Sunday, November 19, 2017 - 30 Safar 1439

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I live in France, can I take my husband’s family name?

When a woman gets married in France, she takes her husband’s last name according to the French laws. What is the Islamic stance on that? And Are Muslims blamed if they followed this law?


Customary practices in the Western culture grant the unmarried daughter the name of her father and his family and if she was married, she takes the family name of her husband. Therefore adding the husband’s family name to the wife’s name is considered as some sort of recognition or identification which does not insinuate sharing similar lineage or filiation.

The field of recognition or identification is wide and takes many forms. One of these forms is allegiance (walaa) like when we say ‘Ekremah mawla ibn ‘Abbas. Another form of recognition is done through one’s profession such as when we say al Ghazali (the one who spins wool). A third form of recognition is done through an agnomen or epithet such as al ‘Araj (the one with a limp) or al Jahiz (the one with goggling eyes). Also one can be identified through his mother although his father is known, for example Isma’il ibn ‘Ulayyah. A Quranic form of recognition was used through attributing the wife to her husband. God says, “The wife of Noah and the wife of Lot”. 66:10, and says, “The wife of Pharaoh” 66:11. Both Imam al Bukkhari and Muslim reported through the hadith of Abu sa’id al Khudri that Zaynab the wife of ibn Mas’ud came and sought the permission to see the Prophet and someone said “O Prophet of God, here is Zaynab seeking the permission to see you” so the Prophet asked “which Zaynab?” so they said “Zaynab, the wife of Ibn Mas’ud” and the Prophet replied, “yes, allow her”.
What is prohibited in Islamic law is attributing oneself to someone other than his father out of filiation. As for taking the name of someone’s family out of customary practice is not prohibited. The only form of prohibition lies when such attribution to a certain family name carries within its fold filiation to someone other than his biological father. The reason behind the invalidity of considering all forms of affiliation or attribution to someone else’s family name as prohibited is because the fact of resemblance in itself is not prohibited unless two conditions are met. The first condition is when the resembled act is prohibited in itself and the second condition is when the intention of resemblance exists. Therefore if one of these two conditions is missed, the doer of the act of resemblance is not blamed legally.

This is proven through a hadith that was reported by Muslim when he narrated that the Prophet (peace be upon him) felt some pain so he conducted his prayers in a sitting position and we prayed behind him in a standing position. So when he noticed us, he waived with his hand for us to sit down and when the prayer was finished, the Prophet said, “you were about to do what the Persians and the Romans used to do. They would rise up while their kings are sitting. So don’t do this. Follow your leaders in prayers, if he prayed in the standing position, follow him and if he prayed in the sitting position, follow him”. The term (about to) indicates that the action was about to take place but it didn’t. In other words, the action of the Persian and the Romans took place. As for the companions of the Prophet, they didn’t intend the act of resemblance to the Persians and the Romans and therefore their action was not described as such.

The renowned scholar Ibn Nujaym al Hanafi in his book (al Bahr al Raiq 2/11) stated that resembling the people of the book in all their actions is not disliked as we eat and drink like they do. What is prohibited is the acts of resemblance in matters that are prohibited and when the doer has the intention for resemblance. As for adding the husband’s family name to his wife, this act does not defy her affiliation with her father’s name but is merely a method of recognition or identification.

Therefore it is permissible for the wife to take her husband’s family name according to the customary practices of the country in which they live. The Islamic Shari’ah in general does not aim at defying people’s cultural practices or customs as long as they do not violate the rulings of the Shari’ah. For this reason one of the major legal maxims for jurists is that “traditions rule”. This capacious maxim meant to help Muslims to integrate in their societies instead of secluding themselves away from the rest of their societies under the false guise of protecting their religion or keeping their religious identity intact. Islam is keen for social solidarity and integration of Muslims in their societies so they could become beneficial citizens who perform their duties and enjoy their rights.

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