A fatwa by the Permanent Committee of Saudi Arabia states regarding keeping the name Ghulam Rasul:
Fatwa No. ( 479 )
Q: In brief, some one was granted Saudi nationality under his name, i.e. ghulamul-Rasul (lit. Servant of the Messenger). However, he does not feel comfortable with this name and wishes to change it unless it is permissible to be called as such.
A: Apparently, Ghulam according to the dialect of those who name their children as such means servant. Thus, Ghulamul-Rasul means Servant (worshipper) of the Messenger. It is well-known that names such as Abdul-Rahman (lit. Servant of the Merciful), Abdullah (lit. Servant of Allah) and the like symbolizes the servant's attachment to his Lord in the aspects of worship and submissiveness. Accordingly, a Muslim may not be called Servant of the Messenger, or the like, as it entails Shirk (associating others in worship with Allah). Therefore, the one seeking the fatwa must go to the proper authorities to change his name to a valid one.
May Allah grant us success! May peace and blessings be upon our Prophet Muhammad, his family and Companions!
Permanent Committee for Scholarly Research and Ifta.
This is an article related to the issue with some dala'il from the Qur'an and Sunna:
THE USE OF THE WORD ‘GHULAM’ AS A NAME AMONG THE MUSLIMS!
The word “Ghulam”1 is commonly used as a prefix to the name of a Prophet (e.g. Ghulam Muhammad or Ghulam Yahya) or Companion (e.g. Ghulam ‘Ali or Ghulam Husayn) or Scholar /Wali (e.g. Ghulam Ghauth or Ghulam ‘Arabi) among the Muslims.
There are some who say that such a name (e.g. Ghulam Mustafa or Ghulam ‘Ali) is indicative of ‘Shirk’ and that “Ghulam” indicates ‘abdiyat which is only for Allah. They believe that the word “’abd” and “Ghulam” are synonyms and mean the same thing.
In this short essay I intend to show that the word ghulaam appears both in the Qur’an and Hadith and also that the Noble Prophet (saws) himself has carefully differentiated between the term ‘abd and ghulaam allowing the Muslims to use the latter and stopping them from using the former.
The word “Ghulam” is originally an Arabic word, which can be found in the Qur’an as well as Hadith. It has been adopted from the Arabic into Urdu in the Indian subcontinent and is in common use here as well.
“GHULAAM IN THE QUR’AN”:
The word ‘Ghulaam’, its dual ‘Ghulaamayn’ and its plural ‘Ghilmaan’ all appear in the jeweled verses of the Qur’aan.
1] In Sura Yusuf verse 19, Allah says, “And there came some wayfarers and sent down one of them to go for water. So, he let down his bucket. He said, “What good news! Here is a boy.” (Qaala ya bushraa haadha ghulaam)
2] In Sura al Kahf, verse 74, Allah says, “So, they moved ahead until when they met a boy, he killed him (the boy).” (Hattaa idhaa laqiya ghulaaman faqatalahu) 2
3] In Sura al Kahf, verse 80, Allah says, “And as for the boy, his parents were believers.” (Wa ammal ghulaamu fakaana abwaahu...)
4] In Sura al Kahf, verse 82, Allah says, “And as for the wall, it belonged to two orphan boys in the city and there was beneath it a treasure for them, and their father was a pious man.” (Wa ammal jidaaru fakaana li ghulaamayni yateemayni fil madeenati…)
5] In Sura al Tur, verse 24, Allah says, “And they will be frequented by serving boys of their own, (neat and clean) as if they were hidden pearls.” (Wa yatufu ‘alayhim ghilmaanul lahum ka annahum lu’ lum maknoon)
All the English translations of the above-quoted verses are taken from Mufti Shafi’s Ma’arif al Qur’aan. 3
According to the ‘Vocabulary of the Holy Quran’ (Arabic-English) by ‘Abdullah ‘Abbas Nadwi and the Qamoos al Qur’aan (Arabic-Urdu) of Qadi Zain ul ‘Abideen Sajjad Meerathi4, the meaning of the word ‘ghulaam’ is as follows:
Ghulaam: a boy, young (n.)
Ghulaamayn: two boys (n. p.)
Ghilmaan: boys (n. p.)
