French Muslims Change Name to Get a “Chance”


A French woman of African origin protest at government marginalization of immigrants. (Reuters)

By Hadi Yahmid, IOL Correspondent

PARIS, November 21, 2005 ( – “Abdel Rahim” has changed his name to “Peres” and no longer brags about his Arabic roots in public to spare himself police and employers’ discrimination, and dozens have opted for the new lease of life to escape the harsh reality.

“Neither my family in Morocco nor my Muslim colleagues in France knew that I changed my name on official papers,” the 23-year-old French-naturalized Moroccan told Monday, November 21.

“The new name gave me a job and put me on an equal footing with my work colleagues, who knew nothing about my background.”

He said that his dark complexion further represented a stumbling bloc to his ambitions.

“But I found a way out by pretending that I was of Spanish origins,” he said, with a bitter laugh on his face.

“When I was Abdel Rahim, I never received any response from five companies for which I had applied,” he added. “But Peres was accepted now in two jobs and has to choose.”

French Muslims and Arabs, estimated at some six million, are heavily concentrated in the Paris suburb of Saint Denis, the scene of deadly riots by angry immigrant youths over the past two weeks.

Years of government negligence and marginalization have turned the northern Paris district of Saint Denis, where half a million Muslims live, into a hotbed for unemployment and aberration.

Initially sparked by the electrocution deaths of two teenagers of west and North African background hiding from police in an electrical sub-station in a poor neighborhood northeast of Paris, the riots grew as youths from high-immigrant districts across the country joined in.

Many voiced anger at racial discrimination despite being born in France, a lack of educational and employment prospects and police harassment.

First-class Citizen

Abdel Rahim says he now has nothing to worry about when stopped by police on the streets to check his ID.

“They treat me as a first-class citizen with no discrimination at all,” Abdel Rahim said.

Karim, 22, choose Christophe to make life easy in highly background-conscious France.

“I have been jobless for four years though I filled some 57 job applications and studied media in one of the French universities,” he said.

Nigma found a proper apartment and a job after she had changed her name to Marianne.

Others tried to strike a balance between their Arabic identity and reality by giving heir children French-Arabic names like Joseph.

A Sorbonne research released earlier in the year by the French Observatory Against Racism found that Arab names and dark complexion represent an obstacle to jobseekers.

The “Discrimination at Workplace” research said that the organization sent 325 CVs of competitive applicants, who only differ in names and origin, to find later that the opportunity for North African applicants to get a job is five times less than natives.

Not a Solution

But Ahmad Gaballah, member of the European Council of Fatwa and Research, said changing names is not a solution to the problems of Arabs and Muslims in France.

“I myself do not go for this,” he told IOL. “We must address the roots of racism, which is the problem of thousands in France.”

He said the recent riots have drawn the attention of politicians and media to the importance of combating this ugly phenomenon.

“As far as religion is concerned, changing names is not prohibited as long as the new name does not offend Islam,” he said, noting that many of French Muslim reverts had kept their original names.

But he warned that changing Arabic and Islamic names could be a prelude to gradual disintegration of the original identity.