My BFF Mariam is currently undertaking a creative writing course, something I wish I’d always done given that I sort-of fell in to writing, like I fall in to every thing! Any way, one of the first tasks her group were given was to write about their names! Given that my BFF has such a beautiful name, she had an abundance that could be potentially covered in the article! I was so excited by this that part of me wanted to write it for her! But then, I got to wondering if my readers might be interested in how I acquired my own name! After all, as a convert, you’ll appreciate that I didn’t start out as Roshni! Its strange for me too, because although I obviously put some thought in to this, part of me has never spent any real reflecting time on it till now (Yeah I know, there’s a pattern here!).
My given name, or Christian name, as chosen by my parents, was Ruth. They also gave me 2 middle names: Isabel, and Emily, (the names of my maternal, and Paternal Grandmothers respectively). From as early as I can remember, I was never able to get this name combo, it felt so dull, boring, unimaginative. I didn’t know any one else called Ruth at the time, and the middle names just felt like an inconvenient mouthful added on to bulk it out, a bit like that God Awful analogue stuff they add to processed cheese! When I started attending Nursery School, every one had pretty names: Lucy, Lisa, Deborah, Catherine, Gina, Jessica, and so on, and then .., Ruth!
“Why did you call me Ruth?”, I asked my mother one day? “well, it’s a bible name” She said, “besides, it’s the only name your father and I could agree on!”. Now we were getting somewhere: I thought! “why: what did you want to call me?”, “well, I liked Chloe”, she said, and I flinched! What was worse! “and dad?”, “oh, he wanted you called Barbara!”. Right! So its official: Ruth is now not that bad at all! But the relief over my parents not getting their way was only temporary, the name was still boring! During those early years, I created 2 imaginary friends: Carol, and Sandra! These friends kept me company during the days when it was too cold to go out, and through those panic episodes when I’d been seen climbing trees or crossing roads (things deemed unsuitable for blind folk), and my mother was keeping me under lock and key! I don’t know what attracted me to these names, and they were names by the way! Carol and Sandra never had any spesific endearing character traits (although, I seem to remember Sandra’s husband died from dermatitis of the kidneys, and Carol gave her baby to the binMan!), but what was interesting was that Carol and Sandra were not always separate identities, they sometimes became one and the same, and sometimes became yours truly! Which I think had more to do with being desperate to take on a new name, or a new identity than a craving to play houses in suburbia!
About a year or so after I started school, my Grandparents gave me a book for my Birthday, entitled “the Story of Ruth”, (no, not some one’s early sketches of my biography!), rather, the “bible” Story, my mother had alluded to all those years ago! When I first studied the book, Ruth was not some one who inspired me much, she seemed about as dull as my Name’s sake could expect! However with age, comes wisdom (called baggage), and some degree of appreciation for the character of Ruth!
From what I could gather, Ruth was a pretty average Jewish Female, however it was her marriage, that made her significant! She married in to a family descending from Prophet David (A.S), a farming family, doing what they could to survive during a time of famine, (which makes farming a pretty suicidal sector to be in during such a plight). Any way, tragically, Ruth’s Husband, and his brother both died as a consequence, and her mother-in-law encouraged Ruth, and her sister-in-law to leave and return to their homelands for a better life. The sister-in-law reluctantly departed, but Ruth refused to leave her mother-in-law, preferring to struggle along-side her, more as a daughter, than a daughter-in-law! They travelled to the home of distant cousins, where Ruth began to work along-side the men in the fields, gathering in the harvest for her and her mother-in-law. A man named Boaz, a distant relative of Ruth’s former husband extended his kindnesses to the 2 women, and when Ruth recounted this to her mother-in-law Naomi, she advised her to seek his protection, and guardianship through marriage. Boaz accepted to marry Ruth, the 2 had a son together named Obed, and from then on, drifted in to insignificance from what I can see! (not very attractive to a 6-year-old I’m sure you’ll agree!). Over the years however, I have slowly come to recognise the quiet patience and self-sacrifice of Ruth, and I’ve drawn other parallels too: migrating to a foreign land to begin her married life, her self-minded decisions, her desire to sacrifice for others, the way in which she chose her mother-in-law for an equivalent role as mother, how she worked along-side her male counterparts as their equal rather than some shrinking violet, and of course, how despite her first marriage failing, she found a second one which ultimately proved successful for her. Ruth is a pretty neutral figure within Christian Literature, but is held in high esteem by Jews, there is even an entire Chapter of the torah Named after her. The book of Ruth is often referred to as ‘the Love story of the Bible, and in addition, the Masonic movements attach allot of reverence and ceremony to Ruth, (for reasons that are way too complicated to go in to right now!). Though the name had redeemed its self a little in my eyes, I still wasn’t mad on it! part of me wanted to change it, but I knew I couldn’t, and by the time I had entered high School, I realised that many people hated their names, and it wasn’t cause to limit one’s identity because the title didn’t appear to match the goods! And I agree with this! A rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet! And don’t people go crazy over durian fruit, despite the awful stench? (I do wash BTW!), any way, back to topic!
