In Western culture, people tend to be identified by two names, a first name and a last name. Sometimes, a middle name is also mentioned. The first name is usually the given name. The name parents gave the child and sometimes a person changes that first name later on, but it has no relationship to family or lineage. The second name or surname usually has a relationship to one’s family or lineage.
This is similar to the Islamic tradition in which when people were mentioned by name as opposed to title (Laqab), then the first name once again was the given name, and the last name was related to family and lineage. It was often the father’s name, but sometimes it would be the grandfather’s name or even a great grandfather’s name as it was still related to lineage. For example, Abdullah Ibn Umar (radhiAllahu anhuma), Abdullah is the given name of this blessed Sahabi and Ibn Umar (son of Umar) is the name of the father. That is the way of the Sunnah and the tradition in Islam.
It has never been part of the Muslim tradition for a wife to change her last name after marriage, even when the marriage was to a very noble person. For example, after marrying the Holy Prophet ﷺ, Sayidah Aisha was still known as Aisha Bint Abi Bakr, and that did not change to Aisha Muhammad or Aisha Abdullah. It was the same with the other wives of the Prophet ﷺ and the wives of the Sahabah. If we picked up a book of history or a book that lists out the Sahabah, when we get to the name of any woman we won’t find her name with her husband’s surname. Rather, we will find her name then her father’s or grandfather’s name and afterwards they would say she was the wife of such and such.
So in no way is it part of the Sunnah or part of the Islamic tradition for the wife to change her name to the husband’s name after marriage, it just didn’t happen. Sadly, a lot of Muslims in the West that are unaware of this fact do have their wives change their names to their family name after marriage. I think the main reason for this is that they are unaware that this is not permitted in Islam. What further exacerbates the problem is when they are told that it is allowed because it is the cultural norm. Some people use that as a justification and what makes things worse still are articles like the one mentioned in the question that justify this kind of approach.
Since the surname has a relationship to one’s family or lineage, changing it would be problematic as it would come under the obligation mentioned in the following Ayah of the Quran and Hadith of the Prophet ﷺ:
ادْعُوهُمْ لِآبَائِهِمْ هُوَ أَقْسَطُ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ
“Call them by (the names of) their fathers; it is more just with Allah.” – Qur’an, 33:5
This Ayah is referring to the fact that Sayidinah Zayd Ibn Harithah (May Allah be pleased with him), who had been adopted by the Holy Prophet ﷺ, was referred to as Zayd Ibn Muhammad. The Ayah changed this and made it obligatory to call him Zayd Ibn Harithah. Commenting on this Ayah, Imam Ibn Humam said:
يُوجِبُ دَعْوَةَ الْأَوْلَادِ لِآبَائِهِمْ
“It (the Ayah) obliges us to call children by the names of their fathers.” – Imam Ibn Humam, Fath al-Qadeer Vol. 8, Dar al-Fikr, p310
عَنْ أَبِي ذَرٍّ رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُ، أَنَّهُ سَمِعَ النَّبِيَّ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ، يَقُولُ: «لَيْسَ مِنْ رَجُلٍ ادَّعَى لِغَيْرِ أَبِيهِ – وَهُوَ يَعْلَمُهُ – إِلَّا كَفَرَ، وَمَنِ ادَّعَى قَوْمًا لَيْسَ لَهُ فِيهِمْ، فَلْيَتَبَوَّأْ مَقْعَدَهُ مِنَ النَّارِ»
“Sayidinah Abu Dharr (May Allah be pleased with him) said, I heard the Prophet (Peace be upon him) say, ‘A person who knowingly attributes his fatherhood to anyone other than his actual father, has disbelieved.’” – Sahih al-Bukhari, Hadith 3508
The scholars explain that a person does not actually become a disbeliever by doing this but may become a Kafir if he or she believes it is permitted. The great Hanafi scholar, Imam Badr al-Din al-Ayni explained that this Hadith applies to a person who links his Nasab (surname) to other than his father:
من ادّعى إِلَى غير أَبِيه) ، أَي: من انتسب إِلَى غير أَبِيه)
“(A person who attributes his fatherhood to anyone other than his actual father) this means links his Nasab (surname) to other than his father.” – Imam Badr al-Din al-Ayni, Umdat al-Qari Vol. 23, Dar Ihya al-Turath al-Arabi, p262
He also said:
وَقَامَ الْإِجْمَاع على أَنه: لَا يجوز تَحْويل النّسَب
“There is consensus that it is not permitted to change one’s Nasab (surname).” – Imam Badr al-Din al-Ayni, Umdat al-Qari Vol. 13, Dar Ihya al-Turath al-Arabi, p95
Elsewhere he said:
وَفِي هَذَا ذكر النّسَب الْبَاطِل، وَفِيه زجر وتوبيخ لمدعيه
“This hadith relates to mentioning an invalid Nasab (surname), and it contains rebuke and reprehension for the one who does it.” – Imam Badr al-Din al-Ayni, Umdat al-Qari Vol. 16, Dar Ihya al-Turath al-Arabi, p79
The following Hadith in Ibn Majah is even clearer on the issue than the above Hadith in Bukhari:
عَنِ ابْنِ عَبَّاسٍ قَالَ: قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ: «مَنِ انْتَسَبَ إِلَى غَيْرِ أَبِيهِ أَوْ تَوَلَّى غَيْرَ مَوَالِيهِ، فَعَلَيْهِ لَعْنَةُ اللَّهِ وَالْمَلَائِكَةِ وَالنَّاسِ أَجْمَعِينَ»
“(Sayidinah) Ibn Abbas (May Allah be pleased with them both) said that the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) said, ‘Whoever links his Nasab (surname) to someone other than his father, or (a freed slave) who links his Walaa to other than his actual Mawaali, the curse of Allah (Most High), the angels and all the people is upon him.’” – Sunan Ibn Majah, Hadith 2609 – Sahih
Some may interpret the Hadith saying that “Intasaba” means to explicitly claim one to be his father. However, as we saw above from the explanation of Imam al-Ayni and we see below from Ibn Mandhur, it does not have to go that far, rather simply mentioning one’s “Nasab” (surname) is what is meant by “Intasaba”:
وانْتَسَبَ واسْتَنْسَبَ: ذَكَرَ نَسَبه
“Intasaba and Istansaba means to mention one’s Nasab (surname).” – Ibn Mandhur, Lisan al-Arab Vol. 1, Dar Sadir, p755
A final point to consider is our Prophet ﷺ used to change the names of Sahabah when they became Muslim, if the Messenger of Allah ﷺ felt there is a problem with the name or it’s inappropriate in some way. However, we do not find our Prophet ﷺ changing the last name of anybody, even if the same issue was found in the last name. This is further evidence to show that the last name or surname is not something that can be adjusted or changed.
As for the justification some people put forward that it’s the cultural norm here in the West for a woman to take her husband’s name after marriage. Firstly, it should be understood that one cannot follow culture if it contradicts the religious teaching, which this practice certainly does so. Secondly, consideration should be given before following something which is part of the culture of non-Muslims. Our Prophet ﷺ did like us to be distinct from other religious communities. At times, cultural norms can be adopted and other times it’s not permitted to adopt them. Therefore, due consideration should be given before adopting a cultural norm.
– Answered by Shaykh Noorud-deen (05.01.2021)
– Answer approved by:
- Shaykh Muwafaq al-Marabi
- Shaykh Abd al-Salaam Shannar