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Wife Changing her Last Name after Marriage

<QUESTION>

Many Muslim women take their husband’s last name (surname) when they marry. I have heard different views on this; some say it is Haram and others say it is necessary. I am confused and would like to know the correct Shari’ah ruling on the matter please?

<ANSWER>
In the name of Allah, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful,

A wife adopting the last name (surname) of her husband upon marriage is neither unlawful (haram) nor required in Shari’ah. As such, both positions – i.e. to say it is haram or that it is necessary – are incorrect and extreme in one way or another.

In order to understand this issue properly, it is important to first realize that one of the central aims (maqasid) of Shari’ah is the preservation of one’s lineage (nasab). It is unlawful and a major sin to change one’s lineage and ascribe one’s self to other than one’s biological father. Many texts of the Qur’an and Sunna mention this explicitly; for example:

Allah Most High says, “… And He [Allah] did not make your adopted sons your [real] sons. That is [merely] a word uttered by your mouths. And Allah says the truth and He shows the [right] way. Call them by [the name of] their [real] fathers; It is more equitable in the sight of Allah. And if you do not know their fathers, then they are your brothers in faith and your friends…” (Qur’an 33: 4-5)

The backdrop of this verse is that people in the days of ignorance (jahiliyya) would treat an adopted child as a biological one in all aspects, and attribute him to the one who adopted him, thereby giving the impression that the adoptive father is the real father. The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) adopted Zayd ibn Haritha (Allah be pleased with him); and according to common practice, the companions (Allah be pleased with them) began referring to him as “Zayd ibn Muhammad”. When the abovementioned verse was revealed, they reverted to calling him “Zaid ibn Haritha”. As such, the above verse was revealed to lay down the principle that an adopted child must not be considered as the real son of his adoptive parents. (See the major Qur’anic Tafsirs)

Sayyiduna Sa’d (Allah be pleased with him) says that I heard the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) say, “Whoever claims to belong/ascribes himself to other than his [biological] father, knowing that he is not his father, then Paradise will be denied to him.” (Sahih al-Bukhari no: 6385 and Sahih Muslim)

However, the above – and other similar texts – need to be understood in their proper context. The idea is not that the usage of any name or attribution after one’s name, besides that of the father, is unlawful; rather the Shari’ah categorically prohibits ascribing one’s lineage to other than one’s biological father or claiming that someone else is one’s biological father. This is unlawful because it misleads others, and also comprises showing ungratefulness to one’s parents and denying them their basic right of parenthood.

The great Muhaddith and Shafi’i jurist Imam Nawawi (Allah have mercy on him) states in his commentary of Sahih Muslim, “The meaning of ‘claims to belong/ascribes himself to other than his father’ [in the Hadith] is that he ascribes and attributes himself to him and takes him as his father.” (Al-Minhaj sharh Sahih Muslim no: 61)

Imam Badr al-Din al-Ayni (Allah have mercy on him), the great Muhaddith and Hanafi jurist, also provides the same explanation in his commentary of Sahih al-Bukhari, saying, “The words of the Hadith ‘man idda’a ila’ means: ascribing one’s self to other than one’s biological father.” (Umdat al-Qari sharh Sahih al-Bukhari 16/48)

This is clearly understood by studying the other Hadiths that have been narrated in the same context.

After recording the above Hadith regarding Paradise being denied to someone who claims to belong to other than his father, Imam al-Bukhari records another Hadith related by Abu Hurayra (Allah be pleased with him) that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said, “Do not reject your fathers, for whosoever rejects his father, that is disbelief.” (Sahih al-Bukhari no: 6391)

Likewise, Imam Muslim relates in his Sahih from the Companion Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas (Allah be pleased with him) that he heard the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) say, “Whoever claims to have a father in Islam other than his [biological] father, knowing that he is not his father, then Paradise will be denied to him.” (Sahih Muslim)

As such, what is decisively prohibited is to knowingly claim that someone else is one’s father, or negate one’s lineage to one’s father. If one retains the father’s surname, but verbally denies him fatherhood and informs others that someone else is the father, then that too would be unlawful. On the contrary, if one adopts another surname, but clearly acknowledges the biological father – and it is commonly known who the father is – then this is not unlawful. In other words, the issue is not about what second name one uses; rather, about ensuring not to claim fatherhood for another person.

Keeping the above in mind, let us see how the wife adopting her husband’s name affects this ruling of Shari’ah.

1) If a wife adopts her husband’s second name/surname/family name, then we need to first understand that using surnames was uncommon during the time of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) and early Muslims (salaf). People were generally known by the name of their father; such as Abd Allah ibn Umar, Abd Allah ibn Abbas and Khadija bint Khuwaylid (son of so-and-so, and daughter of so-and-so). The trend was to use ‘ibn (son of…)’ and ‘bint (daughter of…)’ after one’s name, and not a surname. As such, the wife would retain her full name after marriage, since her father remained her father regardless of who her husband was. So, if she was known as A’isha bint Abi Bakr before her marriage, she would still remain as such after marriage.

