By: Abdulkhalig Alhassan
My full name is Abdulkhalig, but in Australia a big chunk of it has been chopped out to become Abdul. However, the literal interpretation of my name in Arab-Islamic culture is ‘the servant of God’. The classic commentaries and interpretations of Koran say Allah has 99 names. Therefore, there are 99 names starting with Abdul, but they all have the same literal meaning; ‘the servant of God’. Unlike Christians, who prefer to be sons of the God, the Muslims, for some reason, like to show full submission to Allah, that’s why they have chosen Abdul servant and submit it to the rest of Allah’s names.
Despite these basic facts about the origin of my name, however, the stunning fact is, that I was named after the founder and leader of the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP), Abdulkhalig Mahjoub. Abdulkhalig is a prominent figure in Sudan’s political history. The 1960s and early 70s are considered the peak of both his influence as a charismatic leader and the party’s ideology. Hundreds of thousands of new-born in this period were named after him and his comrade Al-Shafie Ahmed Alsheikh, a leader of the Railways’ trade union. My little town ‘Atbara’ is also considered to be the stronghold of the communist ideology.
Abdulkhalig and Alshafie were executed after a failed military coup backed by the communist party in July 1971. His murder and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 were a big blow to the party and its influence. However, the legacy of Abdulkhalig is still there. He was subjected to an unfair military trial and they sentenced him to death. His last words; ‘A bit of awareness’, when he was asked by the judge; “What did you do to the Sudanese people?” still echo and inspire generations upon generations in the North of Sudan.
However the cost of being named after him in a traditional and conservative society is definitely high. To some degree, the party’s ideology has succeeded in co-existing with the Islamic values of the North-Sudanese society. Nevertheless, some sort of hostility still exists. It could take the form of jokes, sarcasm or even loathing. The jokes usually come from those who are close to you. Like someone, for example, chanting your name in a rhyme; Abdulkhalig adu alkhalig (Abdulkhalig the enemy of God)! Or when you swear by God to someone to confirm that you will tell the truth. He will immediately say; but you don’t even know the God, let alone believe in Him. The religious ones, mostly, show their pettiness by saying you are an ‘infidel’ and you have been misled by anti-Islam propaganda.
In my situation, the stereotyping was overwhelming. This has much to do with my secular attitude as well as my belonging to Atbara, the city which is considered to be the stronghold of the ideology. Ironically, I have never been a communist, despite the fact that my father is one, and that’s why he named me after the godfather of the party. However, through all of my life, not one of those who came across and threw their jokes and sarcasms around stopped for a second to ask if I am a communist or not. I was left with no choice than to accept it as a de facto truth and live with it. Fortunately, I haven’t been bothered by such labelling as I never have had any tendencies towards any religious beliefs.
Coming to Australia the stereotyping has gone in the opposite direction. Overtly, the name has regained its authentic connotation. By this I mean the religious meaning. Wherever I go and say my name, an instant question pops up; Hi Abdul, you are Muslim, aren’t you? I always feel taken back by such a question. There are many reasons for that. Firstly, the scepticism that surrounded my name through my early life has denied me the right to be a ‘Muslim’ at least from the perspective of the society in which I grew up. . Secondly, the entrenched secular traditions in my town have made it difficult to think of religion as a way of redemption let alone make me a religious person. Therefore, I always feel I don’t have a clear cut answer to such a question. All I know is that I have never been in a struggle with myself over whether Allah existed or not, nor I am in need of adopting an Islamic identity. However, the question is always striking and confusing although it has became very expected. The answer has never been easy or normal. Till this moment, it takes me some time to get the ‘right’ answer. This usually comes with mumbling and confusion.
As you see, it is all about stereotyping. Labelling people and putting them in small boxes has become a norm in this era. Yet, people who have been subjected to stereotyping are left with no choice than to fight back. It could be an exhaustive task, but it might be interesting and a rich experience too.