By Ayesha Bint Abrar
When a woman gets married, she changes her surname from her father’s to her husband’s. She is then recognised by the name of her husband’s father and his progeny. She leaves her home, her beloved parents and siblings, and joins her new home with a new identity. This changing of a woman’s surname is considered as a form of devotion and bonding with her new family. Within a few hours post marriage, she is called by a new last name. Does this signal that she should now forget her identity and the life that she lived earlier, and adopt her husband’s way of life? Where has this tradition come from? What is the benefit achieved by this change?
We have witnessed generations upon generations following this trend, but are unaware of the reason behind it. Why is she condemned when she chooses not to follow this unnecessary practice? Strangely, this question does not have a definite answer.
Over the years, this tradition has been rooted into the minds of Muslims who deem it mandatory to have the surname of the woman changed after her marriage. We need to find out how this practice started and how beneficial it is to the woman or her society. Do we see any basis for this in Islam?
Prophet Muhammad ﷺ never insisted on this practice. The Sahaba did not mandate it during their time. Therefore, we find no other sources except that this was a new tradition, essentially started by the French.
The adoption of their husbands’ surnames by English women became widespread in the eleventh and twelfth centuries (Embleton and King 1984). That is, it became widespread at the same time, or soon after, the custom of transmission of father’s surname to children began in that country. This culture carried forward through the years where it reached different countries, and today, it is an unspoken element of marriage throughout the world. But the fact of the matter is that Islam strictly prohibits this practice based on a number of evidences. A Muslim is supposed to follow the teaching of Qur’an and Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. Let’s look at some reason why a Muslim woman is prohibited from changing her surname after marriage:
Allah says in the Qur’an:
“Call them (adopted sons) by (the names of) their fathers, that is more just with Allāh…”
Shaykh Bakr Abu Zayd (رَحِمَهُ الله) said: This is one of the beauties of sharee’ah, because calling a person by his father’s name is more appropriate for knowing who is who and telling people apart.
It was narrated from Abu Dharr (رضي الله عنه) that he heard the Prophet (ﷺ) say: “There is no man who knowingly calls himself after someone other than his father but he has committed Kufr. Whoever claims to belong to people, to whom he has no ties of blood, let him take his place in Hell.”
(All-Bukhari, 3317; Muslim, 61)
Some of the reasons we can comprehend from the above hadeeth are as follows:
- The evidences from the Qur’an and Hadith carry precedence over one’s mere desires to act upon their own reasoning, and as devoted Muslims we should prioritize what Allāh and His messenger commanded over our Nafs (desires). This will keep us safe from all forms of evil insha’Allah.
- It is an imitation of the non-Muslims, and they consider this as an act of devotion. A Muslim’s acts of devotion are only for Allah, and not for His creation.
It was narrated that Ibn ‘Umar said: “The Messenger of Allāh (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: ‘Whoever imitates a people is one of them.’”
(Abu Dawood, Hasan Sahih, No. 3401).
Let us refer exclusively to the Qur’an and Sunnah before we try to innovate or adopt any practice, because unless we have an evidence to suggest that something is mandatory and is considered an obligation, regardless of its application on woman or man, we must ensure that our identity as a Muslim remains intact, and that on the Day of Judgement we don’t find ourselves regretting and ashamed Insha’Allah.