In reality, from the most basic human needs preserved in all the divine religions throughout history is the preservation of the people’s ancestry. Islam, as the culmination of all previous revelations, gives this matter the utmost urgency, as our Lord orders us:
ادْعُوهُمْ لِآبائِهِمْ هُوَ أَقْسَطُ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ
مَنِ ادَّعَى إِلَى غَيْرِ أَبِيهِ، وَهُوَ يَعْلَمُ أَنَّهُ غَيْرُ أَبِيهِ، فَالْجَنَّةُ عَلَيْهِ حَرَامٌ
If “Joe Smith” wants to be called “Abdullaah” – that’s fine! He can simply call himself ‘Abdullaah Smith, or ‘Abdullaah ibn Michael Smith al-Amreekee. But he is not allowed to hide or change the name of his father.
NOTE: Calling himself “‘Abdullaah al-Amkreekee” sometimes does not mean that he is hiding his family name or his father’s name. The problem is when he tells people not to call him “Smith” or “ibn Michael”. Now he stands in opposition to Allaah’s Legislation.
Question: What if the father’s name has a meaning that is against Islaam, or he is not happy with the history and heritage of his family?
Answer: We have the best guidance in the Messenger of Allaah (may Allaah raise his rank and grant him peace), whose grandfather, ‘Abdul-Muttalib, was THE name in polytheism. Idol worship at the Kabah in Makkah was widely referred to as “the religion of ‘Abdul-Muttalib”. Our Messenger (may Allaah raise his rank and grant him peace) hated polytheism and freed himself of it from the beginning of his mission to his last moments, yet his name remained, as he used to say openly:
أَنَا النَّبِيُّ لاَ كَذِبْ، أَنَا ابْنُ عَبْدِ المُطَّلِبْ
Question: But I thought Muslims are to change bad names to good ones…!?
Answer: Yes, this is an established Islaamic manner. However, let’s make a difference between your name and other people’s names. You are allowed – maybe even recommended or obliged in some cases – to change your name. However, your father is another person. If he is alive, perhaps you could convince him to change his own name. However, if he has passed or refuses to change his name, then you continue to ascribe to him as he is/was known. The proof is again the example of our Messenger (may Allaah raise his rank and grant him peace), who continued to refer to himself Ibn ‘Abdil-Muttalib, while names of ta’beed (“Abdul-___”) are not permissible except with Allaah’s Names, by established scholarly consensus.
Question: What if the new Muslim had been born out of wedlock (from fornication or adultery)?
Answer: If his mother was a married woman at the time of his birth, then he is ascribed to her husband, whether he is the “biological” father or not. This is the verdict of the Messenger of Allaah (may Allaah raise his rank and grant him peace), when he said:
If he was born to an unwed, divorced, or widowed woman, then he is not to be ascribed to the biological father, rather he ascribes himself to his mother.
The Permanent Committee of Scholars in Saudi Arabia, headed by Shaykh ‘Abdul-’Azeez ibn Baaz, stated:
What is most correct from the positions held by the scholars is that a child (of fornication) does not ascribe to the fornicator (the biological father), unless the intercourse took place based upon a valid contract (which would not be fornication), or an invalid one (that was thought to be valid at the time), or a mistakenly assumed marriage…Source: Fatwaa Collection of the Permanent Committee (20/387). In another similar verdicts, they stated clearly that the child born out of wedlock is ascribed to his mother. (20/389, 20/391).
…In such cases the lineage is established through the father, and they mutually inherit from one another. Otherwise, when the intercourse was (purely) fornication, the illegitimate child is not considered the son of the fornicator (the biological father), nor does he ascribe to him. Thus, he does not inherit from him either.
Additional EncouragementWhen we hear of a Muslim named “‘Abdullaah Smith” we rejoice, because it is a sign that Islaam is spreading. It is great news that every Muslim loves to hear. So don’t be ashamed of the non-Muslim family names and hide them, instead use them to spread good news to your brothers and sisters!
Recommendation for Official DocumentsIt can be very confusing when a person from the West travels to the Middle East where the Islaamic naming system is in place, and people named ‘Abdullaah Muhammad are understood to be ‘Abdullaah, the son of Muhammad. In the West, there exists a “middle name” which is usually not the name of the person’s father. As Muslims, we can use this middle name in an Islaamic way, by naming our children according to the Islaamic system of naming. How is that? ‘Abdullaah ibn Michael Smith can name his son:
MIDDLE: Ibn-Abdillaah (or “Bin-Abdillaah”)
He could also name his daughter:
However, for the purpose of international travel, he should change his name on his official documents, lest he is asked, “So Joe, where is Abdullaah, the father of your wife’s children?”
It is hoped that this information is beneficial and it helps keep the Muslms properly implement the Islaamic system of names in their lives.
And Allaah knows best.