Orphans and Adoption in the Islamic Context

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