If it is a sin to call people names, why does the verse about Abu Lahab exist in the Quran?

The Details of the Question

- What is the place of calling people names in Islam?
- In al-Hujurat 11, people are commanded not to call one another names, but why did God call Abduluzza bin Abdulmuttalib Abu Lahab, the Father of Fire, in the chapter of Tabbat?
- Or why is Amr bin Hisham called Abu Jahl?
- If it is forbidden to call bad names, are those names not bad?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

The verse in question is as follows:

“O ye who believe! Let not some men among you laugh at others: It may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): Nor let some women laugh at others: It may be that the (latter are better than the (former): Nor defame nor be sarcastic to each other, nor call each other by (offensive) nicknames: Ill-seeming is a name connoting wickedness, (to be used of one) after he has believed: And those who do not desist are (indeed) doing wrong.” (al-Hujurat, 49/11)

There have been different interpretations of the word “nicknames (alqab)” mentioned in this verse. It is possible to list them as follows:

a) Calling a person by a nickname that reminds him of his old mentality even though he has become a believer. For example, calling a Jew who has become a Muslim “O Jew!”.

b) Calling a person by a nickname that reminds him of his bad behavior even though he has repented of his past sins: For example, calling a person who gave up drinking thirty years ago “Drunkard!”.

c) People’s calling one another “unbeliever, hypocrite”. (Ibnul-Jawzi/Zadul-Masir; al-Maraghi, the interpretation of the verse in question) 

The owners of the nicknames given in the question are unbelievers who were cursed by Allah.

The verse in question points out that it is not appropriate for believers to call one another such bad names.

It is possible to understand it from the phrase “O you who believe” at the beginning of the verse.

Similarly, the sentence “Ill-seeming is a name connoting wickedness, (to be used of one) after he has believed!” in the verse also indicates it.

However, it is not appropriate in Islam to call someone by a nickname in a way that breaks their heart because breaking someone’s heart is also a sin.

- The following emphasis of Badiuzzaman Said Nursi is also important:

“Q- Some Young Turks say: “Do not address Christians as unbelievers because they are People of the Book. Why should we not call unbelievers as unbelievers? 

A- Because we do not address a blind man as “O Blind!” Because it is regarded as persecution. We are ordered not to persecute: مَنْ اٰذٰى ذِمِّيًّا ilh....

Secondly: Unbeliever has two meanings:

The first and most recallable one is that it means atheist and denier of the Creator. We have no right to attribute it to People of the Book in this sense.

The second means the one who denies our Prophet and Islam. We have the right to attribute it to them in this sense. Even they will consent to it. However, it has become a word of insult and persecution due to the recallability of the first meaning by custom.” (Münazarat, pp. 33 - 34)

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