One of the many objectives of Shari’ah (Islamic Law) is to safeguard the concept of Tawhid (belief in the Oneness of Allah and that none but Him is worthy of worship/ monotheism) against misuse and to direct all mankind towards worshipping and serving Allah Alone, the very purpose for which they were created. So just because something is not shirk per se, doesn’t make it right or Islamic.
A means to shirk, not shirk itself
Names such as ‘Abd al-Nabi, ‘Abd al-Rasul, ‘Abd al-Mustafa, ‘Abd al-Masih (Messiah i.e. Jesus), ‘Abd al-‘Udhra` (Mary), ‘Abd ‘Ali, ‘Abd al-Husayn, ‘Abd al-Zahra`, etc., or any other name which implies enslaving a created being to another are impermissible (haram) in Islam and are a hallmark of deviant sects (such as the Rafidah Shia and extremist esoteric Sufis) who are drowning in ghuluw.
Such names involve excessive reverence of pious and prominent people, and therefore, impudence against the Right of Allah (Exalted be He), and a means to Shirk (associating others with Allah in His Divinity or worship) and transgression. However, such names do not denote major shirk and kufr in and of themselves (yes, many of those who hold such beliefs are certainly guilty of various forms of kufr and in some cases even shirk). There are nuances to this topic that shall be elaborated in this article.
“But isn’t the Prophet (ﷺ) called Muhammad son of ‘Abdullah son of ‘Abd al-Muttalib?”
It is impermissible according to the Shari’ah to change the name of your father and forefathers, even if one of them carried the name ‘Slave of Krishna’.
If a Hindu named ‘Pajeet Slave of Krishna’ accepts Islam, he can (and must, in case his name has any polytheistic connotation or a bad meaning) only change his first name. He cannot change his father’s name.
if ‘Abd al-Hussain Ibn (son of) ‘Abd al-Zahra` from Qom or Karbala leaves Imamism and accepts Islam/Sunnah and changes his name to Abdullah, he will thereon be known as ‘Abdullah Ibn ‘Abd al-Zahra`. He is not to be blamed for the heretical name of his father nor is it allowed for him to change it.
A Muslim has no right to change his lineage. The name of your father (no matter if good or bad) is part of your lineage.
In fact, one of the central aims (maqasid) that the Sacred Law came to preserve is lineage or family (nasab).
The Prophet (ﷺ) said:
“Whoever calls himself by other than his father’s name (or attributes himself to someone other than his father), will be cursed by Allah, the angels and all the people.” (Ibn Majah, 2599; see also Sahih al-Jami, 6104).
The Prophet (ﷺ) said in a famous hadith:
“I am the son of ‘Abd al-Muttalib”
It should be already clear by now that the statement of the Prophet (ﷺ) constitutes no problem for Ahl al-Sunnah, as he was simply clarifying to the mushriks that he is a man from a known lineage, from Shaybah Ibn Hashim (who was widely known as ‘Abd al-Muttalib).
Ibn al-Qayyim said:
“As for his saying ‘I am the son of ‘Abd al-Muttalib’, this is not intended to approve the use of this name, rather he was simply mentioning the name by which that person was known, and using a name so that it may be known who is being spoken about is not haram, and the exemption of the name of ‘Abd al-Muttalib, as mentioned by Abu Muhammad ibn Hazm, has no basis, as the Sahabah also called the tribes of Banu ‘Abd Shams and Banu ‘Abd al-Dar by their names, and the Prophet (ﷺ) did not denounce them for that. The issue of informing is broader than the issue of giving a name, so things are permissible in the former case that are not permissible in the case of giving a name.” (Ibn al-Qayyim, Tuhfat al-Mawlud, p. 79)
Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen said:
“The correct view is that it is haram to use the name ‘Abd al-Muttalib, and it is not permissible for anyone to name his son ‘Abd al-Muttalib. As for the words of the Prophet (ﷺ), “I am the son of ‘Abd al-Muttalib,” this comes under the heading of informing, not giving a name. The Prophet (ﷺ) stated that he had a grandfather whose name was ‘Abd al-Muttalib, but there is no report to suggest that he (ﷺ) named anyone ‘Abd al-Muttalib or that he gave permission to any of his companions to do so, or that he approved of naming anyone ‘Abd al-Muttalib. The discussion is about the ruling, not merely informing. There is a difference between informing and giving a name or approving. Hence the Prophet (ﷺ) said: “O Banu Abd Manaf”, but it is not permissible to give anyone the name of ‘Abd Manaf.”
“We are slaves as in servants of the Prophet and the saints/Ahlul-Bayt.”
On many Quburi (Rafidi and pseudo-Sufi) websites you will find arguments such as the following:
“‘Abd can mean ‘Ābid (a person who worships) and Khādim (a servant). When the word is related to Allāh, it has the former meaning and when it is joined towards someone other than Allāh; it has the latter (Khādim/Ghulām).”
