I always had an uneasy feeling towards the western adoption system due to the stories I heard when I was growing up regarding strained relationships between adopted children and their adoptive parents and the resulting identity crisis developed by the child no matter how much they were loved and cared for.

Some of these stories even came directly from my own immediate and extended family members which heightened my perception of adoption as a negative concept in general. These negative emotions genuinely affected me throughout my adolescence and so I became wary of people adopting children. Unfortunately, being unable to observe any good examples of true Islamic guardianship only served to reinforce my feelings.

Adoption, even as a topic, seemed to make the people around me uncomfortable, especially if the adoption had been kept a secret from the child which was often the case in Turkey where I grew up. This secretiveness made it hard for those like me to ask questions and seek answers from any of the people involved in the adoption. The adoptive parents felt that the silence was necessary because western adoption, as I sadly perceived, often created conflicts and complications between relationships.

Despite my strong opposition towards the whole concept, my daughter always looked favorably upon adoption since her youth. She frequently mentioned that one day she would adopt a child. She always felt compassion for kids who didn’t have the same love and care that she had growing up. Thanks to my daughter and her persistent but strong statements about less fortunate children, I realized that I, as a responsible adult, could not dismiss this sensitive and important matter that easily anymore.

It was time for me to make peace with the existing system in the country where I reside in order to start seeking ways to help orphaned children, but I first needed to put the adoption system into the context of my faith. This meant approaching adoption with the terms and conditions that my Lord commanded me with. So, I began my research to find out more about how this issue was dealt with during Prophet Muhammad’s (sas) time and how I should approach it given my circumstances in the present.

We all know the famous story of our Prophet’s (sas) adopted son Zaid bin Harith (r.anh) and the revelation of Surah Al-Ahzab 33:4-5, where Allah (swt) prohibits the practice of adopting a child as your own:

4. Allah has not made for any man two hearts within his body, nor has he made your wives whom you declare (to be your mothers) your mothers, nor has he made those whom you claim (to be your sons) your sons. This is but a saying of your mouths. But Allah says the truth and He guides on the way. (*)
5. Call them by (the names of) their fathers. That is more equitable in the sight of Allah. And 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 but what your hearts purpose (that will be a sin for you). Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. (*)

Surah Al- Azhab 33:4-5

The order from Allah (swt) speaks loud and clear to me. With the revelation of these verses, Allah (swt) restores order in the family. Furthermore, I believe that it simplifies our lives for the better without secrets and uneasy feelings. Lineages are protected, inheritance rights are preserved and the individuals’ privacy (mahram) is guarded by reminding us of the rules of touching, looking and covering oneself in front of a non-mahram. Also, within the same surah, verse 37 declares that the marriage between a man and his adopted son’s ex-wife is considered to be legitimate. With this, relationships fall into their logical and proper place.

37. And when you said to him on whom Allah has conferred favor and you have conferred favor; “Keep your wife to yourself and fear Allah.” And you hide within yourself that which Allah was to bring to light, and you fear mankind whereas Allah had a better right that you should fear Him. So, when Zaid had performed the necessary formality (of divorce) from her, We gave her unto you in marriage so that (henceforth) there may be no sin for believers in respect of wives of their adopted sons, when the latter have performed the necessary formality (of release) from them. The commandment of Allah must be fulfilled. (*)

Surah Al-Azhab 33:37

Although adoption in the technical sense is not allowed in Islamic Law, guardianship over orphans and children in need is considered to be one of the most virtuous acts that was encouraged and practiced by our beloved Prophet (sas) with the appropriate boundaries between the orphan and the guardian. Also, the Qur’an emphasizes the importance of caring for orphans in 8 different chapters, namely Surah an-Nisa 4:10,36, al-Hicr 15:88, al-Kahf 18:28, al-An’am 6:152, ad-Duha 93:9-10, al-Baqarah 1:220, al-Insan 76:8 and al-Maun 107:1-3.

