KUALA LUMPUR – Chinese Muslims converts are baulking at taking Malay or Arabic names upon embracing Islam, claiming the discriminatory practice forces them to abandon their culture and traditions.
Several Chinese Muslims in Malaysia are fighting for the right to keep their original names, in defiance of the convention of replacing their surname with ‘Abdullah’, in a bid to keep their culture alive.
“I will not change my ethnicity. I was born Chinese and I will die Chinese, I will not become Malay.
“I did not want to change my name to show that Islam is a universal religion for all nations, not just for the Arabs or Malays only,” the Malaysian Chinese Muslim Association (MACMA) Malacca official Lim Jooi Soon told the BBC in a recent interview.
Like Lim, several other Chinese Muslims view changing their names to include Arabic or Malay names to be unnecessary as they were adopting a new faith, not a new race.
“My name may change but my face remains the same. Here, Malaysians say that if someone converts to Islam it means they’re becoming Malay. If I did not change my name, then I remain Chinese,” Ting Swee Keong said, also having kept his Chinese name after converting to Islam.
Even the practice of celebrating Chinese festivals are at risk, Muslim convert Nur Caren Chung Yock Lan said, despite celebrations like Chinese New Year or Mooncake Festival not being rooted in faith.
“This cultural celebration does not go against Islamic law; the Mooncake Festival, the Dumpling Festival, the Chinese New Year celebrations, these are more cultural than religious.
“Judging from history when Saad Ibn Waqas preached in China, he easily accepted the culture since Islam did not kill the culture; the faith changed, not the culture,” she said.
Although the convention of changing an individual’s name when converting into Islam is not in Malaysian legislature, it is commonly practised by all Islamic authorities, the BBC reports.
Lim was the first Chinese Muslim in Malaysia allowed to keep his original name, a right he earned after battling Islamic authorities for five years.
“Five years to talk, debate and discussion, as well as showing strong evidence in favour of me keeping my Chinese name. After that, it made it easy for many people to embrace Islam,” he said.
“If he gets rid of his surname, it’s as if there is no contact with his family. My second name indicates which generation I belong to and my last name, which is my own, means headed for greatness,” he explained.
Although MACMA president Professor Dr Hj Taufiq Yap Yun Hin opted for a Muslim name while maintaining his surname and Chinese name upon entering Islam, he urged Islamic authorities to do away with this practice so that those choosing to embrace Islam can still keep their cultural identity.
“I have also asked the parties related to the registration of the religion that this practice be changed so that the ethnic Chinese are still able to maintain their personal name and their surname if they convert to Islam,” he said.