As many of my followers know by now, as I entered Secondary Education, a quite different, but not unrelated story was unfolding. My fascination for all things south-Asian was growing, and would ultimately lead me to Islam! In the beginning though, it lead me to Asian radio, where I became not only the youngest presenter they’d ever had at aged 14, I also became the only non-Asian one! The name, presented a problem! I mean, can you imagine: “salaam S’aameen, mera nam Ruth hi!!”, doesn’t work does it! on any level! So a name had to be found. For a while in my teens, I acquired the name Ritu, (meaning spring), but it was more a given name than a chosen one, and as some one I’d soon come to hate was in part responsible for its prolonged usage, it was quickly dropped! The radio station tentatively suggested the name Qiran, which they thought suited me, and from somewhere around that juncture, the first Rays of Roshni were born! To this day, I don’t remember where I first heard the name, but I assume it jumped out at me from some Urdu Gazal or item of poetry. I liked it, and the radio station liked it, So Roshni was my radio name and no one at home or other wise had any problem with that! After all, its very common for radio personalities to adopt on-air identities of their own! Plus the Roshni concept gave me an arguably more healthy outlet for escaping Ruth! That wasn’t the end of the story however, because 2 years later, when I’d come to embrace Islam, the name question came up once again! As a convert, a name had to be found! And sadly, as I was moving in rather wahabi style circles back then, the mention of Ruth being a bible name was met with horror and disgust! It must be dropped immediately! And faithful were queuing up with potential suggestions, just as they had lined up to peel the Bindi from my forehead, which I had always relished in wearing pre-Islam! In a diplomatic move, I dodged the name suggestions, wishing to take some time to get to know the community, my faith, the general lay of the land as it were, before labelling myself one way or the other! And while the sisterhood claimed they accepted that, a contingent among them had already begun calling me Aisha!! …, Not a bad name I thought! A wife of the Prophet (PBUH) etc, however, when I became initiated in to the Convert Clans, I met quite a few Aishas, who couldn’t have been more different from me! As most converts will know, when you are a new Muslim, there are always groups of reverts who have been there, done that, and know more than you, and can do things better than you, and because of this self-proclaimed betterment, take it upon themselves to thrust their supposed wisdom down your throat, whether you asked for it or not! In the female fraternity, all of these wise ones are called Aisha! They are big personalities, married to bigger Arab men, with 9 children a piece! They preside over you like fierce warrior matriarchs, waiting to strike you down, rebuke you at every turn! They all wear black, all of the time! They are covered in hijaab and niqab and gloves and abayas, with just a menacing set of eyes so sharp, that you fear they will materialise in to blades, like something out of Islam does Bruce Lee! And cut you in to tiny pieces to feed to their massive!! I’m not exaggerating at all here: these became my Aisha Encounters, and dread began to cling a little too closely to the name. From a boring dull Ruth, I worried that I’d metamorphosis in to an unbearable Aisha, loathed by all, even my own ego! (no offence to any of the nice Aishas out there, and I’m sure there are some!). There were a few departures from the Aisha epidemic however, I met the odd Ghadija, and a few Fatima’s. Back then, I didn’t know all of the reverence and superiority attached to AlZahra (A.S), however, I did know that Fatimah was a daughter of our beloved Prophet (PBUH), and therefore, I didn’t feel qualified enough, not regal or pure enough, to be a Fatimah! For a very short time, I began calling myself Sharifa in my writings, and on radio. I liked the sound of the name against my surname, and I liked the meaning too: presumably a subconscious belief that Islam had brought out my ‘Shareef side, (and the Hindi reference to fruit!), but it didn’t stick. Though the wahabis were on to me, I’m thankful to say they didn’t completely take me over! I’ve subscribed to them in varying