Placing Muslim orphans into real homes

Bare, grey walls tinged with a hint of yellow inside this familiar Moroccan orphanage. Crib after crib lined up next to one another with no spaces in between. Toddlers, laying silently on their faded green polka-dot sheets, likely funded by a charitable relief program. One child, perhaps walking now, is sprawled face-down with his mini-fleeced blue jacket, sleeping peacefully, his back rising and falling with each deep breath.  Two other wide-eyed boys stand on wobbly legs and peek out of their cribs.

The room with the smaller babies is blue. Metal bassinets line the walls; some sit empty but most hold chubby, bundled up babies. In another room, three rows of bunk beds extend down the length of the room. To accommodate as many beds as possible, the bed frames hold the narrowest mattresses I’ve ever seen. Rows of eerily silent babies lay on them.

I sponsored an orphan once. I paid $20 a month. Now we donate our yearly zakat to one of these orphanages. The children are sometimes well-fed and dressed in the appropriate layers thanks to efforts of institutions like Islamic Relief. Still, the photographs and images of the orphanage our team visits on a yearly basis haunt me, and I can’t exorcise them from my mind because I know these kids need more.

I know because I have a baby of my own. A baby whose brown eyes light up when I walk into her nursery every morning, and whose face breaks into a wide, contagious grin. Who raises her chubby arms expectantly in a plea to be held. Who flails her little legs in excitement when I place her on the changing table. I feel as though my love for her will outstrip the limits of my body.

Doesn’t every baby deserve this?

When my baby was in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) for the first few weeks of her life, and I was too ill to visit her, I worried that she wasn’t getting the human touch she needed. Hospital staff placed a fluffy hand-shaped bean bag on her so the pressure would give her a feeling of coziness and love. That assuaged my anxiety but didn’t rinse it away entirely because I knew how important it was for a newborn’s development to feel the warmth of an affectionate human hand and the reassuring drum of a heartbeat.

Could the woman working at the orphanage cradle a baby long enough to make the child feel cozy and loved? Not likely. After all, she had thirty soiled diapers to change and twelve more babies to bottle feed before her shift ended. Cleaning and feeding understandably takes priority over cuddling.

Advocating for Muslim orphans often means opening up an orphanage. But another orphanage? Another thirty-something metal cribs in an austere room where babies lay silent and unmoving because most never learned to cry to communicate their needs, a behavior that is learned when a child makes a personal connection with one or more primary caretakers.

Can we take the next step and place these Muslim orphans into real homes? Permanent homes? With healthy, constant relationships? Loving guardians? Appropriate stimulations? Regular doctor checkups?

While sending money from afar to an orphanage is admirable, we need to do more. New Star Kafala is the only Muslim American adoption agency whose mission centers around convincing Muslim governments to allow it to place children from their orphanages into Muslim American homes.

Homes like that of the high-powered management consultant who adopted two children from Pakistan.Or like the home of the young couple who were so awe-struck when they visited that orphanage, that they began the process to adopt the adorable 7-year old child, with the brown curly hair.

This agency is changing the norm by advocating for Muslim orphans in a way charities have not done in the past. It argues that safe, quality orphanages are good but not enough. It demands loving, permanent homes for these children.

 

Yusra Gomaa is a contributor to Kafala Talk, a Muslim blog on adoption and fostering, and a board member of New Star Kafala , the only Muslim adoption agency in the US (www.newstarkafala.org).

 

Photo Credit: New Star Kafala

15 Comments

  • As-salamu 3alaykum.

    The issue I have with articles like this one is that they offer up a stark binary of “either adoption” or “horrific institutionalized care”. It is strange to me as an adoptee returned, and in reunion, and converted back to Islam, that no mention is made of the 100s of references to the orphan within the Qur’an. Why is adoption the answer, when there are, in fact, orphanage systems that take care of children through university, and at the same time, adhere to the Qur’anic proscriptions that a child should know her filiation, should keep his name, and should stay within her community?

    The idea that adoption is a “progressive” act and it is the “backwards” Muslim-majority countries who have yet to catch up with the so-called modern world is one of the worst aspects of pro-adoption mythology that we hear day in and day out. As I wrote in a conference paper entitled: “Islamophobia and Adoption: Who Are the Civilized?”, this particular trope has been taken up by a variety of “House Muslims” (to kindly put it) who would see their places of origin opened up to economic and political exploitation, up to and including the plunder of their children.

