Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

Muslim Surnames

Our neighbour from two doors down- the one who gave us the planter- is known to us as Mrs Bibi. There are lots of Mrs Bibis in this part of the world. 

Bibi is an honorific not a surname.  Benazir Bibi means something like Miss Benazir.  

So for a person to be called Mrs Bibi is a nonsense. Somewhere back down the line an uncomprehending official made a silly mistake.  

Why does our neighbour stand for it?  I've been researching Muslim surnames all morning and getting more and more confused. There seem to be no fixed conventions. If I understand my sources correctly, the purest tradition- the one that goes back to the prophet- is for everyone- male and female- to have a personal name followed by the name of his or her father. It's a system of labelling that guards against inadvertent incest- and very sensible too.  Ahmed's son is called Muktar Ahmed and Muktar's son is called Hanif Muktar and so on.  But in reality things are far more complicated- and practice varies from place to place and clan to clan. One thing that emerges fairly clearly is that the surname as westerners understand it-  a badge of identity, honour and pride that passes down the family from generation to generation- just doesn't exist in Islamic cultures. 

And I suppose that's why my neighbour isn't bothered. You want two names to put on your form? Here they are- Benazir Bibi. And if you choose to interpret the second as a surname who cares?
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