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Lash those name-givers!

A few years ago, at a conference in the Middle East, I met a man called Mustapha (which is another name for the Prophet Muhammad). Interesting guy, Mustapha. Passionate about social justice issues, outspoken against Islamophobia, strident critic of Israeli occupation, a strong believer in equal rights.

But … someone needs to take Mustapha’s parents out into the street and lash them! You see, Mustapha’s family is Christian. And Mustapha himself is a Marxist and an atheist.

Following on the recent Sudanese decision about Gillian Gibbons, I have decided to start a campaign to evaluate the conduct of all Muhammads, Ahmads and Mustaphas (and any others who also have a name that was attached to the Prophet Muhammad). If any of them falls short in his general conduct (as well as those who happen to have decided to become atheists), his parents (or whichever relative gave him his name) should be taken into the street and flogged publicly.

This, really, is the ridiculousness of that Sudanese ruling.

Oh, and talking of that decision, what about the parents of the little boy whose name is Muhammad and who suggested naming the teddy bear “Muhammad”? Surely they deserve more than just a lashing for naming a son such as him with such a noble name! Lash them too!

By the way, we should organise a little vigilante force to find the parents of the president of Sudan (if they are still alive) and have them also lashed. How dare they give that insolent boy the name (Hassan) of the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad?! Actually, without giving it too much thought, I think the one Muslim I can quickly think of whose parents shouldn’t be lashed is the Pakistani general-ex-general-president. Now those were parents with foresight, naming their son Perverse (sorry Pervez).

If we consider the name-lashing thing to go beyond the Muslim community (as I suggested it should with Mustapha’s parents), then another set of parents I would regard as safe from the threat of lashing would be the mother and father of the Israeli prime minister. Omelette (sorry Olmert) is a really inspired name. Oops, scratch that. That won’t work; we are dealing only with first names here.


  • Na'eem Jeenah is the executive director of the Afro-Middle East Centre, a research institute focusing on the Middle East North Africa region. His latest publication (as co-editor) is 'The PLO: Critical appraisals from the inside'. His other publications include: 'Pretending democracy: Israel, an ethnocratic state' (editor), and 'Journey of discovery: A South African Hajj' (with Shamima Shaikh).


  1. Steven Friedman Steven Friedman 6 December 2007

    Congratulations to Naéem on an excellent post.
    For those who insist that religious intolerance is a Muslim preserve, please note that the state of Texas a few days ago forced an educationist to resign from public service because she circulated an e-mail informing her colleagues of a public lecture on Darwin’s theory of evolution. We can also be confident that the Rabbis who tried to get a pizza parlour outside Tel Aviv closed down because women were allowed in are dreaming up new assaults on freedom as we speak.
    Those of us who believe that religion and democracy are compatible have a tough task – posts like Na’ eems help to keep the fight alive.


    Mr Friedman,
    Good to have you on board!
    Please try and answer the multiplicity of questions that I have raised. Na’eem refuses to answer them. Perhaps you can ?

  3. Ebrahim-Khalil Hassen Ebrahim-Khalil Hassen 6 December 2007

    Shoo! The question that emerges is: Why is it that Muslim scholars must first pass some test of being a secular intellectual, before they can speak and be listened to? The test supposes a division between progressive and orthodox Islam, without dealing with the complexity of orientations and perspectives in Islam. That test means if you are willing to discard almost all aspects of your Muslim identity, then you are an intellectual with a free mind. I think that imperialism wins, because Muslim intellectuals must first pass that test. Is it not the same test G.W. asks Muslims to pass? Have some secular intellectual unwittingly become not someone speaking the truth to power, but a key cog in maintaining power? It sounds like some people have been listening to power, and accepting their view.


    Mr Friedman,

    You write:
    “Those of us who believe that religion and democracy are compatible have a tough task – posts like Na’ eems help to keep the fight alive.”

    For the record, Na’eem post dealt with Mo Bear. It was not a post about “religion and democracy”. Perhaps you were reading something else?

  5. John Savaga John Savaga 6 December 2007

    Dear Ebrahim

    Perhaps I have been pushing Na’eem too hard. I suppose I am trying to demonstrate the difficulty of working within a religious framework to translate that into a progressive worldview where religion is one way of looking at the world – a mere window but not the truth. The problem Na’eem faces is building a democratic tendency within religion that must confront those amongst his own who see religion not as something flexible, subject to context and religion but doctrine, absolute, to be taken for the letter and inflexible.

    How does one build within that framework the idea of the existence of plural truths and ways of seeing the world – where it is possible to be critical and where everything is not sacred but can be questioned, grounded through reason or context – it makes the life of a progressive champion of religion impossible. I agree with Friedman that intolerance is not a monopoly of Islam only – in fact I fear religious intolerance is growing. You just have to see the competition between US sponsored bible thumpers up North in Africa and saudi sponsored mosques and madrassas all trying to outdo each other. This is recipe for inter-religious conflict sponsored by missionary minded zealots who are playing the numbers game.

    I think progressives need to work together and especially progressive islam needs to join hands with other progressive forces to seek a just world. But at present their campaigns seem to be exclusive, limited in their reach and frankly finding it hard to appeal to other progressive interest because there are these incessant questions that never go away: questions about the application of archaic Shariah law, the rights of women, the treatment of non-Muslim minorities in Muslim majority countries etc. This is the burden he carries – his double jeopardy and hence his Lone Jack on Blog act.

  6. Ebrahim-Khalil Hassen Ebrahim-Khalil Hassen 6 December 2007

    John, you make a couple of interesting points, especially on building wider support. Islam must indeed answer all the questions it faces. The point I am making is who is asking the questions in the first place. The global discourse on Islam is dictated by the conservatives in the West. Progressive Islamic organisation have little difficulty working with other progressive organisations. The ones they have difficulty working with are those that come with the baggage that not only must Islam be reformed, but that they will set the agenda. Sometime back I wrote a blog post on Islamic charities and there attempts to make changes in their operations, and shifting towards sustainable development. I only raise this know because I think it shows that Na’eem is not alone.


    Both Jeenah and Midafo have attacked me personally and both should carefully consider whether they are breaching THOUGHT LEADER’S guidelines.
    For my part, I have always used polite language and believe that important issues should be debated without recourse to personal attacks eg’s Jeenah comment that I usually “write worse than a 12-year-old.”

    In the circumstances, I want to make it quite clear that I am not anti-Islam.


    Is MidaFo your pseudonym ? Some people have emiled me suggesting that it might be.
    Please set the record straight.

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