    Simply because there is a growing bourgeois community that sees fit to mimic Anglo-Saxon practices of treating children legally speaking as property should not leave us catering to their sense of entitlement and privilege. It should, instead, force us to re-evaluate our society, our community, and our family lives in order to see where it is that we have failed in this regard. For adoption is not the sign of a beneficent and charitable society. Quite on the contrary, it is the manifestation of a sick and decrepit one. For the century or so that adoption has been practiced, the greater problems of inequality, poverty, hunger, and communal breakdown still remain. No matter how palliative it is to place Band-Aids on the cancer patient, adoption is not the answer.

    • Somerset says:

      Dear Br. Daniel,
      Alhumdullilah, you have found access to your family of origin. I’m curious about why you advocate for orphanages as a superior growing up experience, though. Presumably you were raised in a family environment. I don’t know the circumstances of your adoption, but but it sounds like your family was known in some fashion in order for you to be able to find them. Your concerns about raising children in a home other than their natural family sound very familiar to me. But do you really advocate orphanages as the immediate solution to wider social problems? It is true that children at different stages in their lives need different circumstances when trauma and loss occur. Older children and teens might do fine in a well run boarding school type of environment, but infants and young children need more for optimal development. They need consistent caregivers, they need constant touch. If you already have children, you know how often a baby is held and comforted, how necessary it is for normal emotional development. Even infants who are well fed and kept clean are more likely to be failure to thrive and eventually die if they lack frequent human touch. If they live, their cognitive development is well behind peers who are raised in families that give them regular personal attention and tailored education. Do you think it’s just to give orphaned children that type of disadvantage right from the start when there are other alternatives?
      I think what you’re advocating is that children be given access to their biological family’s history. That’s an easy thing to do! In the West, it’s called open adoption. That could mean so many things depending on the needs of the situation. Sometimes it’s a matter of kids having ordinary relationships with grandparents who are unable to look after young children. Sometimes it’s simply know that they’re not the biological children of the people raising them, knowing names, etc. Every child is in a unique circumstance and met their circumstances for different reasons. Parent drug abuse that reaches across generations. Born out of wedlock due to prostitution in a society that would not treat them well if it were known. Young mother who was pregnant and doesn’t want to lose her family’s support. Extreme family violence and subsequent removal by the state due to safety and the right of the child to not be tortured. Generational poverty. Death of parents due to war or natural disasters. In some cases, you won’t know the parents and certainly not extended family, in other cases the families are so dangerous to the child that they need to have protection and distance. In some cases, families are unable, unwilling to care for a child but there can still be some sort of relationship.

      There are some practical details that need to be worked out regarding the legalities of Western ‘adoption’ in order to leave a child’s historical integrity intact, but I’m completely unconvinced that holding up orphanages as the best and only option is either intellectually or spiritually honest. Obviously the real solution is to eliminate poverty, convince families and societies to treat unwed pregnancies with respect, prevent war, etc. Good luck. In the meantime, we are to treat orphans with justice, providing them as close as possible the same social and emotional advantages as children who are raised by their parents.

      Raising children in one’s household is not in any way the same as owning them, nor does it come close. Raising one’s own biological children is also not the same as owning them, though many families treat them that way, to their detriment.

      Clearly I don’t know the circumstances of your own adoption, but I hope that you don’t use your particular experience to advocate another one size fits all legislation that you think you personally would have preferred. The outcome statistics for children raised in orphanages are sobering, to say the least. A few do well in life, but they are not representative. Children from orphanage/schools that go to university were most likely placed in these institutions by their families at an older age and a connection maintained–a boarding school. Those kids aren’t orphans. Or they entered at an older age. What about children who are placed in an orphanage as an infant and stay there for the duration?

      The statistics for Moroccan orphanages are that the majority of kids aging out end up on the streets, in prostitution, many commit suicide. Look, it’s just not the greatest solution to a current problem.

      Imagine if your neighbor had a child and the neighbor was killed. They were an immigrant or refugee, no known access to extended family. You know the child and love him/her. You were friends with your neighbor and shared many cups of tea and backyard barbecues over the years. Can you look that child in the face and tell them you wish them well, have fun at the state orphanage at 3 years old? The child clings to your leg and you pry him/her off. You have an extra bed, but you think that they’ll be better served at the orphanage since you’re not blood related. The orphanage knows nothing of the child’s parents and will put no effort into telling them of their specific history. You have years of great stories and fond memories that you could share. At the orphanage, they’ll be sleeping in whatever bed, with whatever bedding is donated, but at your home, you could move all their toys and furniture into the spare room. Their books, their photos, stay in their neighborhood….For me, the choice is clear and it isn’t the orphanage.

