Why did Ameerul Momineen (a.s.) name his sons after the Caliphs?

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Some Muslims create an impression that Ameerul Momineen (a.s.) Ali b. Abi Talib (a.s.) was pleased with the companions particularly the Shaikhain and accepted their caliphate without any reservations and he was never under any duress or compulsion.

As proof they advance some tame arguments like Ali (a.s.) naming his sons after the caliphs shows his love and admiration for them.


The names of some of the sons of Ameerul Momineen (a.s.) coincided with the names of the previous caliphs. But only a very prejudiced and misinformed student of history would claim that this denotes affection of Ameerul Momineen (a.s.) for the caliphs.

Our first question to these Muslims – is the name of the caliph the very first instance in the history of Islam of an infant being named such. For e.g. was Umar b. Khattab the first person to be named as Umar? If not they what leads these Muslims to believe that Ali b. Abi Talib (a.s.) named his son after Umar. It is established historically that these names were such that they were already commonly used in Arab culture. If someone named his son with one of these names it is because these names were acceptable in the culture at that time. It is a fallacy to assume (leave alone assert) that someone was named after someone.

It is only when Islam and Shiasm spread to other lands and cultures over a period of time and the followers of Ameerul Momineen (a.s.) in these foreign lands heard the names of the caliphs in a negative light of being the usurpers of the right of Ameerul Momineen (a.s.) that the names of these caliphs became culturally unacceptable in the Shia society. For them these names did not represent Arab culture but instead represented negative icons.

Several Imams (a.s.) also named their daughters after Ayesha. Does this mean that the Imams (a.s.) were pleased with her while the most biased and weakest of historical reports are unanimous that she waged a six-day battle against Ali b. Abi Talib (a.s.) leading to the death of thousands of Muslims in Islam’s first ever civil war in Jamal?

Obviously, the answer lies in the practice of the time when the Imams (a.s.) refrained from doing anything to expose themselves and their Shias to the wrath of the despotic rulers of Bani Umayyah and Bani Abbas. For the same reason, Imams (a.s.) have also openly rebuked some of their chosen companions to spare them (companions) of the caliphs’ wrath. This rebuke cannot be taken as a sign that Imams (a.s.) were displeased with the companions just like naming the children after companions and wives cannot be taken as a sign that Imams (a.s.) were pleased with them.

That is also, why we find so many companions and their fathers with names like Umar (Mufazzal b. Umar), Ziyaad (Kumayl b. Ziyaad), Muawiyah (Muawiyah b. Wahhab).

Why don’t Shias follow their Imams in naming their children?

These Muslims taunt the Shias for ignoring the Sunnah (practice) of their Imams in naming their children. They demand that like their Imams, Shias must also name their children after the caliphs.

There is a manifold answer to this question.

1. As explained it is evident that names were given for reasons other than affection for companions and wives. It was clearly to ward off tyranny and oppression from the caliphs of the time. Since the Shias today do not witness the same tyranny and oppression from the kings and caliphs they do not name their children after the caliphs and companions. When the Shias do witness tyranny and oppression they name them after the caliphs. This is in fact preferable as commanded by the Imams (a.s.) since safeguarding one’s life is necessary when a situation does not call for jihad.

2. Shias prefer to name their children after an infallible rather than the son of an infallible unless the son was also an infallible. This is because intellect demands that we emulate the infallible right down to his name.

3. Shias believe as also affirmed by Sunni reports that the names of the infallibles were chosen by Allah Himself. According to Hadith-e-Lauh (Tradition of the Tablet) which is also recorded by Sunni scholars like Hammuee in Faraed al-Simtain (chapter 2 pg 137-139), Allah Himself chose the names of Imams and their titles. So if Allah chooses Jafar it does not mean Allah has chosen based on some Jafar who existed in history, unless He Himself specifies it. Likewise, when Ali b. Abi Talib (a.s.) selects the name Umar or Abu Bakr it does not mean that it is based on some historical figure unless Ali (a.s.) specifically mentions it as he has done in the case of Uthman b. Mazoon.

4. Rather than worry about why Shias don’t emulate their Imams in naming their children, Muslims should focus on why they don’t emulate the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) and name their children Hasan and Husain, instead of naming them after the companions. There are widely reported Sunni traditions that Imam Hasan (a.s.) and Imam Husain (a.s.) were named by the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) himself based on Allah’s command. Hasan and Husain are Arabic derivations of the words Shabar and Shubair respectively who were the sons of Hazrat Haroon (a.s.), who were also named by Allah.

