Adopting a child

Adoption, a practice where an individual assumes parental responsibilities for a child, is approached differently in our deen. While the concept of taking a child into one’s care is encouraged, it significantly differs from the Western interpretation of adoption.

According to Fiqh, the primary consideration is the child’s welfare while keeping their lineage intact. The importance of preserving the biological family ties of the child is emphasized. Therefore, “adopted” children do not take the family name of the “adoptive” parents, ensuring the child’s lineage remains connected to their birth family.

The Quran encourages us to care for orphans (Yatama) and emphasizes the importance of providing love, care, and a secure environment, without severing the child’s ties with their biological heritage.

ٱدْعُوهُمْ لِـَٔابَآئِهِمْ هُوَ أَقْسَطُ عِندَ ٱللَّهِ ۚ فَإِن لَّمْ تَعْلَمُوٓا۟ ءَابَآءَهُمْ فَإِخْوَٰنُكُمْ فِى ٱلدِّينِ وَمَوَٰلِيكُمْ ۚ وَلَيْسَ عَلَيْكُمْ جُنَاحٌۭ فِيمَآ أَخْطَأْتُم بِهِۦ وَلَـٰكِن مَّا تَعَمَّدَتْ قُلُوبُكُمْ ۚ وَكَانَ ٱللَّهُ غَفُورًۭا رَّحِيمًا

Let your adopted children keep their family names. That is more just in the sight of Allah. But if you do not know their fathers, then they are ˹simply˺ your fellow believers and close associates. There is no blame on you for what you do by mistake, but ˹only˺ for what you do intentionally. And Allah is All-Forgiving, Most Merciful.

Al-Ahzab 33:5

The practice of Kafala (sponsoring or fostering) is commonly used by Muslim communities in the place of adoption to maintain transparency about the child’s biological lineage. The differences between kafala and adopting a child as conventionally understood in the West are:

