Muslims and Adoption

Muslims and Adoption

Over the past few years, has received numerous emails asking why there are no children available from Muslim countries, and whether or not Muslims are allowed to adopt. It is our sincere hope that this article will answer those questions. Please welcome Mahera Nayyer who will offer her unique insight to these issues.

Islam is a religion of logic to me, this statement owes largely to the fact that I have studied all kinds of 'logics' in my years of professional study and career as a computer systems engineer ; hardware logic, design logic, software logic, procedural, electronic, electromagnetic, mechatronics logic so on and so forth. And I am an ardent observer of human behaviors too, which makes me relate all happenings to some kind of logic, it is kind of 'programmed' into my thinking process.

So when I started writing this article, it was in reality a compilation of facts and logics to several questions that linger on in many minds related to this topic.

Is Adoption legal in Islam?

If adoption means giving a loving home and family to a orphaned / displaced child and to look after and raise him just like you would do to your biological child, the answer is YES!. The only thing which is not legal is trying to change a child's biological identity -- which is actually something that is not possible logically. Islam totally allows Muslims to raise children who are not born to them, to look after them, and support them financially, emotionally and spiritually, but they must name the children after their biological fathers.

Islam encourages the believers to look after and take care of children who have no parents and to treat them like their children by birth. However, Islam's stance on adoption rests on the necessity of keeping the biological parents of the child always in the picture. Keeping the original surname of the child, and letting him know the identity of his birth parents are some of the conditions stipulated by the Islamic law when legalizing fostering. The reasons are thus: in Islam, children have automatic rights to inheritance from their biological parents, they can not marry their Mahrams (unmarriageable persons) and they can marry from their adoptive family if no suckling took place. The rules of modesty / hijab exist between the grown child and adoptive family members of the opposite sex. If the child is provided with property/wealth from the biological family, adoptive parents are commanded to take care and not intermingle that property/wealth with their own. They serve merely as trustees and are bound to make the child owner of all such wealth once he/she reaches maturity. All these rules have to be taken into consideration for a Muslim adoption.

Describing the important rule of adoption and its logic, Allah Almighty says : "Allah has not assigned unto any man two hearts within his body, nor has He made your wives who you declare (to be your mothers) your mothers, nor has He made your adopted sons your sons. Such is (only) your (manner of) speech by your mouths. But Allah tells (you) the Truth, and He shows the (right) Way. Call them by (the names of) their fathers: that is juster in the sight of Allah. But if you know not their fathers, then (they are) your brethren in the faith, and your clients. And there is no sin for you in the mistakes that you make unintentionally, (what counts is) the intention of your hearts. Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful." (Qur'an 33: 4-5)

Treatment of orphans:

At many places in Qur'an, Allah commands to treat the orphans with kindness and instructs their rights in a Muslim society. In fact in many verses, the rights of orphans are stated BEFORE the rights of Allah on a Muslim, so the mere sequence of words is enough to stress the importance of this matter. Some of the verses are quoted below:

"It is not righteousness that you turn your faces towards East or West; but it is righteousness to believe in Allah and the Last Day, and the Angels, and the Book, and the Messengers; to spend of your substance, out of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves; to be steadfast in prayer, and practice regular charity, to fulfill the contracts which ye have made; and to be firm and patient, in pain (or suffering) and adversity, and throughout all periods of panic. Such are the people of truth, the God-fearing." ( Qur'an 2: 177)

"Did He not find you an orphan and give you shelter (and care)?.  And He found you wandering, and He gave you guidance.  And He found you in need, and made you independent.  Therefore, treat not the orphan with harshness, nor repulse a petitioner (unheard).  But the bounty of thy Lord - rehearse and proclaim!" (Qur'an 93:6-11)

Adoption and Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him):

The most important related fact is that Prophet Muhammad (May Allah rest him in peace) himself adopted a former slave (a totally non-related child) and raised him with the same care as if he were his biological son. His adopted son Zayd was even named as Zayd ibn Muhammad (Zayd the son of Muhammad) until the restriction on naming was revealed by Allah and he was then renamed after his birth father as Zayd ibn Harithsa (Zayd the son of Harithsa). But in all matters of responsibility, affection and bonding, the Prophet dealt with Zayd just like a son throughout his life.