Why don’t Shias name their children after Yazid

Some Muslims insist on the names argument and demand that if culturally acceptable names were given why don’t we find names like Yazeed, Muawiyah, Ziyad and Abu Jahl and Abu Lahab, etc.

1. Among Arabs, we find that Yazeed was commonly used by Shias even after the incident of Karbala because for them it represented a culturally acceptable name and was not exclusively identified with the villain Yazeed who mercilessly martyred Imam Husain (a.s.) and his companions and imprisoned the members of the holy Ahlul Bait (a.s.).

From Shia books of Rijaal (brief biographies of narrators of traditions) like: Rijaal-e-Toosi, Rijaal-e-Barqi, Rijaal-e-Kashi, Mojam al-Rijaal al-Hadith of Ayatullah Sayed Abul Qasem al-Khui (r.a.), we find numerous examples of die-hard Shias and enemies of Bani Ummayah named Yazeed.[i]

2. Likewise, we have seen companions and their fathers named after Yazid, Muawiyah and Ziyaad like Mufazzal b. Umar and Muawiyah b. Wahab (both amongst the closest companions of the Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s.)) and Kumayl b. Ziyaad among the closest companions of Ameerul Momineen (a.s.). Likewise Shias were named Hisham like Hisham b. Hakam (close companion of Imam Sadiq (a.s.)) and it is obvious that they were not named based on Hisham b. Abdul Malik – the one who poisoned Imam Ali b. Husain (a.s.) Zainul Abedeen. These are a few examples from the many in the books of Rijaal (narrators of traditions).

3. Shias are not interested in naming their children after Abu Jahl and Abu Lahab but these Muslims can do so.

Umar vs. Umar

1. Even if we assume that names were granted based on caliphs, it does not mean anything. Names do not determine one’s choices; ultimately a person’s actions determine whether he is affectionate or unaffectionate towards the caliphs. It is reported Umar b. Abdul Aziz was from Umar b. Khattab’s lineage and obviously named after him. But his actions do not indicate that he was happy with his ‘role model’ particularly on returning Fadak which Umar b. Khattab withheld from Fatima – the Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) daughter. If indeed Umar II was named after Umar b. Khattab then he would have shown affection towards Umar by following his footsteps.

2. Likewise, if Ali b. Abi Talib (a.s.) named his son Usman after Usman b. Affan, then Usman b. Ali in Karbala should have refrained from fighting with Yazid since he was Usman b. Affan’s grandson. Or at the very least a general announcement should have been made before the Battle of Karbala that all those named after the caliphs should forcibly be evicted from the battle so as to not shed the blood of innocent!

Thus, it is established that just because the names of two people happen to be the same as they were from the same culture, it does not mean that one was named after another or his father loved the former.
Also, since the narrations of traditions were banned immediately after the martyrdom of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.), it is very difficult to know today that for each son of Ameerul Momineen (a.s.) whose name is common with some caliph, who actually he was named after. But some traditions do give us an indication (but not towards any caliph).

It is narrated from Ameerul Momineen (a.s.) that he said regarding the naming of his son, Uthman: I have named him after my brother Uthman bin Mazoon[ii].[who was an eminent companion of the Holy Prophet(s.a.w.a.) and is buried in the graveyard of Baqi]

However, there are no traditions indicating that Ali b. Abi Talib (a.s.) named his sons after the Shaikhain.

For other names, also possibilities exist that Ameerul Momineen (a.s.) has based them on some respectable companion (instead of the caliphs).

How Shias benefited from these names

The names of some of the sons of Ameerul Momineen (a.s.) being common with those of some caliphs created an alibi for Shias later on to escape from difficult situations in the long and heart-rending history of oppression unleashed upon them by his (a.s.) opponents. Hence, we find instances when Shias were cornered by the enemies of Ameerul Momineen (a.s.). They would have surely been killed, but they escaped a sure death by praising these sons of Ameerul Momineen (a.s.) which the enemies misunderstood to be the praise of the Caliphs. The Shias were thus able to practice ‘Taqiyyah’ (dissimulation) without resorting to any untrue statement. Over the years, it resulted in protection of the lives, wealth and progeny of many Shias.

According to the aforementioned details, now in this present age after the passage of fourteen centuries, we can conclude that names cannot be the criterion for relations between two sides. Other grounds should be searched to find the reason of enmity or friendship.

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