Posted by: admin | March 18, 2008

MS09.4 – Protection of Lineage

This post looks at the fourth of the darooriyaat, which is a combination of both al-Nasab and al-Nasl which together translate in English to Lineage.We will look at how this is defined in the context of the Shari’ah and how it is protected (Hifdh al-Nasab / al-Nasl), as usual from both the perspectives of what maintains it and what threatens it.

Definition of Lineage (al-Nasab and al-Nasl)
al-Nasab is a noun formed from the Arabic verbal root nasaba which means ‘to relate‘, ‘to trace ancestry‘ or ‘to attribute‘. In our context, al-Nasb means ‘geneology‘ or ‘extraction‘ and refers to one’s ancestors, from parents to grandparents, great grandparents and so on.

al-Nasl is also a noun, formed from the Arabic verbal root nasala meaning ‘to procreate‘, ‘to sire‘ and ‘to beget‘. It means means ‘descendents‘, ‘offspring‘ and ‘progeny‘ and refers to the opposite of al-Nasab, i.e. one’s descendants, from children to grandchildren and so on.

The English term ‘lineage‘ carries the meaning both an-Nasab and al-Nasl and is effectively all those people in one’s family geneology. The protection of the line itself is the intended meaning when we say Hifdh al-Nasb or Hifdh al-Nasl, i.e. Protection of Lineage as the protection of the lives of people in this line is covered by the maqsad Hifdh al-Nafs, i.e. Protection of Life.

From the Perspective of That Which Maintains al-Nasab and al-Nasl
Those things which help preserve al-Nasab and al-Nasl are encouraged, promoted and obligated. Some examples of these are as follows:

1) Prescription of Marriage with its Associated Conditions
The Prophet said in a hadith, “Nikah (Marriage) is my Sunnah (Way). He who shuns my Sunnah is not of me” [Related by Muslim]. The union of marriage is strongly recommended in the Islamic faith. As intimate relationships outside marriage are not permitted it is the only legitimate means for one to seek sexual fulfilment and also to have children. Despite the strong recommendation and encouragement to get married, it is not by default obligatory, the actual ruling depends on the individual circumstances of a person.

Marriage is the foundation of of any society upon which families are built and children brought into the world. It is the therefore the essential component in building and maintaining lineage, therefore it is important that when one decides to get married, the process is conducted correctly and in accordance with the associated conditions which include: the proposal by one party, its acceptance by the other, a guardian (wali) for the bride, the mahr (agreed gift made to bride by bridegroom), presence of two male witnesses and a public announcement.

These conditions allow the new union to start off from a stable base, they protect the interests of both parties, in particular those of the bride who is generally considered to be the more vulnerable party in the contract.

2) Recognition and Acknowledgment of One’s Descendents
Recognising and giving due respect to where one comes from is considered to be of great importance in Islam. This may seem obvious but it has potential implications in the areas of marriage, adoption and for those wishing to accept Islam. The aim is to keep the family line unambiguously defined and thus anything which can upset this is discouraged or prohibited.

Regarding marriage, whereas in Christian tradition the bride usually adopts the family name of her husband, in Islamic Law, there is no requirement for her to do so, thus maintaining the link with her parents and ascendants.

Caring for underprivileged children, in particular orphans is one of the most rewardable acts one can do, and fostering is also highly recommended. The Prophet Muhammad (s) is reported to have said, “When a person puts his hand of compassion on the head of an orphan, for every hair of that orphan he will receive a blessing from Allah” [Related by Ahmad]. The only issue that arises in the care of children is that of adoption, i.e. legally changing the child’s name and taking him or her so that they effectively become your own child. This is prohibited in Islam as it is important that a child’s link to their biological parents is maintained. Other legal implications of this are that a child who is not biologically yours is not allocated a share in inheritence and also he or she does not automatically become one of your mahaarim (people to whom marriage is forbidden and the rulings of hijab do not apply).

Finally, for those who convert to the religion of Islam, it is also not required for one to change their name to an “Islamic” or Arabic name, although many choose to do so. In particular regarding the family name it is recommended that one keep their last name as a way of recognising their family and lineage. During the time of the Prophet (s), as people converted to the new faith, the only instance names were changed was if someone had a name carrying a bad meaning, for example linked to idolatry. Otherwise it was not deemed necessary and the Companions were still known by the names of their fathers, many of whom had died as non-Muslims and were enemies of the Prophet (s), e.g. Ikrimah ibn Abi Jahl.

