Can a Woman Adopt her Husband’s Family Name after Marriage?

9th December 2014

السلام عليكم و رحمة الله و بركاته

Question: Some people have claimed that it is decisively prohibited for a woman to change her surname after marriage based on the Quranic verse, “Call them by [the name of] their [natural] fathers as It is more equitable in the sight of Allah” (Surah al-Ahzab 33:5). Hence, a woman must retain her maiden surname. My question is, what is the Islamic ruling in this regard? Considering the fact that it has become a tradition and custom amongst many women to adopt the surname of their husbands, is this totally prohibited or not? Please provide a detailed answer with evidences.

الجواب حامداً و مصلياً

In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful


This confusion is due to misapplication of the Qurānic and prophetic injunction on this. It is preferable for a woman to retain her original family surname after marriage otherwise changing it is not prohibited. By changing her surname or family name is simply to suggest that she is now a member of her husband’s family, not to intentionally detach her lineage from her natural parents or to conceal her true identity which was the customary practice of the Arabs in the early days before Islām. It is necessary to be acquainted with the customary practice of the society before passing a ruling so to ensure that rulings are not misapplied.

As a general principle, our Deen does not tolerate any false attribution of lineage to anyone. Imām As-Shātibi rahimahullah includes preservation of lineage as part of the primary objectives of the Shari’ah.[1] This implies that a child born to a woman is automatically attributed to its natural father to whom she is married and shares her intimate relationship with. Prior to Islām, the Arabs trivialised the practice of false attribution of lineage to intentionally conceal their real identity. Allāh Almighty abolished this deceptive practice and commanded the believers to abstain from this in the following verse,“….and He has not made your pronunciations [of sons] as your [real] sons, this is merely your statements [that you have uttered] from your mouths whereas Allāh speaks the truth and guides to towards the path. Address them by their[natural] fathers, that is more just in the sight of Allāh, but if you do not know their fathers then [they are] your brothers in Deen and your friends….”[2]

Imām Abū Bakar Jassās rahimahullah explains the backdrop incident to this verse stating that this was revealed when the Messenger of Allāh sallallahu alayhi wasallam adopted Sayyidunā Zaid Ibn Hārithah radhiyallahu anhu by attaching Zaid’s lineage to himself.[3] According to other narrations, when Sayyidunā Zaid radhiyallahu anhu was abducted and later sold in in the markets of Makkah, Sayyidah Khadeejah radhiyallahu anha purchased him and gifted him to the Messenger of Allāh sallallahu alayhi wasallam. He attached his lineage to himself by referring to him Zayd the son of Muhammad. After receiving prophethood, Allāh Almighty forbade this custom and the Messenger of Allāh sallallahu alayhi wasallam renamed him Zaid Ibn Hārithah.

The Arabs would generally identify the individual’s lineage by mentioning their father’s name next to their own e.g. Zaid Ibn Thābit, Zaid Ibn Hārithah, Muhammad Ibn Abdullāh and so forth. Because of this, it was considered mandatory to mention it all the time for identification purpose. Attributing oneself to other than their own natural fathers would mislead people of their true identity. However, the Mufasiroon (Qur’anic exegetes) explain the reasons why some Arabs during the period of Jāhiliyyah practised false attribution of lineage and the way in which they would go about it. For instance, Imām Qurtubi rahimahullah states that if someone was pleased with another person’s strength and intelligence then he would attach that individual to himself. Resultantly, they would assign a share of their inheritance to him along with his other biological children (as if he is their own natural child like the rest) and attribute him to his lineage by saying fulān Ibn fulān (so and so the son of so and so).[4] Imām Ibn Katheer rahimahullah further expounds that the adopted child was treated similar to their own biological child in every aspect such as the laws of Mahram [thus preventing him from marrying any of the family members] and [the permissibility] of remaining in privacy with other members of the house.[5] Allāh Almighty reprimanded them knowing the fact that the adopted child doesn’t belong to their lineage because he is born from someone else.[6]

It was in this respect that Allāh Almighty and His Messenger sallallahu alayhi wasallam forbade false attribution to another person, knowing that he is not part of his lineage and an act of deception. Sayyidunā Sa’d radhiyallahu anhu relates that I heard the Messenger of Allāh sallallahu alayhi wasallam say, “Whoever claims to attribute himself to other than his [natural] father, knowing that he is not his father, then Paradise will be denied to him.”[7]

The renowned Shāfi’ee Muhaddith, Imām Nawawi rahimahullah states in his commentary,

The meaning of the words ‘claims to attribute himself to other than his father’ is that he attributes himself to him [the adopter] and takes him as his [natural] father.”[8]

To summarise the above, the adopted child was treated as similar in every aspect to that of a biological child in terms of inheritance, marriage, a mahram relative, lineage and so forth.

In contrast to today’s custom, surnames are used to identify family relations. A woman replacing her surname with her husband’s name or his family name merely suggests that she has moved into another family because of the marriage whilst simultaneously acknowledging her natural father and her lineage to him. If her father dies, she is entitled to a share of his estate but not from her deceased father-in-law. By changing her surname, her father-in-law does not legally become her biological father nor do his children become her mahram siblings.

