Muslim-Americans go through grueling tests of faith and tolerance in a variety of situations including “random” security searches at airports and threats of desecration to our holy book. As devastating as these difficulties are, there is another nerve-wracking situation that nearly every Muslim encounters. It happens daily in classrooms, café shops, and sporting events, and it is ignited by a single question: “What’s your name?” Something so rudimentary as our name, our identity, can even be difficult for Muslim to convey.
I am immediately reminded of my transition to my new elementary school where, out of anxiety to fit in, I allowed my peers to call me “Hussan” as opposed to my real name, “Hossain” (pronounced Hoo-sane). In Arabic, however, Hussan (pronounced hoo-son) means horse. So one could imagine my mother’s- who only speaks Arabic -anger when a friend of mine from school called and asked if her son the horse was available.
From the young age of 10 up until this day, I have struggled with introducing myself. To my Muslim brother I am confidently Hossain, but to everyone else I am sheepishly either “Hussan” or the just-call me-whatever-name. The truth of the matter is that on January 1st of 1992, after hours of excruciating pain, my mother did not lovingly look down on her newborn son and say, “I will name you ‘horse’.” She named me with the intention that I would be a reflection of her love of Islam. She named me Hossain, after the grandson of the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), and that meaning is lost once we exchange our identity for acceptance.
So the next time someone asks for your name, confidently proclaim your given name regardless of how terribly your correspondent butchers it. Or else you, like me, may be unfortunate enough to one day have an incredibly awkward conversation with your mother on why her son is okay with being called an animal’s name.