Islamic lineage regulations are rooted in religiously binding foundations. Paternity is tied to the notion of licit sexual relationship through the concept of firash (matrimonial bed). A legal husband is presumed to be the father of the children born by his wife during a valid and verified marital relationship. The paternity relationship in Islam relies on the concept of licit sex in the form of marriage, or in the past ownership of a female slave. While the definition of maternity is also related to the concept of licit sex, it is not entirely dependent on it, at least in the Sunni tradition. In cases of birth outside of marriage, for example, the maternal connection, unlike the paternal one, cannot be severed.

Modern genetic technologies have revolutionized inherited concepts of genealogy and kinship and enabled, for the first time, clear and (near) certain distinction between legal and biological paternity. Similarly, new reproductive technologies have introduced new models of motherhood through surrogacy and assisted reproduction especially by donor gametes. These developments have sparked renewed interest in lineage regulations, particularly in as far as impact of these developments on established norms and institutions are concerned.

While Muslim scholars and researchers emphasize the importance of legitimate sexual relationship in the determination of lineage, lesser attention is paid to subtle distinctions made by some classical jurists in the definition and conceptualization of genealogical connections. In these discussions formulations of genealogical connections rest on both formalist and objectivist statements about the human body, the marital bond, and filial relationships. The formalist-objectivist dichotomy/duality cuts across school boundaries and depends on the issue at hand. This presentation will focus on some illustrative debates pertaining to the concepts of firash, nikah, as well as the methods for the verification of lineage and the hierarchy of these methods. The presentation argues that this formalist-objectivist distinction alludes to a more complex conceptualization of lineage regulations than what is usually understood to be the standard Islamic one. Moreover, paying attention to this distinction leads to a deeper understanding of the modern discourse on this issue as well.


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  • Received: 01 March 2014
  • Accepted: 01 March 2014
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