There are isolated incidents however where a Sahābi in spite of knowing his natural father, people still addressed them with names other than their natural father’s name. For instance, Imām Qurtubi rahimahullah points out that Sayyidunā Miqdād’s biological father was Amr and yet people used to refer to him as the son of al-Aswad as in, Miqdād Ibn Aswad [and not Miqdād Ibn Amr]. Al-Aswad adopted him in Jāhiliyya but when the verse of Surat al-Ahzāb was revealed, Miqdād publicly announced to the people, “I am the son of Amr” and yet people still referred to him as Miqdād Ibn al-Aswad. So, this was not sinful nor reproachable because everyone knew who his natural father was [i.e. Amr].[9] Similar case here that in spite of a woman changing her family name, her natural father and identity is still known to others.

To conclude, it is apparent from the foregoing discussion that it is not prohibited for a woman to change her family name to her husband’s name or his family name after marriage if her real and natural father is known. If she retains her original family name after marriage then that is better, bearing in mind that changing it is not necessary nor should she be compelled to do so due to family pressure.


[Allãh Knows Best]



Written by (Mufti) Abdul Waheed

Answer Attested by Shaykh Mufti Saiful Islam

JKN Fatawa Department


[1] Al-Muwāfaq Imām As-Shātibi, Book of Maqāsid, p.8 vol 2

وَمَجْمُوعُ الضَّرُورِيَّاتِ خَمْسَةٌ، وَهِيَ: حِفْظُ الدِّينِ، وَالنَّفْسِ، وَالنَّسْلِ، وَالْمَالِ، وَالْعَقْلِ،

[2] Surah Al-Ahzāb 33, verse 4-5

[3] Ahkamul Quran, p.222 vol. 5 – Shamila

وقوله تعالى وَما جَعَلَ أَدْعِياءَكُمْ أَبْناءَكُمْ قِيلَ إنَّهُ نَزَلَ فِي زَيْدِ بْنِ حَارِثَةَ وَكَانَ النَّبِيُّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ قَدْ تَبَنَّاهُ فَكَانَ يُقَالُ لَهُ زَيْدُ بْنُ مُحَمَّدٍ وَرُوِيَ ذَلِكَ عَنْ مُجَاهِدٍ وَقَتَادَةَ وَغَيْرِهِمَا

[4] Tafseerul Qurtubi, p. 119 vol 14 – Shamila

فَرَفَعَ اللَّهُ حُكْمَ التَّبَنِّي وَمَنَعَ مِنْ إِطْلَاقِ لَفْظِهِ وَأَرْشَدَ بِقَوْلِهِ إِلَى أَنَّ الْأَوْلَى وَالْأَعْدَلَ أَنْ يُنْسَبَ الرَّجُلُ إِلَى أَبِيهِ نَسَبًا فَيُقَالُ: كَانَ الرَّجُلُ فِي الْجَاهِلِيَّةِ إِذَا أَعْجَبَهُ مِنَ الرَّجُلِ جَلَدُهُ وَظُرْفُهُ ضَمَّهُ إِلَى نَفْسِهِ وَجَعَلَ لَهُ نَصِيبَ الذَّكَرِ مِنْ أَوْلَادِهِ مِنْ مِيرَاثِهِ وَكَانَ يُنْسَبُ إِلَيْهِ فَيُقَالُ فُلَانُ بْنُ فُلَانٍ.

[5] Tafseer Ibn Katheer, p.3777 vol 6 – Shamila

وَقَدْ كَانُوا يُعَامِلُونَهُمْ مُعَامَلَةَ الْأَبْنَاءِ مِنْ كُلِّ وَجْهٍ، فِي الْخَلْوَةِ بِالْمَحَارِمِ وَغَيْرِ ذَلِكَ

[6] Ibid

يَعْنِي: تَبَنِّيكُمْ لَهُمْ قَوْلٌ لَا يَقْتَضِي أَنْ يَكُونَ ابْنًا حَقِيقِيًّا، فَإِنَّهُ مَخْلُوقٌ مِنْ صُلْبِ رَجُلٍ آخَرَ


[7] Saheeh Muslim, no:114, Ch.of the state of Iman of a person who averts from his father whilst knowing

مَنِ ادَّعَى أَبًا فِي الْإِسْلَامِ غَيْرَ أَبِيهِ، يَعْلَمُ أَنَّهُ غَيْرُ أَبِيهِ، فَالْجَنَّةُ عَلَيْهِ حَرَامٌ

[8] Minhaj Sharhul Muslim, p.57


[9] Tafser Qurtubi, p.119 vol 14-Shamila

. وَلَا يَجْرِي هَذَا الْمَجْرَى مَا غَلَبَ عَلَيْهِ اسْمُ التَّبَنِّي كَالْحَالِ فِي الْمِقْدَادِ بْنِ عَمْرٍو فَإِنَّهُ كَانَ غَلَبَ عَلَيْهِ نَسَبُ التَّبَنِّي فَلَا يَكَادُ يُعْرَفُ إِلَّا بِالْمِقْدَادِ بْنِ الْأَسْوَدِ فَإِنَّ الْأَسْوَدَ بْنَ عَبْدِ يَغُوثٍ كَانَ قَدْ تَبَنَّاهُ فِي الْجَاهِلِيَّةِ وَعُرِفَ بِهِ. فَلَمَّا نَزَلَتِ الْآيَةُ قَالَ الْمِقْدَادُ: أَنَا ابْنُ عَمْرٍو وَمَعَ ذَلِكَ فَبَقِيَ الْإِطْلَاقُ عَلَيْهِ. وَلَمْ يُسْمَعْ فِيمَنْ مَضَى مَنْ عَصَى مُطْلِقَ ذَلِكَ عَلَيْهِ وَإِنْ كَانَ مُتَعَمِّدًا.