degrees over the years, but never got sucked in so much that I’ve lost my ability to logic and do things my own way, (no wonder I’ve got more Muslim enemies than friends!). I liked Roshni, I had chosen it, what was wrong with it? I reached an epiphany one day while reading Sura Noor, in particular, the verse that describes the light of Allah (SWT). The aya affected me deeply, because, while as Muslims we do not recognise Allah (SWT) in a physical manifestation, the verse was the closest I could find to a vision of his magnificence, as well as a description of pure ‘Noor, something I had equally not uncovered in writings before. Again, I didn’t feel pure enough to be a Noor, something that because of the Ayat, I had relegated to more angelic realms: but Roshni? It had a powerful meaning, a meaning to both inspire, and aspire to. Roshni had entered my life in the form of Iman, and Roshni, was a gift I could give to others, if I only worked hard enough and gave enough of my essence to the world around me. I too could be that candle, that would light other lamps here on earth, guiding them to everlasting Noor with Allah (SWT). Maybe this sounds a little idealistic, but honestly: those were my feelings about the name. When our local Radio Ramadhan, called their daily Sehri show ‘Roshni, I wept: and Roshni became official! …, ah well, to me, that is, and those who knew me! But here’s the crazy part! As much as I loved the name, and as much as every one in my social and professional circle adopted it, I never found the courage to change my name via deed pole. My new name tore my family apart, the saw the name, along with Islam, as a vehicle for escaping my Scottish Identity, of denouncing every thing that they stood for. This was true to some degree: any one who’s suffered enough of this blog, will know that I had a fair bit of baggage warranting an escape! But at the time, those were not my intentions at all! I became Roshni, because in my heart, I felt I had always been Roshni, time just needed to deliver her to me. I had lost her in a hays of Carol and Sandra and life and education, (and maybe even the odd Aisha), Roshni was like finding the real me, getting comfortable in my own skin. I do realise however, that perhaps I loaded a few too many expectations on top of the name: when my marriage ended, I took on the new online identity of Hira, and wondered about officially changing my name. After all, no one from my early Muslim days knew me then, and I felt rather like a rough ‘Hira, who had been boiled and battered and chipped in to shape, yet the gem/diamond essence somehow, somewhere, remained! This was only compounded during my first visit to Pakistan when, as an immigration official studied my passport, he came upon my middle name (yeah, the Emily one), which he likened to ‘imlee, and burst in to spasms of uncontrollable laughter, while parading my travel documents around the airport for all to see! I came through that crisis though (Roshni still in tact!). I knew that Roshni had stuck, when soon after my niqah, my mother-in-law wanted to change my name to Fatimeh: and seemed pretty upset at my rejection of such a pretty name! To my amazement, Reza answered on my behalf: “no” he said firmly: “Roshni is her name, she chose it, and it suits her!”. This made me wonder if maybe every one should change their name, or at least be named later on in life as some American Indians do, when the child’s identity has been given a chance to form. What was so beautiful to me, was that if a man who does not know Urdu, and does not know all the procrastinating that went on before Roshni came in to being, if this man believes its suits, then man did I choose well! “the thing is” I told Reza’s mum “Insha Allah, our first daughter will be named ‘Fatimeh!”. This naturally made her exquisitely happy, and as she ran off to share the potential good news with neighbours and friends, it was my turn to cringe: how history repeats its self: here I was, dissing my mother for her bad choices, yet here I was, using an unborn, (no, not only unborn, a yet-to-be-conceived daughter), to get out of a stick situation with the in-laws! …, I should take a handful of water and drown in it! I thought! …,
Who knows, maybe my daughter will end up calling herself Carol one day, after spending a lifetime pondering my own predestined choices for her! .., and so it goes!