100 Muslim scholars say adoption and fostering is a ‘communal obligation’

29th Nov 2019
100 Muslim scholars say adoption and fostering is a ‘communal obligation’

[Image by Creative Commons]

 

Sariya Cheruvallil-Contractor and Alison Halford

The Government does not record the religion of children in care but according to our research at Coventry University there around 4,500 Muslim children in the care system in Britain.

These Muslim children experience significant delays in finding long-term fostering or adoptive placements, and for some Muslim children, finding a permanent home may never happen. This is mainly due to significantly fewer black and minority ethnic families coming forward to adopt or foster.

Adoption and fostering – a taboo within the Muslim community?

Our research shows that theological misunderstandings are one of the reasons that British Muslims do not adopt or foster. Meryam (pseudonym) said that when she was adopting, “her mother and mother-in-law were both told by religiously informed friends that adoption is haram (or forbidden) in Islam.” Meryam encountered a misunderstanding that is prevalent in some Muslim communities.

Foster carers described similar challenges. Halima (pseudonym) said that her family stopped inviting her and her family to social occasions after she had started fostering. Abdullah (pseudonym) said that “negative attitudes to fostering were cultural rather than Islamic” and that they had led to “fostering an unrelated child being considered taboo.” Whereas Islam encouraged him to “place his hand of care on the vulnerable child’s head”, Muslim culture discouraged him.

What do Muslim scholars say about adoption and fostering?

60 Muslim British Muslim scholars from diverse denominations and traditions including Sunni, Shia, Deobandi and Barelvi came together to examine the theology around adoption and fostering. After carefully studying the contemporary British system of adoption and fostering and taking advice from social work professionals they produced a 27-page document entitled, ‘Islamic Guidance on the

Contemporary Practice of Adoption and Fostering in the UK.’ In this document, the scholars collectively conclude that “Muslim communities have an ethical duty to ensure that homeless and parentless children have guardians and families to look after them. The matter can thus be defined, according to Islamic Law, as a ‘communal obligation’ (Wājib ʿalā alKifāyah)”.

Crucially the scholars also state that “If the Muslim community as a whole fails to fulfil a ‘communal obligation’ then the whole community can be considered blameworthy.”

The guidelines produced by the scholars has been endorsed by nearly 100 Muslim scholars (The list is available online.) and therefore clarifies the enormity of the responsibility that lies on British Muslim communities to care for these most vulnerable of children. The full guidance is available to download here: http://bit.ly/IslamicGuidanceAdoptionFostering

Theological issue to consider

Here we summarise the scholars’ conclusions. There are different religious considerations in adoption and fostering.

In adoption, there are specific issues around establishing mahram relationships within adoptive families; protecting an adopted child’s biological lineage, and; an adopted child inheriting from its adoptive parents.

Mahram may be understood as unmarriageable family kin with whom strict modesty is not required.

A common solution to establish mahram relations is through feeding an adoptive child the breastmilk of its adoptive mother or a close female relation – such as the adoptive mother’s sister. Where breastmilk is fed to a child this should be done under medical supervision to prevent the spread blood-borne diseases and to protect the health of the adoptive mother.

Yet this is not always advisable, possible or indeed even needed – the scholars have advised that in adoption where a child has been intimately taken care of my its adoptive parents from a very young age, mahram relations come into play automatically and that it is not always necessary to lactate.

In relation to preserving the biological lineage of a child, the scholars were convinced that the British social work practice of life story work ensures that the child knows about his or her biological family and that he or she is adopted.

There is a debate about changing the surname of the child, again in their guidance document the scholars advised that it is okay to change the surname of the child as surnames do not have the same function that they did historically and in a social-media age it was important to protect the identity of the child. Finally, on inheritance, it is possible for adoptive parents to bequeath up to a third of their wealth to their child/ren.

The case of fostering is different from adoption and here theological scholars and practitioners need to work with foster carers to arrive at a different set of solutions. For example, as the demands and conditions of a foster placement are different, Islamic modesty guidelines are easier to navigate.

Safeguarding policy in foster placements are as stringent as Islamic modesty guidelines, and they often are in agreement with each other, which makes Islamic modesty guidelines easier to manage in fostering placements. Issues around biological lineage and inheritance are not relevant to fostering.

All children need families

The children in care are the most vulnerable in our societies. They may not be orphans but, they do not have families who can care for them and love them.

The Qur’an and the Sunnah (living by the habitual practice of Prophet Muhammad) insist that we care for a vulnerable child. Muslim scholars confirm that it is a communal obligation to care for these children.

Isn’t it then high time that we — British Muslim communities — came forward to do what we can for these children? And give them loving and secure homes and families that they deserve.

 

Dr Sariya Cheruvallil-Contractor
Assistant Prof, Research Group Lead – Faith; Peaceful relations, CTPSR,
Coventry University,

Alison Halford
Project Research Assistant; PhD Candidate, CTPSR, Coventry University

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