Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Orphans and Adoption in the Islamic Context

From Orphans’ Matchbox:

Al-Masyr Al-Youm (an Egyptian news site) today carries a fascinating article on the unique challenges facing orphans born in a Muslim nation.   While highlighting “Orphanage Day” (April 1)—created to remind Egyptians of the orphans in their midst—the article explains that none of Egypt’s estimated 50,000 orphans can expect the permanency of adoption.  The best an Egyptian orphan can hope for is a temporary family, in an arrangement that the child, the family and the broader community all understand will typically not last beyond puberty.  As the article describes, “Even when an orphan is lucky enough to be taken in by a loving family or orphanage, however, the time will come when he or she must inevitably face the world alone.”

The article explains:

In Islam, the concept of child adoption does not exist. Islamic Law does not permit an orphan to take the family name of a non-biological parent. “They should be named after their fathers,” said Al-Azhar University scholar Abdel Mouti Bayoumi.

Foster parents can support the child financially and raise him or her in their home, but, in Egypt, there is nothing called adoption, which is forbidden by both civil and Islamic law– so fostering remains the only option.

Because Islam sets stringent rules governing relationships between males and females, foster parents may not keep an orphan in their home beyond puberty. “Religious rules are such that the mother of an adopted boy or the father of an adopted girl must ask the child to leave the house when they reach puberty,” Sheikh Gamal Qutb, former head of Al-Azhar University’s fatwa committee, told Al-Masry Al-Youm.

The article notes that, under Islamic law, some foster families are able to keep children beyond puberty if the foster mother was able to nurse the child before it reached the age of two.  Even in such circumstances, however, the child can never become a true member of the family.

“It is a world that considers him of a lower category,” said Iman Shalaby, chairperson of an orphanage in Maadi. “This world lacks a system that eases their integration into society. As a result, the adjustment to life outside isn’t always smooth.”

…For example, when a boy grows up and wants to get married, the family of the bride will inevitably inquire about his parents and family, and the fact that he is an orphan–lacking a known lineage–could end up being a deal breaker. As a result, orphans often marry each other, Shalaby told Al-Masry Al-Youm.

“Orphans in this society require shelter, respect and secrecy of their origin,” she said.

Click here to read the full article

HT: Vitamin Z who remarks “A very interesting contrast between the Christian and Islamic view of adoption.  Speaks volumes as to the differences in worldview.”


Tim Herald said...


Abu Daoud said...

Is this all because the Prophet wanted to marry Zaynab--the wife of his adopted son?

Tim Herald said...

Abu Daoud,

My undestanding is that it is rooted in the significance of keeping the family name alive - similar to levirate marriage in the Old Testament.

The problem here is not adoption but the combination of the law concerning who is mahram and the code of conduct between those who are not. It leaves virtually no place for orphans these days.


Abu Daoud said...

Hi Tim,

My understanding is that Arab culture had adoption, and Ali was the Prophet's adopted son. But Muhammad wanted to (or was told by Allah to) marry Ali's wife, Zaynab. Of course that meant she was his daughter-in-law, and that was a no-no. So the Prophet receives an ayya explaining that adoption is non-existent. Ali is no longer the Prophet's son then, Ali under instructions to do so divorces Zaynab who is now hallala for the Prophet. He marries her.

Abu Daoud said...

More on Adoption:

The all-wise legislator of Islam willed to undo the above mentioned Arab practice of adopting children. The divine legislator willed to give the adopted son only the right of a client and co-religionist. For that reason a verse was revealed: "God did not make your adopted son as your own sons. To declare them so is your empty claim. God's word is righteous and constitutes true guidance. (Q.33: 4)." It follows from this revelation that the adopter may marry the ex-wife of his adopted son and vice-versa. Thus Muhammad married Zainab in order to provide a good example of what the All-wise legislator was seeking to establish by way of rights and privileges for adoption. In this regard God further said: "After a term of married life with her husband, We permitted you to marry her so that it may hence be legitimate and morally blameless for a believer to marry the wife of his adopted son provided that wife has already been divorced. That is God's commandment which must be fulfilled (Q.33: 37)." Who, among the Arabs, could implement this noble legislation and thereby openly repudiate the ancient traditions? The truth is, however, that Muhammad was the exemplar of obedience to God; his life was the implementation of that which he was entrusted to convey to mankind. His life constitutes the highest ideal, the perfect example, and the concrete instance of his Lord's command. --M.H. Haykal, page-296-297

Tim Herald said...

Aby Daoud,

Apologies. I was not speaking as to the motivations of Muhammad per se. My comment was a reflection of what my Muslim friends have said in response to my questions about why adoption is not permissible... I do not remember an answer other than preserving the family name nor have I ever read an opinion by a scholar that says anything else. As to the institution of the rule, your reasoning sounds plausible to me.

But I would still say that the problem in the modern-day Arab world that was mentioned in this article has much more to do with who is mahram and the code of conduct between those who are not.