Why do we need Muslim Foster Parents?
There has been a shortage of licensed Muslim foster homes and as a result most Muslim children in foster care have been placed in non-Muslim foster homes. Outcomes for children and families improve when Muslim children are in Muslim foster homes.
When reunification is the goal, birth parents are able to focus more on rectifying the conditions which led to their child being placed in foster care instead of worrying about preserving their child’s faith. Children also experience less trauma from removal when the environment they are placed in is similar to their home environment.
Nationally there are approximately 400,000 children in foster care. Of those 400,000 children, approximately 100,000 are eligible for adoption. In Michigan, we have approximately 13,000 children in foster care and approximately 3,000 eligible for adoption. The precise number of Muslim children in foster care is unknown however, between 2012-2016 the number of easily identifiable Muslim children in foster care in Southeast Michigan has ranged from 50-75 at any given time. Currently there are approximately 16+ Muslim refugee foster children in Michigan foster homes, and over 30 Muslim refugee foster children waiting in refugee camps around the world for licensed homes to welcome them. Both these numbers are projected to continue to grow in the future.
What does Islam say about Foster Care?
Islam mandates that its adherents care for children in need. The Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) said: “I and the one who cares for an orphan will be in Paradise like these two,” and he gestured with his two fingers, meaning the forefinger and the middle finger (classed as saheeh by Shaykh al-Albaani in Saheeh Sunan at-Tirmidhi).
Abu Hurayra (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Messenger of Allah (s) said, “The best house among the Muslims is the house in which orphans are well treated.”
The American Fiqh Academy responded to our question about the Islamic perspective on foster care in these times.
Islam places a great importance on the proper care, well-being, and upbringing of children, especially those in vulnerable situations.
Sacred Law has well-defined rules that govern the various situations of a child, whether he or she is an orphan [yatīm] or has been abandoned and neglected [laqīṭ].
Foster care of children is not only established in jurisprudence but also played an active role in the life of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), who himself was raised in the house of his uncle Abu Ṭālib after the demise of his grandfather. Moreover, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) also raised Zayd (may Allah be pleased with him) like his own son. In fact, the latter
became known as Zayd ibn Muhammad (may Allah be pleased with him) until the rules regarding lineage association were revealed mandating that any adopted child’s lineage would always be attributed to his biological parents and he would not become a maḥram by virtue of being adopted.
Encouraging Others to Foster
It has also been related in books of prophetic history [sīrah] that there was a period of time when the Quraysh suffered severe economic difficulties, including drought and hunger, and Abu Ṭālib, the uncle of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), had a lot of dependents under his care. Seeing this, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) went to his other uncle, ʿAbbās (may Allah be pleased with him), who was one of the richer members of Banū Hāshim, and requested him to assist in easing the burden on Abu Ṭālib. He (peace and blessings be upon him) suggested that each of them should take one child of Abu Ṭālib under their care. Thereafter, they visited Abu Ṭālib together and put forward their suggestion, to which Abu Ṭālib agreed. As a
result, ʿAbbās (may Allah be pleased with him) took Jaʿfar (may Allah be pleased with him) into his care, while the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) took Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) into his care.
Abandoned & Neglected Children
As mentioned in the introduction, the books of jurisprudence [fiqh] also address the case of abandoned and neglected children. This shows the concern and care Islam has placed on nurturing children and looking after their welfare regardless of their economic or social background.
For example, in the time of Umar (may Allah be pleased with him), a man brought a child who was abandoned [laqīṭ] to him, to which Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) responded, “His expenditure is on us [the state].”
This established an important principle that the needs of such children are to be met by the state. So long as this child is a dependent, the state would fulfill all his needs and all the child’s rights would be preserved – none having the right to take advantage of him. Further, if the person who is fostering him voluntarily chooses to spend on the child himself instead, it would be a highly
reward able act.
In this way, Islam has emphasized the care and concerns for any and all children in need with a special emphasis on the most vulnerable, such as orphans and girls, whose care and proper upbringing garners a very high rank in Paradise, as evidenced by numerous hadiths of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), including his statement, “Whoever takes care of two girls until they reach puberty, he and I will come like this on the Day of Resurrection” – and he held his two fingers together.”
Fostering Older Children & Hijab
No doubt, with an increasing number of Muslim households in America, there is a growing need for foster care – for children who are not able to be with their parents for the time being. Knowing that their children are placed in a Muslim home where they will feel comfortable and at home is the at least one solace to the biological parents as they work through the process of regaining custody of their children.
At the same time, in situations where older boys and girls are placed in foster care, it is important that proper safeguards are put in place so that one does not do a good deed at one end only to corrupt it at the other. There are a number of solutions to address the issue of fostering older boys and girls:
- A number of contemporary jurists have issued guidelines regarding joint-living arrangements where non-maḥrams are also residing. This is similar to the situation where older children are placed in a Muslim foster care home. In such cases, if precaution is taken to avoid seclusion [khalwah] between the unrelated males and females, and the older boys are told to lower their gazes and limit communication to that which is necessary and the women of the household observe hijāb, then such temporary fostering would be permissible due to the need, especially since the alternative could mean being transferred to a non-Muslim foster home.
- The situation becomes more relaxed if the woman who is fostering the teenage boy is a much older woman [ʿajuz].
- Likewise, another solution would be to have, for example, older girls placed in homes where only single women are present (i.e. divorced, widowed, etc.). Many U.S. states allow single parents to be foster care parents, so the marital status of a potential foster parent should not be a hindrance.
- Another option is the placement of older boys and girls in Muslim residential care facilities. While these facilities are scarce at the present, they are much needed so that proper care be provided to these children without encroaching on the rules regarding interaction between unrelated males and females.
To take care of children in need of temporary foster care and provide them a comfortable, inviting home is an important part of social welfare and a highly reward-able act. We hope from the Mercy of Allah that such a foster parent’s effort and sacrifice to be there in someone’s time of need will reap immense rewards in the Hereafter. Āmīn.
Sh Omar Suleiman discusses the rich Islamic tradition and tremendous rewards and virtues of adoption and fostering.
Sh Omar Suleiman goes into an in-depth discussion of the major Fiqh issues regarding adoption and fostering.