Adoption is a forgotten sunnah, and we as a community need to do more to embrace it for the sake of children who need us.
– Maryam Lane, mother of three adopted children.
Maryam Lane, an English revert, came to Islam ten years before meeting her husband at university. They soon got married and like most young, newly married couples they wanted to start a family. After years of tests, procedures and medical interventions to have children which were sadly all unsuccessful, they then decided to try a different, less travelled route. “In the process of grieving, we came to realise we did not necessarily wish to get pregnant but to be parents to children, for children who needed parents,” explains Maryam. “That was the beginning of our adoption journey.”
The couple, who are now both in their early 30s, carried out extensive research on the Islamic perspective on adoption to find out where they stood. They found that, although there were mixed views on the issue from Muslims, Islam itself completely supports adoption and even encourages the act. “The Prophet (SAW) was ‘adopted’ in the sense he was not raised by his biological parents and he himself adopted Zayd Ibn Haritha,” explains Maryam. The confusion surrounding adoption amongst the Muslim community seems to stem from the various conditions under which adoption is allowed to take place. For one, the child must retain their name and knowledge of their family. Following modern practice, they must also not under any circumstances be to led to believe that they are the biological child of the adoptive parents.
The other main concern which crops up is around mahram issues. “The children are not mahram to you as they would be if there was a biological link,” says Maryam. “Hijab would need to be observed around an adopted boy once he reaches puberty or by an adopted girl around her adoptive father. A lot of people have an issue with this because it seems very difficult, but Allah (SWT) has provided an answer and makes things easy by making it possible for a child to be made mahram through the act of breastfeeding (suckling) from the adoptive mother (generally considered to be done before 2 years of age). Many people don’t realise that a woman can induce lactation without pregnancy and that it is possible to do this so that there are no issues around mahram once the child grows up.”
“Of course if a child is older than two years old then hijab and the rules of marriage would apply – but by observing this, no matter how difficult, the reward which you can obtain from providing a home to the child far outweighs the difficulty.” Now a mother to three very young children, Maryam says it has been an amazing experience, if lots of hard work too. “They are the best gift Allah (SWT) could ever have entrusted us with,” beams Maryam. “We look at them each day in wonderment and when I see them change and the progress they have made just because of love, stability and security, it is the most amazing thing in the world.”
Statistically, the number of Muslim children who are up for adoption or fostering is on the rise but sadly the number of Muslim carers isn’t. In the UK, an organisation called MyFosterChild estimates that the number of Muslim children in care is around 3,000 to 5,000. To try and encourage more Muslims to foster, they provide advice and guidance to potential carers and also highlight the dire situation to the Muslim community.
“Positive integration into one’s faith community does not only lead in the long-term to more well-rounded individuals, but this also encourages more healthy and cohesive communities,” explains Shehzad Amin who leads the MyFosterChild Project. “A stable and loving upbringing from a Muslim foster care family who can nurture a child with the true teachings of Islam is something that cannot be replaced.”
Raheema Bux, a mother who has provided foster care to over 26 children in the UK, agrees: “I know some white carers who have provided really culturally-sensitive care to Muslim foster children, but it does make it a little bit easier for the foster child to move to a home that reflects their own cultural and religious beliefs.” Raheema’s interest in fostering was sparked at the young age of twelve when her friend was placed into care. After becoming a mother herself, she took the rather brave decision to go through the emotionally painful and intrusive process of applying to be a foster parent.
“Everyone tells you it’s intrusive, but you don’t realise how intrusive until you go through it yourself!” she tells me, smiling over her cup of tea. “Then comes the panel of twelve people looking at you, your life story, judging you and whether you are fit to be a foster carer,” she recalls. “I found it very humbling especially when they agreed to let me foster. I thought to myself, twelve professionals think I am fit and able to look after these vulnerable children which is quite a responsibility.”
Over the years, Raheema says she has seen the reaction to her fostering mellow in her community as the number of Muslim foster families increases and becomes more visible. Even so, she insists that more families, parents and single Muslims need to step forward and foster. “We need more so that there is more choice for the foster child. Also, when a Muslim foster parent is presented with a placement that they don’t feel is right for them, they can say no without feeling guilty because the child is then going to go to a non-Muslim match.”
Raheema is also keen to point out to potential foster parents that you maintain lots of control over what is acceptable in your home. “You can provide respite care on just weekends for carers or even other foster parents. There’s also the option to just do short-term foster care – so there is some flexibility,” she explains. As a mother, Raheema was also worried about the impact fostering challenging children would have on her son. Today, she admits that the experience has simply enriched and matured him – “He’s very open, tolerant and has a lot of religious and cultural awareness” – and he’s even considering becoming a foster parent himself.
“There are so many reasons not to foster but when it’s all said and done, I just can’t imagine my life without fostering. There are days when I think that I must be utterly off my tiny mind, but there is just something about sharing that experience with a child during a very distraught time in their lives – there’s something very special about that. You can’t do it for thanks from the child or the community, you’ve got to do it because you love the job and because you find some pleasure and enjoyment in making a difference.”
Arwa Aburawa is a freelance journalist based in the UK with a special interest in environmental issues and the Muslim world. She is also the Eco-Islam editor at GreenProphet.com which is the leading news site on green issues in the Middle East. You can see more of her work at arwafreelance.com and follow her on Twitter @arwa_journalist.