  • The concept of Kafala, is an Islamic practice where a family takes care of an orphan or abandoned child without changing their lineage or name.  Kafalah etymologically means “taking care,” “sponsoring someone,” and “responding on behalf of someone.”
  •  Kafala, as conceived in practice, varies greatly from one country to another. It can range from anonymous financial support for a child in a residential care facility, a quasi-adoptive relationship, temporary kinship care within the child’s extended family. Kafalah may also involve supporting the child while they live with their parents to enable them to remain in parental care, or a child being sent to live with a kafil (caretaker).
  • The main difference between Kafalah and legal adoption lies in the preservation of the child’s original identity. Unlike adoption, where a child may take on the adoptive family’s name and legal status, Kafalah ensures that the child’s lineage and family name are maintained.
The Shariah Concept of Adoption
  1. Legal adoption, where the child’s lineage and name are changed to those of their adoptive parents, is not permissible. When it comes to a foundling child (meaning one whose lineage is not known):
    • The child should be attributed to a name that reflects servitude to Allah, such as ‘Abdullah [slave of Allah] or ‘Abd ar-Rahmaan [slave of the Most Gracious], as if this was the father’s name;
    • A similar name should be given in the place of the grandfather’s name i.e. Kubra bint [daughter of] ‘Abdullah ibn [son of] ‘Abd al-Hameed, or any other good names.
    • The scholars of the permanent committee (the Permanent Committee for Islamic Research and Ifta) said: it is not permissible for one who takes care of a foundling child to attribute that boy or girl to himself, because Allah, may He be exalted, says (interpretation of the meaning): “Call them by [the names of] their fathers; it is more just in the sight of Allah” [al-Ahzaab 33:5].
  2. If the mother breastfeeds the child:
    • The child becomes a foster child.
    • This establishes a family-like relationship similar to those of their real children, regarding nikah (marriage) and hijab rules, i.e. the child cannot marry the foster parent or any of their biological children.
    • However, the child will not be entitled to inherit from the foster family.
    • The requirements for breastfeeding are:
      • That the adoptive mother must breastfeed the child at least five times within the first two years of the child’s life.
      • Each breastfeeding session must be substantial, meaning the child must be satiated each time.
      • These sessions need to be spread out, reflecting consistent and regular nursing, to strengthen the bond between the mother and the fostered child. 
  3. If the mother does not breastfeed the child:
    • A fosterage relationship is not established.
    • The child is treated like any other non-mahram (person with whom marriage is permissible) regarding nikah and hijab.
    • The child can marry the parent or the parent’s biological children. 
    • After puberty, the mother will need to observe hijab if it’s a male child, and vice versa. 
    • The child will also observe hijab with the parent’s biological children after reaching puberty.
  4. In Islamic inheritance law:
    • Fostered or sponsored children do not have the same legal status as biological or adopted children. This means that they do not automatically inherit from the foster or sponsoring parents’ estate. Specific shares for biological relatives are outlined in Shariah and do not include foster children in these shares.
    • However, the parents can make a bequest (wasiyyah) in the fostered or sponsored child’s favour. 
    • The bequest should not exceed one-third of the total estate. This limitation is in place to protect the rights of the legal heirs, who are entitled to specific shares as mandated shariah. If the bequest exceeds one-third, the excess amount would require the consent of the legal heirs to be valid.
    • The process of making a bequest should be done during the parents’ lifetime and should be clearly documented in a will. This ensures that there is no confusion or disputes after the parents’ passing.
  5. The wealth of a fostered or sponsored child who has not yet reached puberty is considered a trust (amanah) that must be safeguarded by the parent.
    • The primary responsibility of the parent is to ensure that the child’s wealth is preserved and used solely for the child’s benefit. This includes covering essential needs such as food, clothing, education, and healthcare. The guardian must exercise prudence and avoid any form of extravagance or wastefulness in managing the child’s assets.
    • It is strictly prohibited in Fiqh to use of the child’s wealth for purposes that do not directly benefit the child. This includes taking loans from the child’s money or donating it to charity. Such actions are considered a breach of trust and can lead to legal and ethical consequences.
    • In cases where there is a genuine need to use the child’s money for their benefit, it must be done with the utmost care and transparency. The guardian should keep detailed records of all expenditures and ensure that the funds are used in a manner that directly contributes to the child’s well-being and development.
  6. Some important responsibilities and ethical considerations for parents:
    • It is crucial to allow children to connect with their biological parents. Hindering this connection or creating barriers to reunions is viewed as an act of oppression.
    • Exemplary behaviour and conduct should always be shown towards fostered or sponsored children, particularly if they are orphans.
    • If an individual cannot provide proper care for a child, they should avoid fostering to prevent facing punishment rather than earning a reward.
Where we get the distinction of adoption vs fostering :

مَّا جَعَلَ ٱللَّهُ لِرَجُلٍۢ مِّن قَلْبَيْنِ فِى جَوْفِهِۦ ۚ وَمَا جَعَلَ أَزْوَٰجَكُمُ ٱلَّـٰٓـِٔى تُظَـٰهِرُونَ مِنْهُنَّ أُمَّهَـٰتِكُمْ ۚ وَمَا جَعَلَ أَدْعِيَآءَكُمْ أَبْنَآءَكُمْ ۚ ذَٰلِكُمْ قَوْلُكُم بِأَفْوَٰهِكُمْ ۖ وَٱللَّهُ يَقُولُ ٱلْحَقَّ وَهُوَ يَهْدِى ٱلسَّبِيلَ

Allah does not place two hearts in any person’s chest. Nor does He regard your wives as ˹unlawful for you like˺ your real mothers, ˹even˺ if you say they are. Nor does He regard your adopted children as your real children. These are only your baseless assertions. But Allah declares the truth, and He ˹alone˺ guides to the ˹Right˺ Way.

