Call me Mo!


NOT long time back, I was with a group of friends where I saw a new trend that provoked me to write this article. This is my opinion, and I know some, if not many, may view it differently, with each reader having differing views. Like a trending hashtag in Twitter catches the eye of people this phenomenon of trending ‘nametag’ too caught my eye, and maybe others too.

Some may see it as a growing problem while others may not see it as a big deal. But the fact that it is taking roots is a cause for concern for me. I am talking about the rash of nicknames that are now being bandied about displaying a type of identity crises that some people are facing. They have allowed a sort of cultural invasion by dropping or overriding some of their Islamic values. They think that these values have an expiration date and it is time to take on new ones that go with the new trend.

The writing of this piece became necessary when in the gathering I saw a friend of my friend who believed that he’s a trendsetter! This person, like me, had studied abroad on a scholarship and whom I met for the first time in this gathering. We do not know each other but we have a friend in common. The friend brought him over to be introduced, when, as is the norm, I asked him his name. It was his response, however, that left me gaping for a moment. He chirped, ‘My name is Muhammad but you can call me Mo’.

The sentence did not register instantly. Confused, as I did not understand what he meant by Mo, I asked him ‘Mo’ as in what? He retorted that it was the short name for Muhammad, and that’s what he wanted people to call him in the US. I looked at him with a smile thinking that he was joking, and ribbed him about it. To which he said that he goes by the handle of Mo in the US. Then it sank in that he was not joking.

In one breath, I asked him what was wrong with his name? And why do you want other people to call you Mo, instead of Muhammad? To which he languidly replied that it was common in the US to have nicknames. If someone’s name was David for example, they shout at him Yo D, or for Chris they shout Yo C.

I know it was not my business but like I said I was perturbed, when I asked him, why do you think that such a beautiful name like Muhammad should be abbreviated to Mo? Muhammad is the name of our beloved Prophet, peace be upon him, and in no way should it be abbreviated to anything. Another friend, hearing our toing and froing, joined the conversation saying that it is common in the West if they find difficulty in pronouncing a name that they ask him what he likes to be called. There are some people from the Far East Asia who take on American names because they believe that their names would be difficult to pronounce. Personally, I told them with respect to the spelling, what Mo likes to call himself sounds more like ‘Moe Green’ in the famous mafia movie ‘The Godfather’!

In my line of work when meeting with foreign diplomats, I noticed that very few of them call themselves with Arabic names. When I asked them (the ones using Arabic names) whether these were their given name or did they change it when they converted to Islam? To both the questions, their answer is no, adding, they use Arabic names to easily communicate with the locals. This practice too I disagree with anyway, for it is just a reverse culture invasion.

This incident also brought back the memory of the Saudi man I met at the airport who was speaking to his children in English believing that Arabic, the language of the Holy Qur’an, is not as important as English, which is more international and easy to communicate. In another case of lingual distortion many of our youth, especially those who have studied abroad, combine Arabic with English when communicating, leaving a mish-mash that’s sometimes non-comprehensible while in other times sounds ridiculous.

I have read many opinion articles and investigative reports about protecting one’s identity and ways to prevent unneeded foreign influence, but seriously, I ask, what indeed has been done to ensure that our identity is protected. We all know that television, Internet and people traveling abroad play an important role in exposing people to other cultures.

I maybe exaggerating, and I hope I am, but there are many people out there who are negatively influenced and they in turn affect others. And if unchecked we would be checking out what is our identity! It is even worse when a father passes on this unseemingly nouveau trend, knowingly or unknowingly, that do not pass muster in our culture to his children. Other cultures too are suffering similar invasion and they have taken serious steps to stop the bad influence from creeping in.

Weakening or losing ones identity takes many forms and abbreviating one’s name, just because it is cool in the West, is one of them, even if it is too small a point to be taken note of or not that important. If it starts with someone who likes to abbreviate his name, or start giving himself nicknames like rappers, then I don’t know what will be the next step. Remember, all it needs to a start a huge fire is a spark.

The writer can be reached at Twitter: @anajeddawi_eng