From the Perspective of That Which Threatens al-Nasab and al-Nasl
Those things which threaten al-Nasab and al-Nasl are discouraged, prevented and prohibited. Some examples of how is achieved are as follows:

1) Prohibition and Punishment of Zina (Fornication and Adultery)
The Arabic term Zina is used to describe all extra-marital sexual relations whether prior to marriage or while being married, i.e. fornication and adultery. Both are of grave seriousness in Islam and zina is therefore categorised as one of the major sins (kabaa’ir). In the Qur’an we are warned, “And come not near to unlawful sexual intercourse. Verily, it is a shameful deed and an evil way.” [Qur’an 17:32]

The prohibition of zina is absolute and without exception. It is an act that attacks the foundational unit of society, the family, and also results in the birth of children outside of marriage. In the UK for example, in 2004 the proportion of births outside wedlock was 40%, a staggering figure which is predicted to rise. It is the aim of the Shari’ah to protect against such chaos and against the damage to the family unit caused directly by adulterous relationships and also indirectly due to the stigma attached to adultery and fornication.

Due to the seriousness of zina, the prescribed punishments (hudood) in the Shari’ah are also strict. In addition to punishing an offender they serve as a deterrent to others. These punishments are the topic of much debate today with some voices describing them as overly harsh or outdated. Much of this is due to misunderstanding on the part of Muslims and non-Muslims and due to some states applying them incorrectly. Having said that, the punishment for fornication (zina of unmarried person) is prescribed explicitly in the Qur’an so is part and parcel of the Shari’ah: “The woman and the man guilty of adultery or fornication, flog each of them with a hundred stripes. Let not compassion move you in their case, in a matter prescribed by Allah, if you believe in Allah and the Last Day, and let a party of the Believers witness their punishment” [Qur’an 24:2]. The punishment for the zina of a married person (muhsan) is outlined in the second source of Islamic Law, the ahadith of the Prophet Muhammad (s) where the prescribed punishment is stoning.

Although the punishments may be severe, so too is the crime. The conditions for their application are also quite stringent. For one to be punished in this way for the crime of zina, there must be four witnesses who see with their own eyes the act of penetration or an admission from the guilty party. Any evidence less than this is inadmissable and would not lead to the application of these punishments. Furthermore someone who falsely accuses someone of zina is himself subject to punishment in the eyes of the law. This standard of proof has led some to comment that the intended purpose behind these punishments is actually for a public order crime as the State is not charged with spying on what people do in their own homes or in private.

Many scholars have even held the view that pregnancy is not to be considered sufficient evidence of adultery or fornication. This is drawn from the well known saying of the Prophet Muhammad (s), “Drop the hadood in all cases of doubt” [Related by Tirmidhi] i.e. if there is any doubt whatsoever, then the hadd punishment is not to be applied. This is similar to the concept of ‘reasonable doubt’ in Western legal systems and to illustrate this point, my teacher mentioned that even if an unmarried man and woman were found in bed together, unless the act of penetration was witnessed by four people, there would be insufficient evidence to try them for the crime of zina. Of course being in that situation itself is prohibited and the punishment to be applied would be at the judge’s discretion.

2) Prohibition of Illicit Intermingling of the Sexes
Intermingling or mixing between the sexes in Islam is not prohibited for its own sake, rather there is a reason (‘illah), the concern that it may lead to other sins such as zina. This is based on the juristic principle “That which leads to haram is also haram” and is the basis of one of the sources of Islamic Law, “Saddan li-Dharaa’i” which literally means “Blocking the Means” (i.e. to haram).

In the area of gender relations this has been interpreted differently by different scholars and this in part depends on the particular situation they are presented with. On the whole however, we can say that those situations which can lead to the possibility of zina are the intended meaning when we say ‘illicit intermingling‘. Examples of such situations are being alone with opposite sex, intimate conversations, dating, inappropriate gatherings etc. The day to day interactions which are necessary in society are not intended here as this concern does not arise.

Even in these normative interactions however Islam teaches us etiquettes on how men and women should behave around one another. These etiquettes are summaried in the Qur’anic verse which says, “Tell the believing men to lower their gaze and be modest. That is purer for them. Lo! Allah is aware of what they do. And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be modest, and to display of their adornment only that which is apparent, and to draw their veils over their bosoms…” [Qur’an 24:30-31]

3) Prohibition of Abortion and Infanticide
Under Islamic Law, abortion is tantamount to murder as even before birth, a foetus is considered to be a soul with rights needing protection. From this perspective, this life even while inside its mother’s womb is protected under the maqsad Hifdh al-Nafs.