Al-Ahzab 33:4

ٱدْعُوهُمْ لِـَٔابَآئِهِمْ هُوَ أَقْسَطُ عِندَ ٱللَّهِ ۚ فَإِن لَّمْ تَعْلَمُوٓا۟ ءَابَآءَهُمْ فَإِخْوَٰنُكُمْ فِى ٱلدِّينِ وَمَوَٰلِيكُمْ ۚ وَلَيْسَ عَلَيْكُمْ جُنَاحٌۭ فِيمَآ أَخْطَأْتُم بِهِۦ وَلَـٰكِن مَّا تَعَمَّدَتْ قُلُوبُكُمْ ۚ وَكَانَ ٱللَّهُ غَفُورًۭا رَّحِيمًا

Let your adopted children keep their family names. That is more just in the sight of Allah. But if you do not know their fathers, then they are ˹simply˺ your fellow believers and close associates. There is no blame on you for what you do by mistake, but ˹only˺ for what you do intentionally. And Allah is All-Forgiving, Most Merciful.

Al-Ahzab 33:5

وَإِذْ تَقُولُ لِلَّذِىٓ أَنْعَمَ ٱللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَأَنْعَمْتَ عَلَيْهِ أَمْسِكْ عَلَيْكَ زَوْجَكَ وَٱتَّقِ ٱللَّهَ وَتُخْفِى فِى نَفْسِكَ مَا ٱللَّهُ مُبْدِيهِ وَتَخْشَى ٱلنَّاسَ وَٱللَّهُ أَحَقُّ أَن تَخْشَىٰهُ ۖ فَلَمَّا قَضَىٰ زَيْدٌۭ مِّنْهَا وَطَرًۭا زَوَّجْنَـٰكَهَا لِكَىْ لَا يَكُونَ عَلَى ٱلْمُؤْمِنِينَ حَرَجٌۭ فِىٓ أَزْوَٰجِ أَدْعِيَآئِهِمْ إِذَا قَضَوْا۟ مِنْهُنَّ وَطَرًۭا ۚ وَكَانَ أَمْرُ ٱللَّهِ مَفْعُولًۭا

And ˹remember, O  Prophet,˺ when you said to the one for whom Allah has done a favour and you ˹too˺ have done a favour, “Keep your wife and fear Allah,” while concealing within yourself what Allah was going to reveal. And ˹so˺ you were considering the people, whereas Allah was more worthy of your consideration. So when Zaid totally lost interest in ˹keeping˺ his wife, We gave her to you in marriage, so that there would be no blame on the believers for marrying the ex-wives of their adopted sons after their divorce. And Allah’s command is totally binding.

Al-Ahzab 33:37

Surah Al-Ahzab verses 33:3, 33:5, and 33:37, provide significant guidelines on adoption within shariah. Verse 33:4 serves to preserve the clear line of lineage in families and verse 33:5 instructs that adopted children should retain their biological fathers’ name.

A key lesson in verse 33:37 is the clarification of the status of “adopted” children in Islam. The verse makes it clear that fostered children do not have the same shari’i status as biological children. This distinction is important in matters of inheritance and marriage, clarifying social and legal boundaries in adoption practices.

The guidance on establishing kinship through breastfeeding:

وَحَدَّثَنَاهُ أَبُو كُرَيْبٍ، حَدَّثَنَا أَبُو أُسَامَةَ، ح وَحَدَّثَنِي أَبُو مَعْمَرٍ، إِسْمَاعِيلُ بْنُ إِبْرَاهِيمَ الْهُذَلِيُّ حَدَّثَنَا عَلِيُّ بْنُ هَاشِمِ بْنِ الْبَرِيدِ، جَمِيعًا عَنْ هِشَامِ بْنِ عُرْوَةَ، عَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ أَبِي، بَكْرٍ عَنْ عَمْرَةَ، عَنْ عَائِشَةَ، قَالَتْ قَالَ لِي رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم ‏ “‏ يَحْرُمُ مِنَ الرَّضَاعَةِ مَا يَحْرُمُ مِنَ الْوِلاَدَةِ ‏”‏ ‏.‏

‘A’isha (Allah be pleased with her) reported Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) as saying: “What becomes unlawful through breastfeeding is that which becomes unlawful through birth.”