An orphan himself, Muhammad (peace be upon him) paid special attention to the care of children and encouraged the followers to shelter and take utmost care of the orphans and needy children. An authentic saying of his is: "I and the person who looks after an orphan will be in Paradise together like this..." - then he raised his forefinger and middle finger together . (Hadith Bukhari)

Why is adoption not a common phenomenon in Muslim societies?:

So although adoption is very much legal in Islam and there are the highest possible examples to follow on this path, we don't find adoption a common phenomenon in Muslim societies, when we compare with the same trend in Western societies. Why?. One of the logical answers I could find was: the number of adoptions in a society is directly proportional to the number of displaced children in that society; higher the number of such children, more is the focus / awareness on the issue and more procedural support exists thus resulting in more adoptions. A Muslim society naturally practices some rules which results in lesser instances of totally displaced children. Let's take a look at these reasons.

Foremost, Muslim societies practice an extended and strong family system . It is rare for a child to be completely orphaned, without a single family member to care for him or her.  Islam places a great emphasis on the ties of kinship -- a completely abandoned child is quite uncommon.  Islamic law  places an emphasis on locating a relative to care for the child, before allowing someone outside of the family, much less the community or country, to adopt and remove the child from his or her familial, cultural, and religious roots.

It is religious obligation for Muslims to give financial help to orphaned children / needy families and to treat them with kindness. Charity or Zakat (giving away a fixed percentage of one's accumulated wealth each year) is MANDATORY on all financially capable Muslims. The foremost rightfuls of this charity are orphans. The recommendation is to spend in circles, in the close family, then in extended family, then in your area / neighborhood, then in your friends and acquaintances and to help in best way possible. Apart from mandatory charity, other forms of optional charity are also highly encouraged and are very common in Muslim cultures. This results in most of the orphans and needy to be taken care of by their family / friends/ neighbors in such a way that the children can stay with an existing parent or some other family member instead of being placed for adoption.

The joint family system , which is a special and very common way of living (specially in South East Asia and Middle East) is where 3 generations actually live as one family unit - parents, their children and families of their married sons all live together in one place. If a child becomes orphan in such cases, there is simply no question of him being unsettled from the family shelter or be placed for adoption, he is immediately cared by his uncles / grandparents. Even if living in a single family unit, the grandparents / uncles usually assume the guardianship / fostering of the orphaned children and if needed the children start living with their grandparents or uncle's families. Chances of being displaced or put in an orphanage are minimal. In many instances an elderly family member probably an aunt or uncle come to live with the orphaned children in the same home so that they don't need to change their residence and familiar surroundings, while financially they are supported by the extended family.

Islam puts a great deal of importance on family dealings, especially between a married couple. The family unit is the foremost 'topic' discussed in Qur'an and all required rules are chalked out in minutest details. The family model and rules are clearly defined and stressed repeatedly. Muslim culture thus creates stronger, more bonded, and more lasting marriages and families which implies lesser disruptions, thus much lesser neglected , abused or displaced children in the society

Extra marital relationships are strictly prohibited in Islam and pre-marriage intimacy is the greatest of sins and bears a severe penalty on the offenders, both in this world and the after-world. It is a fact that more than 90% of Muslim men and women are virgins until they marry and they remain intimately committed to their partners life long. The cultural and social setups and the observation of pardah (modesty) also make such occurrences highly uncommon. Result: Minimal unwanted pregnancies, and lesser abandoning of newborns, also minimum broken marriages -- lesser waiting and displaced children -- lesser adoptions.

Islam strongly discourages divorce. Although allowed in needful cases, both men and women enabled to initiate the divorce process, but it is advised to be the most undesirable act for a married couple. Marriages are usually arranged by parents and marriage within first or second cousins is quite common. Even if outside family, marriage is culturally a binding of two 'families' not just two individuals. All this results is couples taking the issue more seriously and exerts a social pressure which causes them to try their best to make the marriage work and in the long term. Result : lesser disrupted families and lesser displaced children.

Even in the case of a broken family due to divorce, the financial provisions for the children remain the legal responsibility of the biological father. Also culturally a divorced women with children is less likely to get involved in another relationship and get married (although remarriage is not prohibited, but rather is encouraged), so children are still taken care of by the separated parents both financially and emotionally and are very less likely to be in need of adoption. On the other hand, if the encouragement offered by Qur'an and the life of Holy Prophet is followed and the divorced people marry again, the children are culturally and religiously the recipients of kindest behavior and the chances of neglect / abuse are slight, enabling them to stay within family instead of landing in foster cares.

