Adopting the Husband’s Family Name
It is a tradition in Western countries that a married woman affiliates herself to her husband family. In Islam there are 2 views on this subject, the first forbids it, but the other sees it as a way of identification.
Adopting the Husband’s Family Name
• Wife acquiring the husband’s family name;
• Women giving themselves their husband’s family names.
In some Western countries, it is normal for a woman to discard her family name when she is married and replace it with her husband’s family name. Is this permissible?
There are two views on this matter:
The first view makes it clear that no one may affiliate himself to anyone other than his own father.
‘Anyone who knowingly alleges to belong to a person other than his own father is an unbeliever, and anyone who knowingly alleges to belong to a people when he has no relation with them shall have his place in hell.’
(Related by al-Bukhari, hadith No. 3,508)
The Permanent Committee for Research and Fatwa said in its fatwa on this point: ‘It is not permissible for the woman in this case to change her family name, because this involves a lie and forgery.’1 In another fatwa,2 it is stated: ‘This is an aspect of affiliating oneself to someone other than one’s father, which is very serious indeed.
The Prophet says:
“Whoever affiliates himself to someone other than his father [...] incurs the curse of God, the angels and all mankind.”’
(Related by Ibn Majah, hadith No. 2,599. Al-Albani grades it as authentic in his Sahih al-Jami', No. 6,104)
This is a very serious threat to anyone who changes his father’s name or the name of his family and affiliates himself to a family or a people to whom he does not belong, whether a man or a woman.
To do so is to follow the practice of unbelievers, because this is a tradition of theirs. However, some ignorant Muslims have followed suit. Such a practice displays ingratitude to one’s family on the part of the woman, and this is contrary to dutifulness and good morality. Referring to Mary, God mentions her father’s name:
‘And Mary, the daughter of 'Imran, who guarded her chastity; and We breathed of Our spirit into her. She accepted the truth of her Lord’s words and His revealed books. She was truly devout.’
No one ever had a superior status to that of the Prophet, both in God’s sight and among people, yet his wives were not identified by his name but by belonging to their fathers. They are called: 'A’ishah bint (i.e. daughter of) Abu Bakr, Hafsah bint 'Umar, Zaynab bint Jahsh, etc. When a woman is mentioned along with her husband she is stated to be his wife but not belonging to his own family,
as in the verse that says:
‘God has given examples of unbelievers: Noah’s wife and Lot’s wife. They were married to two of Our righteous servants but betrayed them. Their husbands could be of no avail to them against God. They were told: “Enter both of you the fire with all those who will enter it.”’
She may be identified as her husband’s wife, but she is always stated to be the daughter of her own father.
The second view is a ruling by the Egyptian Dar al-Ifta, stating that this is a tradition that is not contrary to Islamic jurisprudence and it is not undertaken as following the traditions of the unbelievers, nor is it a form of the forbidden practice of affiliating oneself to someone other than one’s father.
Western tradition affiliates an unmarried woman to her father and her family. When she is married, her husband’s family name is added to her own and she is given a title indicating that she is married, such as Mrs, Madam, etc. Thus, the addition of the husband’s family name to his wife’s name is like when we say in our language that a woman is married into this family or the other.
Moreover, to them it is a kind of identification that causes no confusion. Needless to say identification has many ways, such as by service as in the case of 'Ikrimah, Ibn [Abbas’s servant; or by profession, as in the case of al-Ghazali; or by description, as in the case of al-A'raj (i.e. ‘the lame’) and al-Jahiz (i.e the man with protruding eyes); or by fatherhood, as in the case of Abu Muhammad al-A[mash; or by being attributed to one’s mother despite his father being known, as in the case of Isma'il ibn 'Ulayyah; or by marriage, as mentioned in the Qur’an in identifying women by mentioning to whom they were married, as in
‘Noah’s wife and Lot’s wife’
An authentic hadith mentions that ‘Ibn Mas[ud’s wife sought permission to see the Prophet. He was told:
“Messenger of God, here is Zaynab who wishes to see you.” He asked: “Which Zaynab?” They said: “Ibn Mas'ud’s wife.” He said: “Yes, admit her.” She was admitted.’
(Related by al-Bukhari and Muslim)
What is forbidden in Islam is that a person should affiliate himself to someone as though he is that person’s son when his father is someone else.
Some of these forms of identification may become common in some places or situations, and it may become a social tradition. There is nothing wrong with that as long as it does not imply affiliation of the sort that Islam rejects, which is implying being the child of someone who is not one’s parent. Nor is this practice considered an imitation of other people, which is not acceptable in Islam. Such imitation is forbidden if it involves something forbidden and is intended as imitation. If either condition does not apply, then the action itself is not to be criticized.
This is clarified by the hadith:
‘The Prophet was once ill, and we prayed behind him when he was praying seated. He looked at us and saw that we were standing up behind him. He pointed to us and we sat down. When he finished his prayer, he said to us: “You almost did what the Persians and the Byzantines used to do: they would stand in attendance while their kings were seated. Do not do that, but do as your leader does: if he prays standing up, then stand up; and if he prays seated, then pray seated.”’
(Related by Muslim, hadith No. 624)
Needless to say, when ‘almost’ precedes a statement, it means that the action itself was close to being done. The Persians and Byzantines did what the Prophet said, but his companions did not intend to copy them and imitation did not apply in this instance. Ibn Nujaym, a leading Hanafi scholar, said in his book Al-Bahr al-Ra’iq: ‘Know that imitation of the people of earlier revelations is not always to be criticized. We eat and drink as they do. What is forbidden is imitating a reprehensible action with the intention of imitation.’
To add a husband’s family name to his wife’s name does not negate her affiliation to her father, but it is merely done for identification. The confusion that has led to people saying that it is forbidden is due to the fact that the word ‘ibn’, i.e. ‘son of’, is frequently omitted when one’s name is mentioned together with one’s father’s name. Yet this is due to the frequency of its omission and people like to make things easier. The omission has led to confusion when one has more than one name. Therefore, because the omission of ‘ibn’ has become standard some countries issued an order to give a child only one name so that no confusion can arise. Hence those who object to adding the husband’s family name to his wife may be influenced by this standard practice that may lead to confusion about parenthood. The case is different in the case of a wife and her husband’s family name because of the use of what indicates her being a married woman, such as Mrs, Madame, etc. Since this tradition is not contrary to Islam, there is nothing to prevent it. Islamic jurisprudence upholds tradition, unless it is contrary to its values, and refers to it. A general rule considered by Islamic scholars says: ‘Tradition is upheld’. Muslims have not been called upon to rebel against tradition or contradict it. On the contrary, they need to live in their community and be part of such communities, but without contradicting any of the main principles of Islam.
• Fatawa by The Permanent Committee for Research and Fatwa.
• Home page for IslamWeb.net website: www.islamweb.net.
• Website of the Egyptian Dar al-Ifta: www.dar-alifta.org.
- The General Presidency of Scholarly Research and Ifta: www.alifta.net Fatwa No. 11,489.
- From the Saaid.net website: www.saaid.net/Doat/assuhaim/fatwa.