Adoption in Islam and the History of Prophet Muhammad’s Marriage to Zainab Bint Jahsh
Islam prohibits adopting children. Adoption, as it is understood in the West, is not allowed in Muslim Shariah law. While Mohamed did say “I and a patron of an orphanage are as close in Paradise” and “the best house in Muslim houses is the one with an orphan being treated well in it.” (Bukhari and Ibn Majah), Islamic law seems to set up different conditions.
Here’s a little background.
Adoption was a pre-Islamic Arab Custom
Adoption of an orphan/helpless child was a very popular and moral practice amongst pre-Islamic Arabs. By adopting an orphan, they used to consider the adopted child as their own and pass on the adopter’s genealogy and name, inheritance, and the prohibition of marriage on grounds of consanguinity i.e. a close relation or connection.
Muhammad undid the above mentioned Arab practice of adopting children. Islam gives the adopted son no actual rights. Yes, one can and is encouraged to care for an orphan, but it is only as an act of kindness and there can never be any legal relationship. At the time of this ruling, a verse was revealed:
It follows from this revelation that the adopter may marry the ex-wife of his adopted son and vice-versa. Thus Muhammad married Zainab, his former adopted son’s wife. In this regard God further said:
Muhammad’s Marriage to Zainab Bint Jashsh
According to Ibn Sa`d and al-Tabari concerning this story:
According to Hadith, Muhammad’s marriage to Zainab, who was the wife of his adopted son, led to many accusations against Muhammad. The dissimulators said:
It seems that the community was divided as to whether this was a good practice or not because Zaid was knows as his son and that was normal.
As a result of the accusations leveled against Muhammad necessitated the revelation of the Qur’anic verses mentioned above which I will restate:
In verse 33:37 there is stated a particular purpose for this revelation and action of Muhammad. It states that it is not for himself, but it is for the future of the Muslim community. According to scholars, it is so that in the future there may not be a problem if a father-in-law wants to marry the divorced wife of an adopted son. Excuse me, but why in God’s green earth would anyone ever want to do that?
To me, it seems very self-serving. Marrying your former adopted son’s wife and hence, prohibiting adoption as a result in my mind is in no way a moral action. Prohibitions of alcohol drinking, smoking, gambling, sorceries, killing, etc., could be considered moral actions. I get that. But how can this be considered moral?
According to an article in Al-Masry Al-Youm:
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.”
Ekram Ibrahim, Al-Masry Al-Youm, April 1, 2010
So then what? After puberty the child just goes back to the orphanage or to the street? How does that benefit society?
Muslims always explain that this ruling is to keep clear blood lines, but this is not always possible. If a birth mother dumps her child off at an orphanage, there is no way that he will ever know his background. What is the point of keeping that child in perpetual anguish and making him stigmatized as an orphan for life? And if the issue really is that Muslims fear that a child would marry his sister or brother if he doesn’t know his family background, then that’s what we have blood and DNA tests for! One might say, “Well, things were different back then, they didn’t have this technology.” Fine, so why make kids in this day and age suffer? If Islam is truly reasonable and logical and a religion for all time, where is the flexibility to deal with the current situation of thousands of Muslim orphans around the world that will never be able to say “Mom” or “Dad”?
Muslims also state that only a birth mother or a birth father can love a child adequately and an adopted child will never be loved in the same way as a birth child. This negates the experience of millions of adoptive parents and their adoptees that can testify to the contrary. Who is anyone to measure the love they feel?
Furthermore, is bloodline that important in the Muslim world? Obviously not, or it wouldn’t be acceptable to marry your cousin. In the UK:
If we know that this is the case, why does this continue to go on? Where is the care for children? Where is the mercy for all the children who have genetic disorders as a result of cousin marriages, so prevalent in the Muslim world?
Where is the divinity in this? Muslims explain that orphans can be fostered, but the whole notion of not being able to give him the family name seems cruel and heartless. Why constantly remind the child every time he is signing up for school or in other legal situations that he is an outsider? Isn’t it clear that this would have psychological effects on the poor youth and make him seem less in the eyes of the other children in the family?
Lastly, Muslims claim that there is a way out of this; you can breastfeed the child and that makes it legal for you to raise him in puberty. But what if a child’s adoption can not be arranged until he is too old to breastfeed? What if he has been kept at an orphanage that does not have their act together and didn’t get the paperwork straight? As a result, he would have to leave his foster family when he reaches puberty because the only way in Islam to legitimize the relationship between the female family members and adoptee is for him to have been breastfed by the mother.
The prohibition of inheritance also seems like it could cause a great deal of hurt. If a child had been loyal to a family and loved his “foster” parents as his own, went through all the steps together in life, why would loving people want to make a very clear statement “you weren’t really one of us” upon their death? Isn’t inheritance mostly a symbol? What message does this send a child who cared for his “foster” or “adopted” parents when they were sick, who gave them the same love that their natural children gave them? I have never seen a study on the psychological conditions of orphans in the Muslim world but according to my students who volunteer at a local orphanage here in Egypt they say, “Miss, they are just existing, getting no real education and have no real future.” I just don’t get it. How is this benefiting anyone?
I don’t know, how in the world anyone could dislike such an honorable act as adopting a child in the total sense of the word. There are millions of children around the world who lack love and care. Angelina Jolie is a hero as far as I am concerned! I certainly never knew any of this when I converted to Islam.