Sahih Muslim 1444b

This hadith forms the basis for the rules regarding ‘Rada’ah’ or breastfeeding. Familial relationships are established through breastfeeding, making marriage between these individuals prohibited. For example, the breastfed child becomes a ‘milk child’ to the breastfeeding woman and her husband. Their biological children become the ‘milk siblings’ of the breastfed child, and this extends to the broader family where relatives are also considered the child’s ‘milk relatives.’ This establishes a network of familial ties that are respected and honored in the same way as blood relations.

وَعَنْ أُمِّ سَلَمَةَ قَالَتْ: قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ: «لَا يُحَرِّمُ مِنَ الرِّضَاعِ إِلَّا مَا فَتَقَ الْأَمْعَاءَ فِي الثَّدْيِ وَكَانَ قبل الْفِطَام» . رَوَاهُ التِّرْمِذِيّ

Umm Salama reported God’s Messenger as saying, “The only suckling which makes marriage unlawful is that which is taken from, the breast and enters the bowels, and is taken before the time of weaning.” Tirmidhi transmitted it.

Mishkat al-Masabih 3173

This hadith emphasizes that for a breastfeeding relationship to establish a milk kinship, the milk must be consumed directly from the breast and must nourish the child, entering the stomach and bowels. The act of breastfeeding must be substantial enough to provide nourishment, not just a casual or incidental suckling. Another Hadith clarifies that a suckling or two isn’t sufficient to establish a foster relationship through breastfeeding:

حَدَّثَنِي زُهَيْرُ بْنُ حَرْبٍ، حَدَّثَنَا إِسْمَاعِيلُ بْنُ إِبْرَاهِيمَ، ح وَحَدَّثَنَا مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ عَبْدِ، اللَّهِ بْنِ نُمَيْرٍ حَدَّثَنَا إِسْمَاعِيلُ، ح وَحَدَّثَنَا سُوَيْدُ بْنُ سَعِيدٍ، حَدَّثَنَا مُعْتَمِرُ بْنُ سُلَيْمَانَ، كِلاَهُمَا عَنْ أَيُّوبَ، عَنِ ابْنِ أَبِي مُلَيْكَةَ، عَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ الزُّبَيْرِ، عَنْ عَائِشَةَ، قَالَتْ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم وَقَالَ سُوَيْدٌ وَزُهَيْرٌ إِنَّ النَّبِيَّ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ ‏ “‏ لاَ تُحَرِّمُ الْمَصَّةُ وَالْمَصَّتَانِ ‏”‏ ‏.‏

‘A’isha (Allah be pleased with her), Suwaid and Zubair reported Allah’s Apostle (ﷺ) as saying: One suckling or two do not make (marriage) unlawful.

Sahih Muslim 1450

Weaning typically happens around the age of two years. As referenced in surah Al-Baqarah: 

… وَٱلْوَٰلِدَٰتُ يُرْضِعْنَ أَوْلَـٰدَهُنَّ حَوْلَيْنِ كَامِلَيْنِ ۖ لِمَنْ أَرَادَ أَن يُتِمَّ ٱلرَّضَاعَةَ 

“Mothers may breastfeed their children for two complete years for whoever wishes to complete the nursing [period]…”. 

Al-Baqarah 2:233

Therefore, the milk kinship is only established if the breastfeeding takes place within this period.