“GHULAAM IN THE HADITH”:
1] In Mukhtasar Sahih al Bukhari (al Tajrid us Sarih) of ‘Allama Zubaydi, translated by Dr M Muhsin Khan, book 48, chapter 4, Hadith no 1143 we find:
Narrated (Qais): When Abu Huraira accompanied by his slave set out intending to embrace Islam they lost each other on the way. (Annahu lamma aqbala yureedul islaama wa ma’ahu ghulaamu…) The slave then came while Abu Huraira was sitting with the Prophet (saws). The Prophet (saws) said, “O Abu Huraira! Your slave has come back.” (Ya Aba Huraira, Haadha ghulaamuka qad ataak…) Abu Huraira said, “Indeed, I would like you to witness that I have manumitted him.” That happened at the time when Abu Huraira recited (the following poetic verse): -
‘What a long, tedious tiresome night!
Nevertheless, it has delivered us from the land of Kufr (disbelief).’
2] Book 48, chapter 7, Hadith 1147 of the same collection: Narrated Abu Huraira: “The Prophet (saws) said, “You should not say, ‘Feed your lord, help your lord in ablution, or give water to your lord,’ but should say, ‘My master (e.g. Feed your master instead of lord, etc.) (Saiyidi) or ‘My guardian’ (Maulai), and one should not say, ‘My slave (‘Abdi), or My slave-girl (‘Amati), but he should say ‘My lad (Fatai), ‘My lass (Fatati) and ‘My boy (Ghulaami).”
3] From Sahih Muslim, Kitab al alfaaz min al adab wa ghairiha, chapter 3, Hadith 2249, tr by A H Siddiqui:
Abu Huraira reported that Allah’s Messenger (saws) said: No one of you should say: My bondman and my slave-girl. All of you are the bondsmen of Allah, and all of your women are the slave-girls of Allah; but say: My servant, my girl, my young man and my young girl. (Wa la kinliya qool: ghulaami wa jaariyati, wa fataya wa fatayi)
It should be obvious from the above ahadith that the Holy Prophet (saws) did not mind calling slaves as Ghulaam and he allowed, rather he encouraged his Companions to also call them by the word Ghulaam in place of other words that could have been mistaken in meaning for Shirk.
Besides the above examples, the word ghulaam is also used in the Hadith for young boys who are not slaves:
3] Narrated Anas: A young Jewish boy used to serve the Prophet (saws) and he became sick. (Kaana ghulaamun yahudiyun yakhdumun nabiyy fa mareeda) So the Prophet (saws) went to visit him. He sat near his head and asked him to embrace Islam. The boy looked at his father who was sitting there; the latter told him to obey Abul Qasim (saws) and the boy embraced Islam. The Prophet (saws) came out saying, “All the praises and thanks be to Allah Who saved the boy from the Hell-fire.” (2:438 – Sahih al Bukhari)
4] Narrated ‘Umar ibn Abi Salama: I was a boy under the care of Allah’s Messenger (saws) (Kuntu ghulaaman fiy hajri rasoolillah….) and my hand used to go around the dish while eating. So Allah’s Messenger (saws) said to me, “O boy! (Ya ghulaam…) Mention the Name of Allah and eat with your right hand, and eat of the dish what is nearer to you.” Since then I have applied those instructions while eating. (7: 288 – Sahih al Bukhari)
From the Holy Qur’aan, it is obvious that the primary meaning of the word is that of a ‘young boy’. There is nothing in the Qur’aan to suggest that the word ‘Ghulaam’ has the same meaning as ‘abd’.
From the Hadith we find that the Holy Prophet (saws) and the Companions used various words for the slaves of that time such as ‘Abd, Ghulaam, Khadim, Fataya. Of these words the Holy Prophet (saws) has specifically stopped the Muslims from using the word ‘Abd for male slaves and ‘Amati for female slaves in the same manner in which he has ordered the slaves to stop calling their owners ‘Rabb’. In place of both terms the Holy Prophet (saws) has given acceptable terms for us to use. For a slave to a human being, the Prophet (saws) has clearly allowed the use of the word ‘ghulaam’, carefully differentiating it from the word ‘Abd. Therefore I do not think that the use of this word before the name of any Prophet or Companion or even any pious personality of the later generations can be counted as evidence of shirk or an act against the Shari’ah. And Allah knows Best.
1) I have used the words ghulam and ghulaam interchangeably. It is commonly spelt with a single ‘a’ although pronunciation wise it might preferably be spelt with two ‘a’s.
2) The tafsir of this ayah in Mufti Shafi’s Ma’arif al Qur’an might be very interesting for the reader particularly in relation to the topic at hand.
3) Ma’arif al Qur’an by Mufti Shafi Deobandi translated into English by Muhammad Shamim and corrected by Mufti Taqi Usmani.
4) Ustad of Tafsir at Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi, India.