However, in our times, using family names/surnames have become common. If a woman has a particular surname before marriage, and chooses to replace that with her husband’s surname, then this does not amount to ‘changing one’s lineage’ and ‘ascribing one’s self to other than one’s father’. So if a woman was known as A’isha Khan before marriage, and she changes her name to A’isha Mughal after marriage, then this is permitted.

The reason is that surnames are used merely for identification purposes. When children are born, they normally take on the family surname, and as such the wife also takes the same surname in order that there is uniformity in the family name. This is not a question of belonging to her husband or ascribing her lineage to someone other than her own father; rather, it is merely using the husband’s surname for identification and clarity. The wife does not deny fatherhood to her father; in fact she clearly acknowledges him. It is also common knowledge within the community that she is the daughter of so-and-so, hence there is no deception.

2) If a wife adopts her husband’s first name as her second name, then this, too, is permitted, and not tantamount to ‘changing one’s lineage’ and ‘ascribing one’s self to other than one’s father’. The ascription here is not one of parenthood; it merely reflects the spousal relationship with her husband, and she does not negate her lineage to her father.

There are many examples amongst early Muslims of people ascribing themselves to other than their fathers, without negating their lineage to their biological fathers. Some great personalities ascribed themselves to their mothers; such as the Companion Abdullah ibn Umm Maktum (Allah be pleased with him) – the Mu’adhin of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) – yet was not reprimanded by the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace). Another example is Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyya, the son of Sayyiduna Ali ibn Abi Talib (Allah be pleased with both), who ascribed himself to his mother who was from the tribe of Banu Hanifa.

Moreover, Imam al-Qurtubi (Allah have mercy on him), the renowned exegete (mufassir) of the Qur’an and Maliki jurist, explains in his commentary of the above mentioned verse five of Surat al-Ahzab that in the days of ignorance if a man liked the skin and build of a child, he would take him as a son, ascribe him to himself, and it would be said “so-and-so son of so-and-so”. The child would also have a share of inheritance like a real son. As such, this was prohibited in this verse.

He further goes onto say that there are many examples amongst the Companions where they adopted second names of men who were not their fathers, yet were not censured by other Companions. For example, Miqdad ibn Amr (Allah be pleased with him) was a Companion whose father was Amr, yet he was commonly known as Miqdad ibn al-Aswad, since he was adopted by Al-Aswad in Jahiliyya. When the verse of Surat al-Ahzab was revealed, Miqdad said, “I am the son of Amr”, but he continued to be known by Miqdad ibn al-Aswad and no one considered this a sin, since it was common knowledge who his biological father was. (See: Tafsir Qurtubi under verse 5 of Surat al-Ahzab)

In terms of ascriptions to one’s husband, there are countless examples in the collections of Hadith, just to cite a few:

a) Imam al-Bukhari relates a Hadith with his chain, which states: “[Narrated] from Abu Salama ibn Abd al-Rahman, from A’isha, the wife of the Prophet (Allah bless him & give him peace), that she said….” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Book of Prayer, Chapter: Praying on a bed)

b) Imam Abu Dawud relates a Hadith with his chain in the Sunan, which states: “[Narrated] from Urwa ibn Zubayr, from A’isha, the wife of the Prophet (Allah bless him & give him peace), that she said….” (Sunan Abi Dawud, Book of Prayer, Chapter concerning upon whom Jumu’ah is wajib)

c) Imam al-Bukhari relates a hadith with his chain to Kurayb, the freed slave of Abdullah ibn Abbas (Allah be pleased with him), that the latter informed him that, “he spent the night in the house of Maymuna, the wife of the Prophet (Allah bless him & give him peace), who was his maternal aunt…” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Book of Ablution, Chapter: The recitation of the Qur’an and other things after the occurrence of hadath)

As such, there is nothing wrong with a wife using her husband’s name after her own, as long as it is for purposes of identification, and that she does not intend to mislead others or absolve herself of her lineal ascription to her father.

A wife can retain her maiden name

At the same time, it is important to appreciate that if a wife chooses not to adopt her husband’s surname or first name, then it is perfectly permitted, and she is not blameworthy or sinful for doing so. There are many examples of female Companions (Allah be pleased with them) where they retained their ascriptions to their fathers even after marriage; such as Khadija bint Khuwaylid, Zaynab bint Jahsh and Sawda bint Zam’ah – all wives of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace). They did not adjust or change their names to show their marriage with anyone.

In summary, it is permissible, though not necessary, for the wife to adopt her husband’s surname or first name after marriage.

And Allah Knows Best

[Mufti] Muhammad ibn Adam
Darul Iftaa
Leicester , UK

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