Yes, one can justify all sorts of heretical names with mental gymnastics (or the misuse of a verse about actual slaves, as them by the foolish ‘Ayatollah’ above), however, it doesn’t make those names permissible, even if they don’t denote major shirk (they certainly denote ghuluw).
Based on the logic of the Quburis one could argue:
“There is nothing wrong with the name ‘Abd al-Ka’bah. Don’t be silly, it doesn’t mean I worship the Ka’bah. It simply means that I am a servant of it, I’d love to take care of it, like a khadim (servant).”
Yet we find in the Sunnah that the Prophet (ﷺ) never approved names for his companions that denote any form of ‘ubudiyyah (enslavement) to other than Allah. He (ﷺ) did not even make an exception for the house of Allah:
“‘Abdul-Rahman ibn ‘Awf said: My name was ‘Abd ‘Amr – or according to one report, ‘Abd al-Ka’bah – and when I became Muslim, the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) called me ‘Abd al-Rahman.” (al-Hakim, 3/306. Al-Dhahabi agreed with him)
The Prophet (ﷺ) even disliked it when people referred to their actual slaves as slaves:
“One should not say, ‘my slave (‘abdi),’ or ‘my girl-slave (amati),’ but should say, ‘my lad (fatai), my lass (fatati),’ and ‘my boy (ghulam).’” (Bukhari)
The tradition of the Sahabah and Ahlul-Bayt and their spiritual master, the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ)
Names such as ‘Abd al-Rahman, ‘Abdullah, etc. (scarce in Iran; only common in Sunni regions of Iran) were names that the Sahabah and Ahlul-Bayt and their students i.e. the Salaf gave their children.
In fact, even the heretical narrators in the books of the Rafidah i.e. the early Rafidah had a little bit of sanity left and abstained from names such as ‘Abd al-Husayn, ‘Abd al-Zahra`, etc.
Ja’far Ibn Muhammad (al-Sadiq) was known as ‘Abu ‘Abdullah, so was Husayn Ibn Ali and Salman al-Farisi, and many other companions and tabi’in. Thousands of them named their sons ‘Abdullah, ‘Abd al-Rahman, etc. – not a single one of them gave their sons names such as ‘Abd al-Rasul/al-Nabi/al-Mustafa. They clearly understood what the extremist Quburis from amongst the Rafidah and Sufiyyah don’t understand.
As for the Prophet (ﷺ) himself: it is proven beyond doubt that he prohibited any name that denotes any form of ‘ubudiyyah (enslavement) to other than Allah. He himself named one of his sons ‘Abdullah. Another one he named Ibrahim (not ‘Abd Ibrahim!).
Surely, Islam did not come to change the culture of ‘Abd al-Lat, ‘Abd al-‘Uzza, ‘Abd al-Masih, etc. with ‘Abd al-Rasul and ‘Abd al-Husayn.
Statements of the non-Najdi scholars
Finally, here are some statements of non-‘Wahhabi’ scholars who – unlike some scholars who were very lenient in this matter – clarified that it is not permissible to couple the quality ‘abd (servant) with a name other than names of Allah.
Ibn Abidin (Hanafi)
جاء في حاشية ابن عابدين (5/268) في تسمية الولد: بأنه لا يسميه عبد فلان
It was stated in ‘Hashiyah’ of Ibn Abidin that one should not be called Abd (slave) of so-and-so.
Ibn Hajar al-Haytami (Shafi’i)
– وجاء في تحفة المحتاج (4/295): وتحرم التسمية بعبد النبي أو عبد الكعبة أو عبد الدار أو عبد علي أو عبد الحسين لإيهام التشريك، ومنه يؤخذ حرمة التسمية بجار الله ورفيق الله ونحوهما لإيهامه المحذور
It was stated in Tuhfah al-Muhtaj (4/295) by Ibn Hajar al-Haytami that one should not be called ‘Abd al-Nabi (slave of the Prophet) or Abd al-Kabah (slave of the Kabah), Abd al-Dar (slave of the House), Abd ‘Ali (slave of Ali Ibn Abi Talib), Abd al-Husayn (slave of Husayn), etc.
Ibn Yunus al-Buhuti (Hanbali)
وجاء في كشاف القناع (3/27): “ واتفقوا على تحريم كل اسم معبد لغير الله تعالى كعبد العزى وعبد عمرو وعبد علي وعبد الكعبة وما أشبه ذلك، ومثله عبد النبي وعبد الحسين وعبد المسيح
Al-Buhuti mentions in his Kashif al-Qina’ (3/27) that there is an agreement on the impermissibility of any name which implies enslavement to anything other than Allah. He mentions names such as: ‘Abd al-‘Uzza, ‘Abd ‘Amr, Abd ‘Ali, Abd al-Ka’bah, and any other similar names, such as Abd al-Nabi (slave of the Prophet), Abd al-Husayn, Abd al-Masih (slave of the Messiah, Jesus).