Content Notice for ableist slur in tweet screencap
“If you’re not a Muslim, then why do you have a Muslim name?”
Boy, do theists love them some cliche-as-all-heck “gotcha!”s or what? Well, so do atheists, but since there are more of them than there are of us, and I’m currently dealing with a fresh slew of smug believers on Twitter, let’s talk about name origins.
To start, my name isn’t strictly “Muslim”, per se. My first name is a version of the name “Hina”, as in “henna”, the orange-brown coloring people use on their skin, hair, and nails. “Dadabhoy” de-anglicizes into “Dada-bhai”; “dada” means father’s father and “bhai” means brother. There is nothing inherently Muslim about “plant-based dye, paternal great-uncle.” Less flippantly, in India, Dadabhoy is both a Parsi and a Muslim surname.
Setting my name aside, all names have origins. Some of those lie in mythologies in which no one believes anymore, like the Greek stories behind Chloe and Alexander. Some of them can be found in religions that still have living adherents, like Daniel or Rebecca. Many parents choose such names without intending to express their own faith, let alone the faith of the child, by doing so. That is why my friend Muhammad can be called that and still an atheist. That is his name regardless of its origin.
The genesis (wait, does it make me Christian to use that term?) for this is in a simple retweet. The other day, Hemant Mehta at The Friendly Atheist asked me my opinion on the criticism of Taslima Nasrin’s clearly-expressed distaste for being called a Muslim. Here is what I said:
I thought it was within Taslima’s right to self-identify as she pleases. I don’t like it when people call me a Muslim, either, in any context. I’m okay with being called a former Muslim or an ex-Muslim or from a Muslim community/family/background, but I don’t like my apostasy to be erased and minimized by being called a Muslim. I don’t believe in Islam and I don’t call myself a Muslim. By any definition, I am not, and neither is Taslima.
What the reporter may not know is that cultural Muslim can be a very different identity from ex-Muslim. There are people who identify that way who consider themselves Muslims and believers in Islam, but they don’t practice or believe in all of it, just parts of it. There are some former Muslims who also say they are cultural Muslims, but there are people who are the latter but not the former.
Her response was an honest one to being called something she’s spent so much of her life not being to great persecution and danger. Since I haven’t faced as much for being an apostate, I deflect with humor/sarcasm when someone calls me a Muslim, but I’m nonetheless pretty angry inside about those times.
My agreement with Taslima got a retweet from her. As a result, I’ve gotten people on Twitter calling me ableist slurs, among other things. This isn’t the first time this has happened, though. Hardly. Being in a New York Times story and debating a Christian apologist means that people who believe that their pro-theism arguments are unique and special seek you out to tell you all about why you’re wrong.
It’s all very “Believe in God Again Using This One Weird Trick!” and is frankly incredibly condescending. I was once a struggling theist and I majored in philosophy. Not only have I heard all this before but also, as an undergrad, I debated the heck out of it with smart people who have gone on to seminary. That any rando off the streets thinks that he (and it’s almost invariably a “he”) has the magic words to bring me around is pretty pathetic.
But they keep coming at me, so I’ll keep making my points. Using my true, legal, full name. I’ve made it mine over the years, and it’s not going anywhere.