Wife Changing Surname

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Q: What is the ruling regarding the wife changing her surname once she is married?

A:
This is an earlier response to a similar article written by one woman

My comments on the article follow hereunder:

The writer states that Ulema have branded the practice of a wife taking her husband's surname as bid'ah, but she has not cited any references for this. In my years of experience I have not read or heard of an Alim who called this an innovation. I am not sure whether the writer has understood the definition of bid’ah. Bid’ah means a practice that is introduced into Islam and considered an act of reward, ibadat, or a sunnah, yet it has no basis in Quran, Sunnah, or the lives of the Sahaaba, in spite of the need for such a practice existing even in those golden eras of Islam. Today when a wife uses her husband’s surname it is not done as an act of worship, nor is it considered to be sunnah.

In the very first instance, the use of a surname is not a practice of Islam, for in the times of Rasoolullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) and the Sahaaba people went by the first names of their parents, such as Abdullah bin Umar, Abdullah bin Abbas, “son of so and so” and so forth. So if the using the husband’s surname for his wife is termed a bidah because it was not done by Rasoolullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) or his Sahaaba, then the very practice of surnames should be abandoned, since this too, was never the practice during the early stages of Islam Then this argument will not only hold good for the husband’s surname, but even the father’s, too. However, many modern day practices and systems are allowed if these become a general trend that all Muslims adopt and do not clash with Quran and Sunnah.

In the former times a wife could not change her name after marriage because the trend was for people to be called by their father. So after marriage it is obvious that her father remains her father, regardless of who the husband is. She therefore, would still have the same name as she had before marriage. If she was Ayesha bint Zaid before marriage, then after getting married she would still remain Ayesha binti Zaid. Nowadays, the trend is that the woman changes her surname to avoid confusion when children come into a marriage. If her husband is, for example, Zaid Muhammad, then the children would also be called by the surname Muhammad. Now if the wife had a different surname, how would people know who the mother of those children was? It is for this identification purpose that the wife takes on her husband’s surname so that there is uniformity in the family name. But she still retains her “maiden” name, meaning the surname of her parents.

When a woman uses her husband’s name, it is for purpose of identification and to avoid confusion. This is not a question of attributing one’s lineage to someone other than one’s own father, for indeed this is haraam. Hence we find that the wife will go back to her maiden surname name (the name with which she was born) if she is divorced. Sometimes, even while being married she still uses her old surname on official documents and identification papers.

The truth of the matter is that Islam has not forbidden the use of family names when it is for purposes of identification. There are many examples in the past of even Ulema who went under the mother’s name, not the father, and of some who even adopted names of men other than their own fathers! One of the muazhins of Rasoolullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) was Abdullah ibni Ummi Maktoom. This means Abdullah the son of Ummi Maktoom. A man should take his father’s name, yet The Messenger of Allah did not censor this Sahaabi for using his mother’s name. Likewise, Miqdaad bin Amar was a Sahaabi whose father was Amar, yet he was always known as Miqdaad bin Aswad, even after the verse 5 of Surah Ahzaab (33) was revealed wherein Allah Ta’ala commands that people should be called by their father’s names. Another example is that of Saalim, the freed slave of Abu Huzhaifa. For all his life he went under the name of Saalim Maula Abu Huzhaifa (Saalim the freed slave of Abu Huzhaifa). Imam Al Qurtubi writes under verse 5 of Surah Ahzaab that there are many examples among the Sahaaba as well as those who came later, of people who took names other than their fathers’ during their lifetimes. He goes on to mention that this is not contrary to the hadith in Bukhari which prohibits a man from adopting the lineage of someone other than his father, for two reasons: a) the purpose is not to mislead people, rather for purposes of identification, and b) this is allowed when the real father of that person is known.

From this fatwa of Imam Qurtubi, we can rule on the matter at hand. The purpose of the wife taking her husband’s name is for a common identity. She is not doing this to mislead others, nor is her parentage unknown among the community. Since this is a trend among societies, it would look odd and may even draw insensitive remarks from people when the wife introduces herself with a surname that is different from her husband.

In summary, it is permissible, though not necessary, for the wife to take on the husband’s surname after marriage.

And Allah Knows Best

Mufti Siraj Desai