حَدَّثَنَا يَحْيَى بْنُ يَحْيَى، قَالَ قَرَأْتُ عَلَى مَالِكٍ عَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ أَبِي بَكْرٍ، عَنْ عَمْرَةَ، عَنْ عَائِشَةَ، أَنَّهَا قَالَتْ كَانَ فِيمَا أُنْزِلَ مِنَ الْقُرْآنِ عَشْرُ رَضَعَاتٍ مَعْلُومَاتٍ يُحَرِّمْنَ ‏.‏ ثُمَّ نُسِخْنَ بِخَمْسٍ مَعْلُومَاتٍ فَتُوُفِّيَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم وَهُنَّ فِيمَا يُقْرَأُ مِنَ الْقُرْآنِ ‏.‏

‘A’isha (Allah be pleased with, her) reported that it had been revealed in the Holy Qur’an that ten clear sucklings make the marriage unlawful, then it was abrogated (and substituted) by five sucklings and Allah’s Apostle (ﷺ) died and it was before that time (found) in the Holy Qur’an (and recited by the Muslims).

Sahih Muslim 1452a

According to this hadith, if a foster child is breastfed five times by a woman, that child is considered like her biological child.

To summarize, the hadiths narrated by ‘Aisha and Umm Salama (RA), as well as the teachings of the Quran, highlight that breastfeeding must be substantial, taken directly from the breast and consumed within a specific time frame, to foster such ties. Recognizing and respecting these milk relationships help in maintaining the sanctity of familial structures and social ethics in the ummah.

Lastly, here is a hadith that highlights the effect of milk kinship on relationships: 

وَحَدَّثَنَا هَدَّابُ بْنُ خَالِدٍ، حَدَّثَنَا هَمَّامٌ، حَدَّثَنَا قَتَادَةُ، عَنْ جَابِرِ بْنِ زَيْدٍ، عَنِ ابْنِ، عَبَّاسٍ أَنَّ النَّبِيَّ صلى الله عليه وسلم أُرِيدَ عَلَى ابْنَةِ حَمْزَةَ فَقَالَ ‏ “‏ إِنَّهَا لاَ تَحِلُّ لِي إِنَّهَا ابْنَةُ أَخِي مِنَ الرَّضَاعَةِ وَيَحْرُمُ مِنَ الرَّضَاعَةِ مَا يَحْرُمُ مِنَ الرَّحِمِ ‏”‏ ‏.‏

Ibn Abbas (Allah be pleased with them) reported: It was proposed that he (the Holy Prophet) be married to the daughter of Hamza, whereupon he said: She is not lawful for me for she is the daughter of my foster-brother, and that is unlawful by reason of fosterage what is unlawful by reason of genealogy.

Sahih Muslim 1447a

The Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ ) highlights that marriage to the daughter of his foster-brother (a relationship formed through breastfeeding) is forbidden in the same way it would be with the daughter of a biological brother.

Giving Up a Child for Adoption 

Giving up one’s biological child for adoption—as understood in many Western systems, which includes changing the child’s surname to that of the adoptive parents—is not permissible. This goes against the principles of maintaining the child’s lineage. However, parents who find themselves unable to care for their child have the option of sending the child to be looked after by someone else without changing the child’s lineage or surname. 

Sending a child to be looked after can be a viable alternative. Parents might reach out to extended family or trusted members of the community who can provide the necessary care and support. This form of guardianship ensures that the child’s lineage remains intact and that they are recognized as the biological child of their birth parents. It’s essential to choose a guardian who will raise the child with love and in accordance with the deen. The original parents retain the responsibility and rights over the child, even if they are not the ones directly providing day-to-day care. 

Such arrangements can be made with clear agreements about the upbringing, care, and education of the child, always ensuring that the child’s well-being is prioritized. This approach allows the child’s needs to be met while upholding the principles of lineage and family structure.