However the prohibition of abortion also serves to protect one’s lineage as one’s children are the direct continuation of one’s family line and so protecting them automatically protects one’s nasl (descendents). The actual jurisprudence regarding abortion requires further elaboration and more information can be found here and here.

For similiar reasons infanticide is also haram. Although this too is murder it was singled out by the Qur’an as it was a henious practice of some tribes in pre-Islamic Arabia, particularly with regards to daughters. The Qur’an addresses this in several places, one of which focuses on killing children due to fear of poverty. “Kill not your children for fear of want: We shall provide sustenance for them as well as for you. Verily the killing of them is a great sin.” [Qur’an 17:31]

4) Prohibition of Insulting the Dead or the Living
Linked to recognising and respecting one’s descendents is the prohibition of insulting or speaking ill of others, whether they be living or dead. The reason behind this is that by doing so, one hurts the feelings of others and can damage the reputations of individuals and families which can directly or indirectly affect the social standing of a particular family name. This is linked to Hifdh al-‘Ird (Protection of Honour) as one’s reputation is also a matter of honour.

Whether what is spread about someone is true or false, the prohibition remains. If the tale is true, it is called gheeba (backbiting) and if false it is considered to be slander. The Qur’an speaks very strongly against this, “O you who believe! Avoid much suspicion, in deeds some suspicions are sins. And spy not neither backbite one another. Would one of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? You would hate it. And fear God, verily, God is the one who accepts repentance, Most Merciful” [Qur’an 49: 12]. And rather than speak ill off people behind their back, we are encouraged to hide their faults. In a famous hadith, the Prophet Muhammad (s) is reported to have said: …if anyone conceals the faults of a Muslim, Allah will conceal his faults in this world and the next…[Related by Muslim]

This prohibition includes all persons, living or dead. If a living person is insulted, it can upset them or their family, to which of course they can retaliate but which will only serve to increase the ill feeling in society between people. However, insulting or spreading untruths about some who is deceased serves only to damage that person’s reputation to which they cannot respond and aggrieves his living decendants.

A narration from the time of the Prophet Muhammad (s) illustrates this beautifully. After the companion (Sahabi) Ikrimah ibn Abi Jahl accepted Islam, even though his late father was one of the arch enemies of Islam, the Prophet forbade the other companions from speaking ill of him as it would only hurt the feelings of his son Ikrimah.

One’s lineage and family are classified as one of the darooriyaat in Islamic Law and their protection is one of the prime maqasid of the Shari’ah. This is achieved by promoting marriage and encouraging that we respect and acknowledge where we have come from.

Additionally those things which strike at the heart of the family unit and upset the ability to distinguish between lineages, such as adultery and fornication are strongly forbidden and severely punished. Those things which can lead to this are also prohibited as are the killing of one’s own descendents either by way of abortion or infanticide. Finally in what is connected to Hifdh al-‘Ird, it is not permitted to insult or speak ill of people, living or dead.

The next post will Insha Allah look at the penultimate in our list of darooriyaat, al-Maal (Wealth) and how it is protected and preserved by the Shari’ah.


  1. […] Also take a look at this great overview of the importance and implications of hifz-al-nasl MS09.4 – Protection of Lineage bitesize islam So the question is….if you’re prepared to accept the fact that the preservation of lineage is of […]

  2. […] Also take a look at this great overview of the importance and implications of hifz-al-nasl MS09.4 – Protection of Lineage bitesize islam So the question is….if you’re prepared to accept the fact that the preservation of lineage is of […]

  3. Jazak Allaho khairan for the informational article.

    My question is, how does slavery fit into this?

    Because theoretically, a man can acquire a slave girl, have intercourse with her (after waiting for a period) and then sell her immediately. What happens to the child born in this case?

    Or is this something that cannot be done? I remember reading a hadith about Abu Said Al Khudri [RA] who did as mentioned above (but he practiced azl with his slave girl).

  4. […] getting back to the topic, the zaat or lineage concept here is a good read MS09.4 – Protection of Lineage bitesize islam […]

  5. assalamualaikum

    i’m a student and currently is working on this topic, al nasab.

    i would like to ask ur permission to use ur article as my reference.i’ll quote ur blog as my ref.


  6. Wa ‘alaikum as-Salam,

    I would be more than happy for you to use my article, and many thanks for offering to reference it.

    Please send me your assignment once you have completed it, I would be interested to read it.

    Kind regards

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