Two years ago, a 13-year-old Somali boy named Abdi was reportedly recruited to be a suicide bomber when he was an orphan. Last year, a Pakistani political leader, Jahanara Watto, penned a brutally honest piece in an English daily observing that most suicide bombers are orphans under age 17. Both stories followed a story in a London-based pan-Arab daily that quoted an Iraqi interior minister as saying al Qaeda was targeting orphans as future bombers.
These headlines underscore a troubling reality in our global Muslim community: we have abandoned our most vulnerable children—because of an antiquated, shortsighted, and regressive stricture that makes adoption illegal. There are a lot of excuses that are used to sanction a ban on adoption: that children shouldn’t lose their biological lineage and that, after hitting puberty, children would be taboo to their adopted parents. In Islam, there is a concept of maharam, or a relative with whom sexual intercourse would be considered incest. That includes parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews, children; "in-law maharam" is an accepted concept to cover parents in-law, children in-law, and stepchildren. Alas, mainstream Islamic interpretation hasn't included adopted children. Thus, the logic goes, it means a father could marry his adopted daughter.
This week, Islamic society moved into the 21st century with a slick little brochure by a New York-based advocacy group of Muslim women scholars called the Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality, an effort of the American Society for Muslim Advancement's Muslim Women's Shura Council, organized to reexamine interpretations of Islamic law that directly affect women. A shura is a committee of scholars, alas, traditionally men. The headline on the pamphlet: “Adoption Is Supported by the Qur’an.” These women offer a new interpretation of the Islamic ruling, blessing "open adoptions," where adopted children know their biological family but are legally adopted.
5 weeks ago