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Adoption Through the Eyes of a Muslim Adoptee

by in Culture on 17th August, 2023

My first ever memory seems to be of a strange, dark place. The space is confined and squishy yet familiar, comfortable and warm. Years later, as I sit on a chair emptying out my emotional vessel to my psychologist, she makes me aware that this memory I had was that of being in my mother’s womb. It is the first and last memory and attachment I have from my biological mother. Days later I was put up for adoption. 

Born in Durban, Kwa-Zulu Natal and brought to Johannesburg 10 days later, I found my home with my adoptive family who were good Muslims, Alhamdulillah. A huge blessing of Allah SWT that I cannot ignore. 

It is not easy looking back at the time I was adopted. I was born on December 21st, 1975 and South Africa was burning. Six months later, a pivotal change in history took place on June 16th 1976, when protesting school children were gunned down by the police in Soweto. It was a volatile time, apartheid was swallowing the country and thousands of people were dying. 

While this was happening, another subject too taboo to discuss openly in the Indian Muslim community in South Africa was about to be tested. Adoption. 

While many Indian Muslim families were born in South Africa, the confusion of mixing religion and culture was quite dominant in these homes. Therefore, the discussion of adopting a child rather than birthing one was a controversial topic. 

A Heartwarming Journey of Love, Legacy and Choosing Family

My biological parents, for whatever reason they had, Alhumdulillah decided to leave me at the hospital and put me up for adoption. This could have gone wrong in so many ways. I made dua for them for not dumping me in the rubbish, and instead found me a home. May Allah be pleased with them and forgive them. 

My adoptive father had contracted Typhoid fever on a trip to Pakistan, which was why they could not fall pregnant. My adoptive parents ignored societal standards and the taboo nature of adoption, deciding that if they cannot have their own children, they will adopt and give an orphan sanctuary and love. Our immediate family embraced the news with excitement and complete support. 

As soon as they bravely broke the adoption news to the rest of the family, they got all sorts of crazy advice. An elderly family member told my mum to stick a pillow under her clothes and lay in bed for six months, so that everyone will think she actually gave birth! Despite all the hushed whispers and gossip, my parents stood firm on their decision and adopted me along with my two brothers, one of whom was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy at birth, a few years later. My siblings and I were brought up in a very loving and caring home, to the point that we would proudly tell people that we were adopted, always enjoying their amused and confused reactions.

The Adoption process in South Africa 

While adopting was a daunting process then, it continues to be an arduous as well as a lengthy process in South Africa today. With the alarming amount of orphans growing in South Africa, the system has become a deterrent for potential adoptive parents. Even though it is time-consuming, it’s fairly standard. 

According to South African law, “The birth parent(s) must give consent. Both biological parents, whether married or not, must give consent for the child to be put up for adoption. Should the whereabouts of one parent not be known, then it is only required for the known parent to give consent. If the child is older than 10 years, they must also approve. 

Birth parents may specify what type of adoptive parents they would prefer for their child. All of this must be done in writing and sent to the Children’s Court for approval. It is important to note that biological parents have the right to withdraw consent within 60 days of giving it.” 

The Screening Process 

“The accredited adoption agent will then proceed with screening the adoptive parents. This is a lengthy and thorough process that delves into every aspect of the parents’ lives. This will include background checks, interviews, lifestyle evaluations, financial income and expenditure assessments and general capacity to raise a child. What is more, parents are required to undergo psychological evaluations and obtain police clearance certificates (they will also be checked against the Sexual Offences Register). All of these findings, assessments and documents will then be sent to the Children’s Court for review and approval. It is estimated that the entire process can take between 3 and 6 months.”

After most of the lay work is complete, finances can be pretty steep but also dependent on the agency used. While these are all guides and processors of adopting currently in South Africa, processes are upgraded and changed regularly with the prime purpose of protecting orphans and finding them safe and loving homes. 

The Qur’an on adoption/fostering 

“And Allah did not make your adopted children your sons. That is only your words coming out from your tongues. And Allah says the truth and He guides you to the right path. Call them with reference to their (real) fathers. It is more just in the sight of Allah.” (Surah al-Ahzab 33:4-5

According to the Jamiatul Ulama South Africa, “Adoption of a child has no legal effect in Shariah. One can adopt a child for his emotional and psychological satisfaction. He can treat him as his own son in the matters of love, affection and general behaviour. Adoption of a child to provide shelter and care is a virtuous deed which carries much reward in the Hereafter.”

Speaking to Moulana Ebrahim Bham from Jamiatul Ulama in Johannesburg, he reiterated that there is great honour in adopting a child. Having said that, Moulana Bham also relayed the crucial factors and laws according to Shariah that have to be observed. He explained that adoption is allowed in Islam as long as there is no confusion about the lineage of the child. What that means is that the child must be told at the age of understanding that he/she is not biologically related to the adoptive parents and that they have no lineage or bloodline with them. 

“Adoption is one of the most misunderstood issues in the Muslim community. What Allah has forbidden for us is robbing a child of his/her identity by changing names and hiding the truth. This is called ‘tabanniy’ in the Qur’an. Tabanniy has proved counterproductive because when kids eventually discover their true identities, they tend to be furious that it was hidden from them. Societal issues also result from this such as marrying one’s sibling and other legal problems. Islam only protects against that.” 

