Answered by Shaykh Abdurragmaan Khan
I was taking a course where the teacher said that using offensive nicknames is disliked. Is it still disliked if you are sure the person called the offensive nickname doesn’t mind? For example, one of my friends called another girl “Donkey!” so the girl replied, “Pig!”.
Now, both girls didn’t mind; instead, everyone had a good laugh over this. Or even if you called someone “Stupid” or “Idiot” as a harmless joke? Would this still be considered disliked?
Hafiz Ala’i detailed the various types of nicknames and categorized them into three types. The following is a summary of his discussion:
Firstly, a nickname that does not suggest insult or disparagement and the one being nicknamed does not dislike or take offense to it. This is certainly permissible, as the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) called one of the companions, who had long hands, “O possessor of hands.”
Secondly, a nickname that disparages or insults the one being nicknamed and that does not refer to one of his characteristics. This is undoubtedly impermissible, as Allah says in Surah al-Hujurat, “O you who have believed, let not a people ridicule [another] people; perhaps they may be better than them; nor let women ridicule [other] women; perhaps they may be better than them. And do not insult one another and do not call each other by [offensive] nicknames. Wretched is the name of disobedience after [one’s] faith. And whoever does not repent – then it is those who are the wrongdoers.” [Quran, 49:11]
Hafiz Ala’i says it is still impermissible even if the one being nicknamed is not offended or does not dislike the nickname. This is similar to the case where one accuses another, without clear evidence, of committing fornication or adultery. This accusation is haram, regardless of whether or not the one being accused takes offense.
Thirdly, a nickname that refers to one of the named person’s characteristics, such as A’raj (limp-legged), A’mash (squint-eyed), lame, and other names by which we distinguish the named person from another with the same name. There is practically consensus among the scholars of hadith that these nicknames are permissible as many hadith narrators have become known by such nicknames. However, it is impermissible if the person is displeased with the nickname or used to insult and not to distinguish.
The nicknames you mentioned above, “donkey” and “pig,” fall into the second category. They are insults and, therefore, impermissible, even if the named person is pleased with the name.
And Allah knows best.
[Shaykh] Abdurragmaan Khan
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Shaykh Abdurragmaan Khan received ijazah ‘ammah from various luminaries, including but not restricted to: Habib Umar ibn Hafiz—a personality who affected him greatly and who has changed his relationship with Allah, Maulana Yusuf Karaan—the former Mufti of Cape Town; Habib’ Ali al-Mashhur—the current Mufti of Tarim; Habib’ Umar al-Jaylani—the Shafi’i Mufti of Makkah; Sayyid Ahmad bin Abi Bakr al-Hibshi; Habib Kadhim as-Saqqaf; Shaykh Mahmud Sa’id Mamduh; Maulana Abdul Hafiz al-Makki; Shaykh Ala ad-Din al-Afghani; Maulana Fazlur Rahman al-Azami and Shaykh Yahya al-Gawthani amongst others.