Osama’s “Will” was recently released by a Kuwaiti newspaper. The title of the document is misleading — a will, as a document that distributes assets and property, is not recognized in Islam, as inheritance must take place in accordance with Shariah principles. The document is in fact a final message to his children (not to join Al Qaeda) and wives (don’t remarry!). It was written in December 2001 — when Osama was on the run in Afghanistan and when he thought he might be killed. Notably, there is no message or mention of people such as Mullah Omar or Ayman Al Zawahiri, his comrades in arms in Afghanistan.
You can read an English translation of the will here. But without further commenting, reading the signing name, I thought this would be a good chance to introduce Arabic names. Osama signed the will as:
Abu Abdullah Osama bin Muhammad bin Laden
He is referred to in the Western press as Osama bin Laden? What do all the other names mean?
On birth, in most Arabic countries that I’m familiar with, children are given one name. Osama bin Laden was named Osama at birth, and that was probably the only given name written on his birth certificate.
Osama’s father was Mohammed, so his name is extended to “bin Mohammed” (“ibn” is also used in place of “bin”). In some cases, the grandfather’s name will included as well. In some countries such as in the Levant, neither are used, resulting in a string of names.
(Other official spellings of his name are “Osama bin Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden” — Awad being his paternal grandfather.)
Bin Laden is the family name — unusual, in that it begins with “Bin”. A common beginning of tribal and family names in the Arab world is “Al”.
What about the first name, “Abu Abudallah”? When a man has a son in Arabic, he adopts that as part of his name used with friends. As Osama’s son was named Abdullah (after then-crown prince of Saudi Arabia Prince Abdullah), he adopts the name “Abu Abdullah.”
So if I was to Arabize my own name, it would be George bin Alfred Al Curzon — and as I had three daughters, some friends might call me Abu Mary. (Just remember that’s Sheikh George bin Alfred Al Curzon when addressing me properly.)
Osama Bin Laden is also written as Usama or Bin Ladin, among other variants. That’s because Arabic has no unified system of romanization. Unlike Japanese, which has two or three majority schools of romanization used by various institutions, in Arabic, it’s a free-for-all when it comes to spelling in English. This causes all sorts of problems in today’s English-centric globalized world, as you can read about in more detail here.