Moulana Bham also explained that there is a vast difference between fostering and adopting in Islam: “Adopting, entails that the child has no bloodline or lineage and has not been breastfed by the mother, making the child non-mahram for adoptive parents and vice versa once he/she reaches the age of puberty. Fostering on the other hand is different, when the mother breastfeeds the child, then he/she becomes mahram for the adoptive parents.” 

This is vastly different to how adoption and fostering is perceived in the modern world today. The main difference between fostering and adoption is that fostering is often temporary (with placements lasting anywhere between a few days to several years), while adoption is typically a permanent solution. Crucially, they both involve welcoming a vulnerable child or young person into your home and treating them as one of your own. 

The Sunnah and hadith on adoption/fostering 

Adoption/fostering is a sunnah that we must revive. It is sad that many Muslim children end up in homes not conducive to their Islamic upbringing because Muslims lag behind in this area. 

There are several hadith on adoption, with my favourite as follows: 

The Prophet ﷺ said, “I and the one who guards the orphan, whether for himself or for someone else, will be like these two in the Garden, when he has taqwa,” indicating his middle and index fingers.” [Bukhari] 

Malik ibn Al-Harith reported: The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “Whoever embraces an orphan of two Muslim parents by feeding him and giving him drink until he is independent of him, Paradise will certainly be necessary for him. Whoever emancipates a Muslim man, he will be his freedom from the Hellfire; he will be rewarded for every limb of his in equal measure.” (Musnad Aḥmad)

The key factors Muslim parents have to keep in mind when considering adoption, is to make every decision for the pleasure of Allah and to follow the sunnah as best as they can, while ensuring that Shariah is not broken at any time.

The Conditions of Adoption/Fostering According to Shariah

We also recommend this great resource for further explanation: Why are Muslims not Fostering?

  1. The child will not be a mahram unless the mother breastfeeds him/her before the age of two in which case both parents will be full mahram. This could be through induced breastmilk and is highly recommended to give the child full comfort in the home. 
  2. The child must maintain his/her original identity through either the middle or last name. He/she should know that they are adopted but not be treated any differently. Please note, in regard to this point, if the adoptee has no record of his/her adoption, such as in my case, and based solely on legalities or other reasons, then the child may take the last name of their adoptive father remembering that there is no bloodline. 
  3. Inheritance can only be assigned through the 1/3 portion which is not already designated. The child could even be given more through this process than one’s natural children. Adopted parents can also bequeath at the time of death as per their will though it is preferable to give during their lifetime. 

Most families with adopted children take them in as their own, knowing that they are not, but love them as much as if they were their own, acknowledging and careful not to break shariah. 

In my case, my adoptive parents told us we were adopted from an early age, but they made sure that we felt honoured and specially chosen. I remember their gratitude, always thanking Allah for hand picking them and placing us in their home. They felt privileged and indebted to Allah for the blessings and favours He bestowed upon them. They also encouraged us to continuously make dua for our biological parents and forgive them for their shortcomings. 

Finding One’s Biological Parents

When the adoptive child reaches adulthood, they are given the option of finding information on their biological parents. This has to be researched and done legally so as not to break any adoption contracts and regulations that may have been made during the process of the adoption. Some adoptions are closed adoptions, where the parents hand over the child to social welfare and cut all contact between birth parents and the child they put up for adoption. This is especially important to remember for the adoptive child. One may not know the circumstances around why the child was put up for adoption and to dig into the past can not only harm the child but also indirectly destroy another family. 

As a Muslim adopted child, I feel no need to find my biological parents and am so grateful to Allah for the wonderful family He has blessed me with. I do not want to go back in time and find out who my biological parents are, in the event they did not divulge this information to either their families, spouses or birth children. I do not want to be responsible for ruining their family. 

This is just my preference. If an adopted child feels otherwise, my advice is to consult Ulema and the adoptive agencies to find out more about their specific case so no laws are broken.

Many years ago adoption was considered taboo amongst Muslim communities. It is still a contentious and misunderstood topic, but Alhumdulillah, education and understanding around this issue has now made it easier for Muslim couples to adopt/foster children and bring them up in safe and loving Muslim homes. It is important to remember that adopting orphans is an esteemed act in Islam, and is looked upon with much love and blessings. This, dear brothers and sisters in Islam is a duty among us. If we do not protect and take in these blessed orphans we will lose them to non-Muslim households taking away the opportunity to raise them upon Deen and increase our Ummah. 

May Allah bless all our parents and all of our children and keep us all steadfast on our quest in finding peace and contentment in our Deen towards our closing chapter – Aakhirah. 

Ameen.

Zaytoon Abed

Zaytoon Abed

Zaytoon, 47 residing in Randburg, Johannesburg South Africa is a freelance journalist as well as a mum of 3. Zaytoon is an avid reader who loves a variety of books from thrillers to fantasy to great satire. Zaytoon also loves sport especially English football, being herself a football player in her younger years. Zaytoon loves to fight injustices and uses the pen as a tool to speak out against oppression and injustices. Zaytoon also loves to use her words in educating others about Islam as a way of life and changing mindsets of those with Islamaphobic tendacies.