Throughout my research, I felt immense relief because I realized that there are ways for us to implement Islamic guardianship while complying with the laws of our country and the laws of our creator. This was the answer to all of my worries and uncertainties.

One of my main concerns with adoption was protecting everyone’s privacy (mahram). I focused my research in this area knowing that it is not permissible to be alone in a closed place with a child of the opposite gender after the child reaches puberty. For this reason, those who are considering adoption may want to adopt a baby that is still breastfeeding (before the age of two) at the same time that the adoptive mom is breastfeeding a biological child. This would resolve the issue of mahram between the adoptive family including siblings and the adopted child regardless of the baby’s gender.

Muslim couples who are struggling with infertility may prefer to adopt a male baby since the mahram issue can be resolved through induced breastmilk, however, I want to humbly remind us all not to forsake and neglect other children who are seeking the same love and care. Just as our Prophet (sas) did, we too can welcome them into our homes.

The issue of mahram, by its nature, is often a sensitive and complicated subject. Those who want more information on this topic should be willing to do their own research. One should also look into how to protect an adopted child’s lineage properly and how to preserve their inheritance rights accordingly.

Now let’s briefly look into how it was done by the best of humankind:

When our Prophet (sas) took Umm Salama’s (r.anha) hand in marriage, she had four children whom she brought along with her to the house of the Prophet. Two of her children were girls, named Zaynab and Durrah, and two of them were boys, named Salama and Umar. Umm Habiba (r.anha) also had a daughter named Habiba when she got married to our Prophet (sas). In other words, by the seventh year of hijrah, our Prophet (sas) already had 5 “adopted” children in his household.

He loved, protected and assumed full responsibility of those children under his care by feeding, clothing, nurturing, educating and marrying them to suitable matches. Once, our Prophet (sas) playfully sprinkled some water on little Zaynab’s face to cheer her up. Zaynab kept her youthful look even in her old ages. Those who knew the incident would tie this to the water that was sprinkled on her face by the Prophet (sas) when she was a young girl. (Ibn Hacar, al-Isâba, IV, 311) This gives us a glimpse of his personal affections towards those children under his care.

Prophet (sas), aside from the children of his wives, also took care of As’ad b. Zurara’s (r.anh) three orphan daughters who were entrusted to the Prophet before he passed away. Even so, nine months after coming to Madinah, the Prophet (sas) took three more orphan girls into his house to look after. And the number of those children continued to increase gradually after that.

Sahl ibn Sa’d (r.anh) reported: The Prophet (sas) said, “Myself and the caretaker of an orphan will be in Paradise like this,” and he held his index and middle fingers together. (Sahih al-Bukhari)

Just this hadith itself should be encouraging enough for us to be willing to follow in our Prophet’s (sas) footsteps in order to reap the benefits both here and in the hereafter. We are the ummah of a prophet who dedicated his life to orphans and to those in need. His exemplary life indicates the magnitude and significance of sponsoring orphans. We can fully practice guardianship even in today’s society as long as we are in tune with the sunnah and the commands of Allah (swt).

We need to remember that these are not our biological children and we are not their parents. We cannot selfishly seek to satisfy our desires for parenthood at their expense. They are entrusted to our care, and our purpose is to give to the greater community by caring for them in their best interest. We pray for the day when they might find their way back to their parents and families. If that’s not possible, we pray that we, without violating anyone’s rights, can attend to their needs as their loving, caring, protecting guardians.

Adhering to the adoption system is the only way for Muslim people to provide guardianship to orphans in non-Muslim countries. It is imperative to remind ourselves that we are Allah’s (swt) ambassadors on this earth and it is our responsibility to shape and mold the future Muslim ummah wherever we are. This should include all of the displaced Muslim children who are seeking safe and loving homes. We should seek to contribute not only to our ummah and the societies we live in, but also to humanity as a whole.

Our next article will highlight and touch on the ways and procedures of fostering and adopting in the United States. I hope and pray that we can all find a way to extend our hands in helping to reshape the future of our children together.

(*) The Glorious Qur’an by Server Yayınları

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