Is it permissible to give a person a nickname?

The Details of the Question
Is it permissible to give a person a nickname?
The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

There are some secrets that make Muslims approach one another and that maintain them as an unshakable power. They are generally at individual level but they directly interest the community and all Muslims based on the frequency of the relationships. This is believers approaching one another with compassion, treating one another with love and tolerance and showing respect to the honor and dignity of one another. These nice characteristics can be maintained when their opposites are abandoned.

Some of these characteristics are listed as follows: in the Quran:

“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...”1

Three issues are emphasized in the verse:

1. Making fun of people,
2. Man blaming and defaming himself,
3. Calling people by offensive nicknames.

Believers are asked not to call one another with bad nicknames, with the names that were made up. Ibn Jarir states that the nicknames forbidden by the verse are the nicknames that are not liked by the addressee. Accordingly, the words that remind of insulting are included in this prohibition. In that case, when a person calls his Muslim brother or when he talks to him, he should not call or address him with a name or nickname that he does not like. For instance, he must not use a nickname implying that a person is poor or an expression that indicates a person's disability.2

The Quran does not approve of people describing a person who was a sinner but repented from his sins by his previous mistakes. Some interpreters state that this verse was sent down when some believers called one another with the names and attributes remaining from the Era of Jahiliyyah.  

The following is stated in a hadith:

“A Muslim is the brother of a Muslim. He does not oppress, embarrass and humiliate him. It is enough as a bad deed for a Muslim to humiliate his Muslim brother.”3

In the explanation of the verse above, Fakhruddin Razi explains the following expression of the hadith: “It is enough as a bad deed for a Muslim to humiliate his Muslim brother.” If a person blames others by using words and nicknames that they do not like, he actually blames himself. For, he takes the place of the person he calls by bad nicknames.

It is necessary to pay attention to an issue here. The verse forbids calling others using unpleasant and bad nicknames. However, nicknames that are nice and that praise others are not forbidden. Elmalılı Hamdi Yazır mentions the following hadith about the issue:  

“It is the right of a believer over another believer to call his believing brother using nice names and nicknames.”

He states that Muslims are encouraged to give one another nice nicknames. Then, it is encouraged to call others using nice nicknames and giving them nice names.4

For instance, the Prophet (pbuh) gave Hz. Abu Bakr the nickname “Atiq” meaning “the one who was saved from Hell”, Hz. Umar “al-Faruq” meaning “the one who distinguishes between the truth and the wrong and judges with justice” Hz. Uthman "Dhun-nurayn (having two lights)"’ because he married two daughters of the Prophet, Hz. Ali “Abu Turab” (father of soil) and Khalid bin Walid “Sayfullah (sword of Allah)” and gratified them.

However, it is not forbidden to mention or call a person using a name that he will not be disturbed by in order to describe him easily. For instance, if there is more than one “Ali” in a group, we can call the younger one as “Little Ali” or “Ahmet”, who is a barber as “Ahmet the Barber”.

The point that needs to be taken into consideration regarding the issue is the emotional state of the addressee. His honor and dignity should be protected. If a person is disturbed when he is called by a nickname, it will offend that person to be called by this name; therefore, people should be careful about it. What is essential is “not to want anything that we do not want for ourselves for others”.

Footnotes:

1. al-Hujurat, 11.
2. at-Tafsirul-Kabir, 26: 85.
3. ibid, 28: 132.
4. Hak Dini Kur’ân Dili, VI/4470.

(Mehmed Paksu, Helal – Haram)

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