Some Muslims don’t seem to have a problem with circumventing Islamic law when it comes to selling alcohol, or circumventing Secular law when it comes to polygamy. But to put barriers up when it comes to adoption and maintaining the rights of Muslim orphans?

The Washington Post is reporting on a massive gap between Islamic and Western law that is leaving Muslim orphans without a good chance of finding permanent homes in America.  In Islam, the rights of orphans are upheld and guided by the Qur’an — which strongly encourages people to help orphans, but states that orphans have the right to retain their family name, assets and property.

There is no concept of “adoption” in Islam, but of fostering or guardianship.  So the orphan has the right to keep their last name, inherits from their biological parents (and guardians if an inheritance is outlined in a will), is encouraged to know of their biological parents, and since they are not blood related, has the right to marry a sibling within the guardian home. In contrast, a traditional Western closed adoption means that the adoptive parents become as close as biological parents, adoptive siblings are considered direct relations and information regarding the biological parents is often difficult to obtain.

Taking care of orphans is one of the greatest charitable and goodly acts one can do in Islam, and yet it’s extremely difficult for American Muslim couples to gain access to Muslim children for adoption.

Refugee children from Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere are being resettled here. Muslim couples who can’t conceive want to adopt, but don’t want to violate their faith’s teachings. State child welfare agencies that permanently remove Muslim children from troubled homes usually can’t find Muslim families to adopt them because of the restrictions in Islamic law.

“I get all kinds of families who come to me for fertility issues. They want to adopt and they want to adopt Muslim children and I’m thinking this is a crime that they can’t,” said Najah Bazzy, a nurse and founder of Zaman International, a humanitarian service group in Dearborn, Mich. “No one is going to convince me that Islam makes no allocation for this. Either somebody is not interpreting it right, or it needs to be reinterpreted.”

On one hand, because the Western closed adoption model is seen as going against Islamic law, Muslim countries rarely allow for international adoptions.  On the other hand, you would think that Muslims living in America could adopt Muslim American children without any qualms. I’m sure some do, but from what I understand in the article, some simply do not want to go against the teachings of Islam when it comes to the rights of these children. That is understandable to a degree.  Even though there is no Shariah law in the West, it can be a touchy subject for some — and when you’re inviting a child into your life, offering it love, shelter and lifelong guidance, of course you don’t want to feel like you’re transgressing law or putting the child’s divine rights in jeopardy.

So how can interested Muslim families circumvent Islamic law?

Open adoption, which keeps contact between the adoptee and his biological family, is seen as one potential answer. In New South Wales, Australia, child welfare officials created an outreach program to Muslims emphasizing that Australian adoptions are open and adopted children can retain their birth names. The New South Wales program is the only well-known adoption campaign targeting a Muslim minority population in a Western country.

And here in Ontario, along with access to open adoptions, there’s the adoption information disclosure law, where both adopted adults and birth parents can apply for information from birth and adoption records (if the adoption was registered in Ontario). Both can also file a disclosure veto if they do not wish this information to be released or they can specify a contact / no contact notice, but still allow for certain information to be made available, such as one’s original birth name or the name of a child given post-adoption.

Given the fact that the South Wales program seems to be encouraging Muslims to adopt locally and not internationally, I really wonder just how many Muslims assert that the Western concept of adoption is prohibited.  I can understand a Muslim country guided by Islamic laws making the adoption process difficult for potential parents.  But if the Prophet himself was an orphan, and later, he took in an orphan whom he treated as his own son, is it really that much of a stretch for Muslims to take a child into their home without getting hung up on legalese?

“I felt that my understanding – and this is entirely my understanding – is that what is forbidden in Islam is closed adoption,” said England, who converted to Islam more than three decades ago. She consulted a Muslim scholar who she said affirmed her view that open adoption was allowed.

Apparently even something as selfless as taking care of children in need of a home, is a victim of the status quo understanding of Islam. If people actually have an issue with the term “adoption” or are unable to procure an open adoption, then at the very least, they can help to sponsor an orphan.