Short Answer: There is a difference of opinion. During the Prophet’s lifetime, people had a first name + ibn/bint (son/daughter of) + their father’s first name. There were no surnames, or clan names, used. While it was not the custom during the Prophet’s lifetime, there are credible Muslim scholars who argue that “in cases where the laws of the land or rampant social customs dictate that a woman change her surname after marriage, in order to prevent legal problems or considerable social challenges, she may do so.” But, “it is closer to Islamic law and to the pleasure of Allah for a Muslim woman to not change her surname after her nikah (wedding contract).”
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The basic principle of naming a Muslim, which Allah has outlined in the Qur’an, is that they should be associated to their biological fathers:
“[As for your adopted children,] call them by their [real] fathers’ names: this is more equitable in the sight of God; and if you know not who their fathers were, [call them] your brethren in faith and your friends….” [Quran 33:5]
That is, any Muslim, male or female, has to be named after their biological father and/or his family as a means of tracing them back to their lineage and ethnic roots.
This obligation in Islam is ordained in order to prevent people’s true identities and family origins from being lost and/or changed at will, without a valid need or reason.
Under Islamic law, Allah has essentially disallowed anyone to cut off biological family ties, either practically or in name.
This applies even if they wish to “reinvent” themselves and give themselves a new identity in order to start afresh in life, as reverts sometimes do, and as is often noticed nowadays due to rampant immigration, relocation, and naturalization.
The Custom of a Married Woman Changing Her Surname
It is not part of historical Islamic norms or culture for a wife to take on her husband’s name, or that of his family, as her surname after marriage.
This tradition has traces in trends that were rampant in non-Muslim societies (especially the French conquest of England in the 14th century), in which a woman’s surname depicted her social status, as well as her legal affiliation, after marriage.
Women were treated as possessions of men.
Hence, a woman took on her husband’s surname in order to show that from now on, she was her husband’s liability, and a part of his family.
Even at that time, non-Muslim women were denied certain legal rights that Islam grants to women, such as a share in inheritance and the right to purchase and own property and other assets.
During Prophet’s Lifetime: _______ bint ________
During the time of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), both Muslim men and women were identified using the first names of their biological fathers.
These were appended to their first names, preceded by the Arabic word “ibn” (“son of”) or “bint” (“daughter of”).
The concept of adding the family surname to the first name did not exist at all during the Prophet’s lifetime.
This is a novel but albeit useful trend that has become globally accepted in today’s era.
It allows people to be quickly identified and linked to entire clans, making it easy for any layperson to know which lineage they descended from.
Exceptions In Cases of Necessity
There are exceptional cases of some companions of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), who were well-known by names other than those of their biological fathers.
One such example is that of the blind companion who gave the call to prayer, Ibn Umm Maktoom.
He associated himself with his mother. Even the name “Taimiyyah”, that of the famous scholar Ibn Taimiyyah, who is well-known with this name, was originally an adopted one that did not belong to his biological paternal grandfather.
Hence, it can be said that, in cases where the laws of the land or rampant social customs dictate that a woman change her surname after marriage, in order to prevent legal problems or considerable social challenges, she may do so.
Just as adopting a nickname with a good meaning, which is other than one’s real first name/surname, in order to be identified among the masses, is basically permissible in Islam, so is this.
I would like to conclude that it is closer to Islamic law and to the pleasure of Allah for a Muslim woman to not change her surname after her nikah (wedding contract).
She should retain the surname of her biological family even as a married woman.
Yes, this implies that her surname will be different from that of her husband and children, but this is what is more pleasing to Allah.
Many female companions of Prophet Muhammad were married to more than one husband in their lifetime. They never changed their names.
Nowadays, even non-Muslim women are choosing to retain their original surnames after marriage, or using a hyphen to attach both surnames together.
And Allah knows best.
I hope this helps.
Salam and please keep in touch.
(From Ask About Islam archives)
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