Adoption in Islam: Not in my house
8/21/2013 12:04 PM
By Yusra Gomaa (courtesy of
“H-H-Hello, Asalaamu’alaykum. Umm, my name is Amna and I have two young
children. The state is terminating my parental rights, and there’s nothing
I can do. I didn’t know who else to call. I have one month to find someone
before they go up for adoption. Can you please help me find a Muslim to adopt my
children?” The mosque director began a three-week campaign in Tennessee to
find Muslims both willing and qualified to adopt these two children, but found none.
Instead, he received either apathetic silence or a flurry of e-mails and complaints
insisting that Islam forbade adoption. The weeks came and went without any interest
from the Muslim community and the state ultimately placed Amna’s children
on their adoption list.
I couldn’t shake this incident and decided to conduct some rudimentary research
on the issue. I began by calling adoption and foster agencies in Ohio. “Do
you have any licensed Muslim foster parents or do you know of any Muslims looking
to adopt?” I received a resounding “no” from each agency. One
woman replied that while they worked with plenty of diverse individuals, including
gay and Buddhist couples, they see very few Muslims on their networks. When I asked
whether Muslim children frequently came into the “system,” she explained
that they did, but were amongst the most difficult children to match into homes
because of their unique religious and cultural needs. I made similar inquiries in
Michigan, Washington, Indiana and Wisconsin only to hear the same response. My inquiries
did reveal that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services attempted a work-around
for this problem: publishing guidelines on its website to educate non-Muslim foster
parents on the cultural norms and religious traditions of Muslim foster children.
Meanwhile, in a small mosque nestled in the suburbs of south Chicago, a group of
women sat cross-legged in a post-prayer circle. One member leaned in and helpfully
warned the Malaysian woman who had confessed to having difficulty conceiving, “Adoption
is one idea, but it should be the last resort—you have to be careful who you
bring into your home!” Another advised her to keep in mind the difficulties
of raising an adopted child given the rules of hijab and modesty amongst non-blood
members of the opposite gender.
As I quietly observed this exchange, it occurred to me that this is, in fact, the
only setting in which I heard adoption being seriously considered within our communities.
For most Muslim Americans, it seems adoption is an option solely for women battling
infertility— a viable option only because it fulfills the woman’s own
desire to raise children. The community pities and prays for her because she can’t
have her own, so it reluctantly presents her with the possibility of adopting. Yet
this is one side of the coin.
Muslim Americans remain ignorant of the dire need for adoptive and foster parents
in this country. Although adoption is an obvious and highly rewarding solution for
couples unable to have biological children, most Muslims sitting—and judging—on
the sidelines miss out on perhaps one of the most charitable acts advocated by their
faith: caring for orphans and neglected children. Not only was the final messenger
of God in Islam an orphan, but he raised and fostered a child in his own household.
The Qur’an emphasizes the importance of caring for orphans (including children
who are “weak and oppressed”) in twelve different chapters and in at
least 22 different instances, oftentimes alongside the core requirements of Islam—that
we worship God and show kindness to our parents.
In one short chapter, Al-ma’oon,’ which translates to “Small kindness,”
God refers to the rejection of an orphan as a rejection of faith itself. He reminds
mankind, “Have you seen the one who denies the Day of Judgment? For he is
the one who rejects the orphan.” In yet another verse, God rebukes a man in
the hereafter, stating first and foremost, “Nay, but you honor not the orphan.”
(Qur’an 89:17). The last messenger is reported to have said, “I and
the caretaker of the orphan will enter Paradise together like this, raising (by
way of illustration) his forefinger and the middle finger jointly, leaving no space
in between” [Saheeh al-Bukhari].
Despite all the spiritual benefits and rewards of adoption, I cringe when I imagine
the widened eyes and awkward questions that would arise if I myself embarked on
such a path. If I wanted to foster a child: How can she just allow anyone into the
privacy of her home for a short time? Or, worse, if I wanted to adopt: Is it because
she can’t have her own? Why else would she go that route?
In 2011, in the U.S. alone, at least 400,540 children were in the foster care system—a
setup in which the state takes temporary custody of children who have no one to
safely care for them. The state places most of these boys and girls in individual
foster homes until their biological parents are in a position to care for them or
until a permanent adoptive parent takes them in. While a child resides in a foster
home, the state pays the foster parent/s, who must be licensed individuals, monthly,
to care for the children. While most children remain in the foster-care system temporarily—oftentimes
one to five months—before they are returned to their natural parents, some
have no chance of reunification with their biological mother and father, because
their parents have either passed away or will never be able to provide the children
with a safe, healthy home. Although government agencies work diligently, as of 2011,
104,236 children in foster care had zero-chance of reunification and were waiting
to be adopted (AFCARS Report 2012).
Children do not lead normal lives within a foster home, and many can expect to “age-out”
in the system. At best, these boys and girls will bounce from home to home without
any sense of continuity or stability in their lives and at worst, they will find
themselves living with foster parents who further abuse them or don't provide a
home which rises to a standard you would consider acceptable.1 I can
recall working with a teenager who had been in and out of 16 different foster homes
by the time she was 16. Aside from frequently shuttling from one foster home to
another, these children become accustomed to monthly court visits, weekly case-worker
visits, frequent attorney meetings, and, quite frankly, very little privacy. Who
are the foster parents? Rarely Muslim. Who are the adoptive parents? Rarely Muslim.
I have had the opportunity to work with many parentless children within the Court
Appointed Special Advocate Association (CASA) as well as the Cook County Public
Guardian’s Office. A Muslim mother who came into my office once crossly asked
me why we could not temporarily place her children in a Muslim foster home while
she underwent treatment for a mental illness. The answer was both an easy and difficult
one at the same time. “Well ma’am,” I replied, “there are
Of course, for a Muslim, both fostering and adopting a child poses unique challenges,
some which stem from the fact that Islam refuses to completely strip even an adopted
child of his biological origin. In other words, Islam demands that adopted children
keep their last names, and adoptive parents may have to adhere to certain rules
of modesty when it comes to interactions between the child and members of the caretaking
family of the opposite gender. Easy? Hardly. But maybe that‘s why those who
care for an orphan will sit alongside the Prophet in Paradise. Maybe raising an
orphan alongside my own biological son won’t be so bad for my son, who may
learn a thing or two about the essence of this faith and the magnitude of human
If you are interested in learning more about adoption and/or becoming licensed foster
parents, please call foster care and adoption agencies in your city.
1 (Hobbs, Georgina F., Hobbs, Christopher J., Wynne, Jane M. (Dec. 1999),
Abuse of children in foster and residential care. Child Abuse & Neglect, Volume
23, Issue 12, p. 1239-1252).
Yusra Gomaa is a civil rights attorney currently practicing at Kapitan Law Office
in Chicago, Illinois and may be contacted at
firstname.lastname@example.org. Yusra has
previously clerked for the Office of the Cook County Public Guardian in Chicago,
Illinois, where attorneys represent abused and neglected children, and is currently
a volunteer Guardian ad Litem with CASA-Ohio, a non-profit child advocacy organization.