On Muslim Names: Rebuttal of Harold Rhode’s “Would You Name Your Kid Sword?”

Harold Rhode wrote an article claiming that the naming practices of Muslim parents reflect Muslim societies’ violent nature.

The article of course has no statistics to back up Harold Rhode’s assertions. What percentage of Muslim children receives these names?

There are are inaccuracies of translations. For example, fath فتح is also the term for spiritual insight. Hence the name Abu al-Futuh أبو الفتوح (“possessor of spiritual truths/insights (plural)”).

Saleem/saliim سليم is also “healthy, whole.”

Rhode’s analysis of Qutb قطب is particularly inaccurate. It literally means the highest point, and metaphorically it means the pinnacle. How that becomes “polarizing” in Rhode’s mind is a complete mystery to me.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which represents a tiny fraction of the worldwide Muslim population and is ironically propped up by the USA, does have that emblem on its flag, I’m sure the entire world feels peaceful looking at the the Great Seal of the USA with those symbols of peace, the eagle and arrows.

Even the word jihad does not mean, as Rhode implies, the idea that the child must fight wars until everybody in the world is a Muslim.

I don’t know Turkish, but the term sulh in Arabic صلح (“treaty, peace agreement”) seems to appear in the Kemalist phrase.

I think one factor that makes this comparison difficult is that Arabic is a much older and better preserved language than English. The ancient Arabs did choose names which reflected toughness or harshness as a quality which would either ward off jealousy or intimidate enemies in an environment of tribal conflicts. Interestingly, the Messenger Muhammad صلى الله عليه و سلم gave new names to some of the early Muslims who had such names. In fact, there’s a saying attributed to the Messenger Muhammad صلى الله عليه و سلم that the truest of all names are Al-Haarith الحارث (“the sower”) and Hammaam همّام (“a worrier.”)

But back to the point about Arabic being older than English. So in historical eras where people did not imagine things like international law, rulers often bestowed titles upon their helpers such as “Sword of the state.” Since Arabic has preserved its lexicon longer than English, contemporary Arab parents (or non-Arab Muslim parents who often use Arabic names for their children as well) may be choosing names based on historical figures or because they sound good or because the child’s mother’s favorite uncle had that name.

English-speaking parents in the US probably do the same thing, and their names, if you actually traced them linguistically and historically back to the pre-modern era, probably have militaristic connotations as well. It’s just that those links are much more difficult to trace in English than in Arabic.

Apparently, and ironically, Harold, the name of this post’s author, is one of those names.

One other thing. It’s hard to make complete sentences in English without using military analogies. “Let’s cut to the chase.” “I’m not retreating from that position.” “The high school baseball team started its campaign.”

Don’t we have enough political problems around the world without exacerbating conflicts with claims of cultural problems?

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