Multiple wives (at most four) are allowed in Islam within certain restrictions and conditions. This is cultural specially in Middle Eastern countries where multiple wives and their children usually live together in a warm, loving and coordinated manner. Again this produces some immediate emotional and social backups for children and even in case of being orphaned, children easily live with their loving family members. No chances of adoption again!. This religious and cultural provision in fact avoids adoption in another major way, for infertile couples if the cause is on the wife's side, it is not rare for the man to have two wives in order to adorn the family with kids, rather than to turn to adoption.

Islam strictly prohibits drinking and drugs, this also bears significant penalty on offenders in both lives. Socially and culturally, drinking is considered unacceptable. Liquor / Drugs is not allowed to be sold openly. So another main cause of child neglect / abuse in the form of addicted parents is cut off to slightest and obviously negligible number of addicted parents results in lesser displaced children due to abuse and neglect -- again leading to a low population of children in need of adoption.

Child abuse is in fact the rarest phenomenon in a Muslim society. The rights of children are explicitly defined along side the parents' rights. This ensures a strong cohesive family structure. In the absence of drinking/drug use and with the stringent extra marital relationships restrictions, parents are bound to spend more time at home, be more in their senses, be less frustrated and so to treat their kids more sensibly. So no foster care systems for neglected / abused children exist as they do not form a quantifiable size of society. In fact this kind of adoptions are quite unheard of in Muslim societies.

The role of a married women is clearly outlined to be the one having the foremost responsibility of raising her kids and the role of a married man is explicitly defined as the one to be the bread winner for the family. So in a Muslim culture, women tend to stay at home with their kids and focus on building stronger , more bonded families instead of focusing on their professional careers and money making. These stringently outlined roles give a stability to the family, and although western cultures may struggle to understand at times these culturally accepted roles, in the Muslim culture these roles lead to strong and bonded families with little opportunity for a 'broken home'.

Displaced Muslim Children and Adoption Limitations:

Despite all the facts described above, there are cases of truly orphaned children within the Muslim society. But the emphasis of Islam is to have these children fostered / adopted in their own religion and culture. It is not legal to allow a Muslim child be adopted in a non-Muslim family. It is greatly stressed to have the child's faith retained and not changed forcibly. His faith can surely see him through the tests of life (while his financial needs are responsibility of the State and the society), a family is not guaranteed to do so.

Similarly, it is not advised for a Muslim family to adopt a child of another religion, since both consequences of such an act are not acceptable. Neither is it acceptable to build up a multi-ethnic family nor is it acceptable to change the adoptee's religion by force or by mere circumstantial change. Islam allows one to be a follower by birth or a follower by choice, never a follower by force.  This is the main reason why we do not hear Muslims adopting internationally / cross-religiously. 

Adoptions do exist in Muslim societies , but usually they are quiet , with in the extended family , friends , area or acquaintance . As per the Islamic rules it is actually fostering, with the child to remain legally the child of the birth parents, the purpose of which is to avoid a complicated sense of belonging and keeping the family lineage, inheritance matters, marriageable options clearly defined.

Muslim Adoptions: Past, Present and Future:

There are many instances of Muslim families adopting non-related or unknown orphans, this being a valid option for infertile couples. Although in the past, adoptions have remained a quiet event, but presently there are many foundations, welfare organizations, non-governmental organizations which provide assistance in this procedure. One such example is Edhi Foundation working across many Muslim countries which has established several foster care centers for orphaned, displaced and abandoned children and places them in needy families after thorough scrutiny of adopting parents and also conducts follow-on checks on these adoptions. About 14,700 children have been adopted in Pakistan through this foundation's services since 1970.

Today the number of Muslim orphans and displaced children is growing at an alarming rate due to the recent history of wars and conflicts. There are whole families, whole areas, whole cities being wiped out, leaving the children in a struggle for survival with no relative or loving face in sight. This situation has started to give rise a better awareness for the need of adopting these unfortunate children and there are numerous relief organizations involved in not only providing food, shelter, education and caring for these children but also trying to unite them with loving Muslim families in their lands or outside, is one such example. The awareness, trend and number of Muslim adoptions seem to be on the rise and surely will continue to be so in the future.

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