Concerns with Islam: Adoption

Adoption in Islam and the History of Prophet Muhammad’s Marriage to Zainab Bint Jahsh[edit]

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[edit]

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.

After Islam[edit]

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:

“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.”

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:

“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.”

Muhammad’s Marriage to Zainab Bint Jashsh[edit]

According to Ibn Sa`d and al-Tabari concerning this story:

Muhammad Ibn Yahya Ibn Hayyan narrated, “The Messenger of God came to Zaid Ibn Haritha’s house seeking him. Perhaps the Messenger of God missed him at that time, that is why he said, ‘Where is Zaid?’ He went to his house seeking him and, when he did not find him, Zainab Bint Jahsh stood up to greet him in a housedress, but the Messenger of God turned away from her. She said, ‘He is not here, Messenger of God, so please come in; my father and mother are your ransom.’ Mohamed refused to go in. Zainab had hurried to dress herself when she heard that Mohamed was at her door, so she leapt in a hurry, and the Messenger of God liked her when she did that. The heart of the Prophet was filled with admiration for her. He went away muttering something that was hardly understandable but for this sentence: ‘Praise be to God who disposes the hearts.’ When Zaid came back home, she told him that the Messenger of God came. Zaid asked, ‘You asked him to come in, didn’t you?’ She replied, ‘I invited him in, but he refused.’ He said, Did you hear him say anything?’ She answered, ‘When he had turned away, I heard him say something that I could hardly understand. I heard him say, “Praise be to God who disposes the hearts.” ‘ Zaid went out to the Messenger of God and said, ‘O Messenger of God, I learned that you came to my house. Did you come in? O Messenger of God, my father and mother are your ransom. Perhaps you liked Zainab. I can leave her.’ The Messenger of God said, ‘Hold on to your wife.’ Zaid said, ‘O Messenger of God, I will leave her.’ Mohamed said, ‘Keep your wife.’ But when Zaid left her, she finished her legal period after she had isolated herself from Zaid. While the Messenger of God was sitting and talking with `A´isha, he was taken in a trance, and when it lifted, he smiled and said, ‘Who will go to Zainab to tell her that God wedded her to me from heaven?’ The Messenger of God recited; ‘Thus you told someone whom God had favored and whom you yourself have favored: “Hold on to your wife.” ‘ `A´isha said, ‘I heard much about her beauty and, moreover, about how God wedded her from heaven, and I said, “For sure she will boast over this with us.” ‘Salama, the slave of the Messenger of God, hurried to tell her about that. She gave her some silver jewelry that she was wearing.”

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:

“Muhammad prohibits the wives of the son while he himself marries the wife of his son Zaid.” Abdullah Ibn Umar narrated: “We have always called him Zaid Ibn Muhammad.” Abdullah Ibn Umar said, “We only called him Zaid Ibn Muhammad till the verse ‘Muhammad is not the father of any of your men’ was revealed.”

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:

“Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but [he is] God’s Messenger and the Seal of the Prophets. God is Aware of everything!”

We married her off to you so that there would be no objection for believers in respect to their adopted sons’ wives once they have accomplished their purpose with them. God’s command must be done!”

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:

“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.”

Orphanage day puts adoption in spotlight
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:

“55% of British Pakistanis are married to first cousins while in Bradford the figure is 75 per cent. Only 3% of all births in Britain are to British Pakistanis parents but they make up one third of children with genetic disorders.”

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.

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One Response to Concerns with Islam: Adoption

  1. θ says:

    Fostering turns to be as adoption if a foster child vows to be the confidant (Aqadat Ayman) of his foster parent. The person of confidante can receive the portion of inheritance per Q.4, v.33.

    Mawla means successor. Mawali meand successors. In terms of the affinity (opposed to Consanguinity), that is a non-blood connection, Mawla refers to either the fostering or the adoption depending on child’s choice of taking vow of confidante or not. Zayd is called Zayd Mawla Muhammad.

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