adopting children

The Details of the Question
Can you give some information about adoption, adopted children and about adopting children from the orphanage?
The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

The notion of adopting children and the tradition of integrating them into one's own family is an issue carried out throughout the history. This habit was especially more common in the Age of Darkness before Islam. Whoever wished would choose any person and take him/her into his/her family and declare that s/he took him/her as an adopted child. S/he would say to the child: “You are my child, I am an heir to you and you are an heir to me.” By this way, the adopted child used to be taken as his/her own child. As well as being a member of the family, s/he would also share the rights and duties of the family and would take the family's name. The one who adopted a child was taken as the father of that child. The wife of the foster father was seen as the mother of the child. The wife or the husband of the adopted child was accepted as the son- or daughter-in-law of the foster father; therefore if they, adopted child and his/her spouse, get divorced, it was not possible for the father to marry his daughter-in-law.
Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, had adopted Zayd bin Sabit. Zayd was sold as a slave at an early age and Hadica, the Prophet's first wife, bought him. She then presented him to the Prophet as a gift. Zayd was in the Prophet's service. Once, his father and uncle came to ask him back from the Prophet in exchange for money. The Prophet left the decision to Zayd. But Zayd preferred the Prophet to his father and uncle and chose to stay with him. From then on, the Prophet set him free. Addressing the crowd there the Prophet said: “Be witness! Zayd is my son; I am his heir and he is mine.” Thus, Zayd's father and uncle left pleased. From then on, Zayd was the Prophet's adopted son. Thereafter, he was called 'Zayd the son of Muhammad'. 1
When the rightful religion came, the habits of the Age of Darkness were changing one after another, the allowed ways were shown and superstitions and injustice were replaced by the essentials of justice. One of the habits of the Age of Darkness was the institution of adoption as was performed at that time.
God abolished this practice, which was against the human nature, with a clear command and by giving an example with the Prophet himself.
The meaning of the verse in this issue is as follows:
“Nor has He made your adopted sons your sons (in fact). Those are only expressions you utter with your mouths. Whereas God speaks the truth and He guides to the right way. Call them (the children you have adopted) after their (real) fathers: doing so is more equitable in the sight of God. If you do not know who their fathers are, then (they are) your brothers in religion and your protégés (so observe the duties of brotherhood between you and them). However, there is no blame on you because of the mistakes you may make unintentionally (in naming them), but what your hearts have premeditated (matters greatly). God is All-Forgiving, All-Compassionate.” (2)
With these two verses, the habit of adopting children was abolished. This unlawful habit was made forbidden. This is because with adoption it is possible to become neither a real son or daughter nor real parents.
The commands of God were revealed to the Prophet about this prohibition and about the decree that  by saying  “You are my son” no child could be taken as one's own. And it was also explained that the wife divorced by the adopted son could religiously be married by the foster father. 3
In Islam, because of the following drawbacks, adoption is forbidden. Firstly, in an unlawful way, somebody else's child is brought to the place of one's own child, and rather unjust and unnatural treatment arises. It is corrupting the human nature to accept somebody else's child as one's own. It means harming the lineage and causing the child's real parents to be forgotten.
Secondly, when this adopted child grows up, the points of privacy in the family will not be complied with. Such issues as the duty of hijab ( self-covering of the body for the purposes of modesty and dignity), the prohibition of looking at and touching the people of the opposite sex other than near relatives will not be paid attention by the family members. If the adopted child is male, he will be together with the other women in the family; if female, she will live together with the other men in the family. However, whether the child is male or female, just as the lady of the family is not her/his mother, the relatives of the family are not accepted as the relatives of the adopted child; they are no different than strangers. When they grow up, they will always be faced with the forbidden in the family.
Still another drawback is that the adopted child will share the property . Therefore, the nearer relatives will be partly or completely deprived of the inheritance. The relatives whose rights are violated will view the adopted child as an enemy. This is because in reality the adopted child does not have a right in the inheritance.
So, for all these reasons, Islam does not advise adopting children. However, aside from the issue of adoption mentioned above, it is a good act for somebody to protect his/her relative's or friend's child, or to care for a homeless child or for an orphan and to love him/her like his/her own child, to feed and educate him/her. But in this case, this person should not claim absolute ownership over the child, should not give him the rights of his/her own child and should pay attention to the issue of privacy (between men and women). However, if one wants, while alive, s/he can donate some part of his/her property to the adopted child, or s/he can bequeath some of her/his property to the child before s/he dies. Likewise, in many of his hadiths, the Prophet gave the good news of the paradise for the ones who care for orphans and for the children without anybody to care for them. 4
This issue has three important aspects:
1- Adoption is not allowed considering the possibility of staying alone together, because if the adopted child is female, she will not be mahram (within the forbidden limits; a close relative of the opposite gender who one can appear before without observing full self-covering and who one cannot marry) to the father, and if the adopted child is male, he will not be mahram to the mother. This problem can be solved by suckling, as the woman will then be a foster mother who suckles the child, and the man will be a foster father. There will be no religious obstacles then.
2- The foster parents may not show the mercy that the real parents would show. From this perspective, there is the responsibility for depriving the child of his/her real parents, and this is important on the child's part. However, there may not be such a danger for children without relatives.
3- The inheritance of the foster parents will be left to this child. However, this inheritance is supposed to be given to the relatives. Therefore, this means giving someone else's right to the adopted child, so this is not allowed. As a solution, asking for the forgiveness of the inheritors for any injustice that may have been done or legally depriving the adopted child of the inheritance can be done.
For these three reasons, we can say that adoption is not right. If we overcome these three obstacles from the religious perspective, with God willing, adoption will not be forbidden.
1. Usdu’l-Gâbe, 2: 225.
2. Al-Ahzab Surah,33:4-5.
3. Al-Ahzab Surah, 33:37.

4. Muslim, Zuhd: 42.

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