On knowingly claiming to be someone else’s child:

حَدَّثَنَا أَبُو مَعْمَرٍ، حَدَّثَنَا عَبْدُ الْوَارِثِ، عَنِ الْحُسَيْنِ، عَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ بُرَيْدَةَ، قَالَ حَدَّثَنِي يَحْيَى بْنُ يَعْمَرَ، أَنَّ أَبَا الأَسْوَدِ الدِّيلِيَّ، حَدَّثَهُ عَنْ أَبِي ذَرٍّ ـ رضى الله عنه ـ أَنَّهُ سَمِعَ النَّبِيَّ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَقُولُ ‏ “‏ لَيْسَ مِنْ رَجُلٍ ادَّعَى لِغَيْرِ أَبِيهِ وَهْوَ يَعْلَمُهُ إِلاَّ كَفَرَ، وَمَنِ ادَّعَى قَوْمًا لَيْسَ لَهُ فِيهِمْ فَلْيَتَبَوَّأْ مَقْعَدَهُ مِنَ النَّارِ ‏”‏‏.‏

Narrated Abu Dhar: The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “If somebody claims to be the son of any other than his real father knowingly, he but disbelieves in Allah, and if somebody claims to belong to some folk to whom he does not belong, let such a person take his place in the (Hell) Fire.”

Sahih al-Bukhari 3508

Navigating the emotions of fostering a child

Fostering a child, raising, educating, training, and being kind and good towards him/her is very virtuous and noble. Navigating the emotions of fostering a child can be complex, but understanding its virtues can provide guidance and solace. One of the first steps is to recognize the immense reward associated with caring for an orphan or a child in need.

حَدَّثَنَا عَبْدُ اللَّهِ بْنُ عَبْدِ الْوَهَّابِ، قَالَ حَدَّثَنِي عَبْدُ الْعَزِيزِ بْنُ أَبِي حَازِمٍ، قَالَ حَدَّثَنِي أَبِي قَالَ، سَمِعْتُ سَهْلَ بْنَ سَعْدٍ، عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ ‏ “‏ أَنَا وَكَافِلُ الْيَتِيمِ، فِي الْجَنَّةِ هَكَذَا ‏”‏‏.‏ وَقَالَ بِإِصْبَعَيْهِ السَّبَّابَةِ وَالْوُسْطَى‏.‏

Narrated Sahl bin Sa`d: The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “I and the person who looks after an orphan and provides for him, will be in Paradise like this,” putting his index and middle fingers together.

Sahih al-Bukhari 6005

Emotional attachment is natural and expected when fostering a child. While it is important to love and care for the child as your own, the importance of maintaining the child’s original identity should not be neglected. This means fostering parents should be mindful of the child’s lineage and ensure that the child knows their biological family if possible. This can help the child maintain a sense of belonging and identity, which is crucial for their emotional well-being. 

Fostering parents should strive to treat the foster child with the same love, care, and respect they would give their biological children. This includes providing for their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. Ensuring that the child feels secure and valued in their new environment is essential for their development and emotional health. 

Another important aspect is the concept of ‘rahma’ or compassion. Fostering a child requires a great deal of empathy and understanding. Remember, your decision impacts not only your life but also the life of the child involved. Be patient with yourself and allow the emotional process to unfold naturally. The child may have experienced trauma or loss, and it is important for fostering parents to be patient and compassionate as the child adjusts to their new environment. Providing a stable and loving home can help the child heal and thrive.

Fostering a child also involves navigating the Shariah aspects of the process. Ensure that the steps you take align with Shariah and respect the rights and dignity of the child. This might involve researching and understanding how guardianship is perceived and practiced in different Islamic countries. 

Fostering a child is a community effort. Seeking support from extended family, friends, and the Muslim community can provide additional resources and emotional support for both the fostering parents and the child. Engaging in community activities and creating a sense of belonging can help the child feel integrated and supported. 

It is beneficial to connect with other fostering families within your community. Look for organizations and support groups that cater specifically to Muslim families considering fostering. These groups should be able to provide resources, counseling, and a community of understanding individuals. 

Ultimately, navigating the emotional landscape of fostering requires a blend of personal reflection, community support, and spiritual guidance. Trust that with sincere intentions and heartfelt supplication, Allah will provide you the strength and clarity needed through every step of this meaningful journey.