, 2007: This article originally said that people in the Middle East don't call out "Hey, Mohammed" to friends on the street because the name is too sacred. That is incorrect. (Return to the corrected sentence.)

The article also said Egypt banned the practice of having compound names about 50 years ago. The ban was instituted in the 1980s. (Return to the corrected sentence.)

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola

Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.

Why Are Lighter-Skinned Latinos and Asians More Likely to Vote Republican?

A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 12:29 PM A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

Subprime Loans Are Back

And believe it or not, that’s a good thing.

It Is Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

How Ted Cruz and Scott Brown Misunderstand What It Means to Be an American Citizen

Divestment Is Fine but Mostly Symbolic. There’s a Better Way for Universities to Fight Climate Change.

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 22 2014 6:30 PM What Does It Mean to Be an American? Ted Cruz and Scott Brown think it’s about ideology. It’s really about culture.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 22 2014 5:38 PM Apple Won't Shut Down Beats Music After All (But Will Probably Rename It)
  Life
Outward
Sept. 22 2014 4:45 PM Why Can’t the Census Count Gay Couples Accurately?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 7:43 PM Emma Watson Threatened With Nude Photo Leak for Speaking Out About Women's Equality
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 22 2014 9:17 PM Trent Reznor’s Gone Girl Soundtrack Sounds Like an Eerie, Innovative Success
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 6:27 PM Should We All Be Learning How to Type in Virtual Reality?
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 22 2014 4:34 PM Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.