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Erschienen in: Contemporary Islam 3/2020

04.03.2020

The Muslim orphan paradox: Muslim Americans negotiating the Islamic law of adoption

verfasst von: Nermeen Mouftah

Erschienen in: Contemporary Islam | Ausgabe 3/2020

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Abstract

While the care of orphans is a much lauded form of giving, precisely what care should look like is highly contested. This is due, in large part, to a consensus among the Islamic legal schools that adoption (tabanni) is prohibited. This article explores contemporary Muslim Americans’ negotiations of Islamic law to find ethical ways to care for non-biological children within their household. Through Muslim American collaborations and contentions over the regulation of orphan care, including the interventions of Islamic scholars and scholar-activists, as well as the intimate reflections of adoptive and foster parents, I demonstrate how Islamic law is not the exclusive domain of jurists, but of Muslim American communities forging new notions of care, kinship, and family as they draw together distinct legal bodies, traditions, and values.

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Fußnoten
1
In this article I alternate between the terms orphan, as well as abandoned, and vulnerable child to indicate any child in need of maintenance regardless of their identity or parentage.
 
2
On the significance of the orphan in Muslim charitable works, see Benthall (2019) who underlines Muslim orphan care, especially the predominance of one-to-one child sponsorships, as a rich avenue of further research.
 
3
Twentieth century social histories of orphan care in the Middle East highlight debates surrounding who is responsible for orphans, as well as the related shift from private religious institutions to state-sponsored ones (Baron 2014; Ibrahim 2018; Maksudyan 2008, 2009, 2014; Yazbak 2001).
 
4
For an important exception, see Seligman (2013) for guardians’ accounts of the significance of religion in their motivations and justifications for adoption.
 
5
To date, Jamila Bargach’s ethnographic work in Morocco (2002) is the single full-length monograph to address the gap between relevant Islamic laws and contemporary practices of adoption and fostering in a Muslim-majority context. Bargach sensitively depicts the ramifications of the social stigma attached to abandoned children, a stigma that results from an emphasis on lineage and law.
 
6
The work on gender and law is exemplary in this regard (see Eltantawi 2017; Hirsch 1998; Mahmood 2012; Mir-Hosseini 1997; Mir-Hosseini et al. 2015).
 
7
Muslim American broadly refers to Muslims residing in the United States, regardless of citizenship status.
 
8
On Muslims navigating Islamic family law in the United States, see Quraishi-Landes and Syeed-Miller (2009), and Moore (1995, 2010).
 
9
On the significance of public debate in shaping Islamic family law, see Moors (2003), Hirsch (2006), and Welchman and Fund (2004).
 
10
While the texts and interlocutors that inform this research capture this diversity, this paper focuses Sunni Muslim, second-generation Americans.
 
11
A major current within American Islamophobia raises anxiety about shari‘a as a set of unchanging laws fundamentally at odds with American laws and liberal values. On post-9/11 misunderstandings and misinformation on shari‘a, see, for example, Beydoun (2018).
 
12
Following critical gender approaches to Islamic law, I regard the distinction between shari‘a and fiqh as significant, where shari‘a “stands as an aspiration and fiqh as the actualization of a human endeavor to live out divine law” (Yacoob 2018, 82). My interlocutors employ each of these terms to different effect. Here, I refer to debates within Islamic law, in order to indicate the effort to decipher the shari‘a and create fiqh for the evolving circumstances that shape the conditions of orphan care.
 
13
While derived from the same concept of sponsorship, the kafala of orphan care is not to be confused with the kafala system of migrant labor sponsorship that operates within Gulf Cooperation Countries, as well as Lebanon and Jordan. This labor practice is a distinct social system adapted from the guardianship system in the shari‘a. See, for example, Longva (2009), who describes kafala in Kuwait as a means of Kuwaiti power over the majority of the population made up of migrant workers.
 
14
While my aim is not to provide a full treatment of the orphan in the Quran, general themes around which the orphan is discussed include the command to spend one’s wealth on (2:215, 2:177) and feed the orphan (90:15); protect their property (4:2, 4:6, 6:152, 17:34); and treat the orphan with honor and equity (4:127, 89:17, 93:9, 107:2). The Quran describes the best believers as those who care for the orphan (along with the indigent and the captive) (76:8). Notably, 93:6–11 addresses Muhammad as having once himself been an orphan, followed by an exhortation to not mistreat the orphan: “Did He not find thee an orphan and give thee shelter (and care)? (6) And He found thee wandering, and He gave thee guidance. (7) And He found thee in need, and made thee independent. (8) Therefore treat not the orphan with harshness; (9) Nor repulse the petitioner (unheard); (10) But the Bounty of thy Lord rehearse and proclaim! (11)” This and all translations of the Quran are by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem (2005).
 
15
In this reading, Powers sees prophecy as genealogical, passing from father to son, therefore potentially making Zayd the next prophet. For Powers, the repudiation of Zayd is critical to creating a Muslim history whereby Muhammad would not have any heirs. He regards Zayd as a literary construct to resolve questions over succession and prove the finality of prophecy with Muhammad (Powers 2009).
 
16
Since 2000, the Christian orphan movement has seen a notable rise of institutions, activities, and literatures, yet has been ineffective in increasing numbers of Christian adoptive families (Perry 2017). Perry notably outlines the limits of understanding this movement as an effort to proselytize and advance a pro-life agenda (cf. Joyce 2013).
 
17
The Muslim Shura Council is a program of what was called The American Society for Muslim Advancement when their report was published. It is now known as the Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality & Equality (WISE).
 
18
To support their position, they cite the work of Syrian jurist Wahbah al-Zuhayli (d. 2015), al-Wajiz fi al-fiqh al-Islami (al-Zuhayli 2007, 347). See also how Landau-Tasseron (2003) differentiates istilhaq from adoption and other adoption alternatives. She cites five recorded cases in early Islamic history of adoptive mothers giving an adopted child her name (Landau-Tasseron 2003, 186–187).
 
19
For examples of further scholarly literature cited within Muslim debates, see Naqvi (1980), Pollack et al. (2004), and Kutty (2015).
 
20
See Suleiman 2017 for Suleiman's highly circulated video, as well as Daigle, 2016 for Rabbani's.
 
21
UNICEF distinguishes between “single orphans”, who have lost one parent, and “double orphans”, who have lost both parents. This language was adopted within the context of the AIDS epidemic leaving so many vulnerable children with either one or no parents. It highlights how conceptualization of the orphan has direct implications on policy (UNICEF 2018).
 
22
In a collaboration between UNICEF and Al-Azhar University’s International Islamic Center for Population Studies and Research they stress that children of unknown paternity should not be discriminated against (Al-Azhar University 2005, 8).
 
23
On the history of adoption in the modern United States, see Herman (2008).
 
24
See Gil’adi (1998), who offers a social history of the institution of breastfeeding through his analysis of legal texts. Through ethnography of urban elites in Saudi Arabia, Altorki (1980) illustrates the impacts of milk-kinship in determining marriageability.
 
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Metadaten
Titel
The Muslim orphan paradox: Muslim Americans negotiating the Islamic law of adoption
verfasst von
Nermeen Mouftah
Publikationsdatum
04.03.2020
Verlag
Springer Netherlands
Erschienen in
Contemporary Islam / Ausgabe 3/2020
Print ISSN: 1872-0218
Elektronische ISSN: 1872-0226
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1007/s11562-019-00445-8

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