      • Thank you for your reply, brother. Yes, al-hamdulillah I am in contact with extended family. This after 12 years of lies and threats from officials here, and only after a DNA test connected me to family in the diaspora. My story is likely one of political kidnapping, and I include adopted children in the category of the “disappeared” of Lebanon. Let me be clear: I do not advocate for orphanages *over* family; or in lieu of family. I advocate for communal care of children. This often takes the form of informal kinship practices. In my neighborhood in Beirut, many of the children I see playing in the street everyday I’ve never met their parents. It is understood that the neighborhood takes care of them. What I’m trying to say is that this “informal” care does not fit into the formalized legal practice which requires a nuclear family. Culturally, this concept is alien to much of the planet. As for open adoption, this is a ruse of the adoption industry, and in most cases, what starts out as “open” closes at some point after, sadly. I firmly believe in foster care as valid community care of children. But here’s the difference: I can think “I will take care of this child, and inch’allah his family might be able to take her back one day.” This is completely different from “I want a child and in order to do so, I don’t mind rupturing his filiation, removing him from his family and community, language and culture, and providing him no answers as to his origins.” Resistance to adoption is inherent to the classes that source most of the children; mothers in Britain whose children were taken to the foundling hospitals would sew strips of cloth to the children’s garments in the hopes of being reunited. Our hearts break for the babies, but not so much their families. I find this hugely incompatible with Islam as I understand it and as I live it.

  • Every child needs and deserves a loving home. The crisis in the world is beyond compare (and getting worse). Adoption isn’t just a nice thing that a few people do, it’s something that everyone should at least consider. Maybe more will take action.
    Doug Riggle, President
    Orphan World Relief

    • I think it is very disturbing that the discourse here is focused on the abstract concept of “every child needs a home”, and that the situation of the world is “getting worse”, as if this is without cause. We know very well what the causes are, and it is this very economic and political system that also profits these supporters of adoption in their trafficking of children across borders. This is referred to as “NGOization” and “humanitarian imperialism”, and the nation-state that I currently find myself in, Lebanon, has one NGO for every 500 people in the country. I am a witness daily to the depredations as well as the uselessness of these groups, and find their metaphorical counterpart in both Pharaoh and Qarun, who can only see the world through the lens of their own luxury, privilege, greed, and corruption. Orphan World Relief? May God relieve us of the adoption profiteers; vultures and hyenas all.

  • Diana Meader says:

    I agree with the premise that we are far, far, behind where we should be in respect to helping an orphan. These children must have love and tenderness now, or many will develop significant issues that will in turn, do more harm for not just the poor souls themselves, but to society, as a whole because a need this important not being treated is like a cancer not being treated- the problems will multiply. Action must be taken now by everyone, to help these children. In no way should this be pushed into a back room. Does anyone learn from history anymore? These children need someone who understands their plight to advocate for them, and it must be done immediately.

  • snowylady786 says:

    I do t think this article is portraying the western ideologies as forward and the islamic as being backward. If that is all you take with you from this article then you have totally missed the point. It’s about loving a child, being able to hold a baby, giving a baby the loving attention it requires. It’s got nothing to do with living a privileged lifestyle. As a mother my heart aches for these babies. May the Almighty make it an easy journey for them

  • I understand where you could think that, but in no way is this simply about adoption. It’s about finding solutions for the continuum of care that children need from infant to adult. There is no “one” solution to handle the immediate issues. There has to be a series of solutions to address the immediate needs so that we can then focus on the underlying causes that have created this problem. And please forgive me, but it’s not appropriate to bash an organization without understanding it.

  • Rima Kapitan says:

    For Daniel Ibn Zaid To label the sentiment in this article, which is a call to provide orphans with families, as “economic and political exploitation” and “the plunder of their children [whose children?]” is appalling. There is absolutely nothing in this article that would suggest that to adopt a child from a Muslim country is or should be to cut off that child from his/her birth parents. Rather, the article argues, quite persuasively, that a family is a human right, and every child deserves one. To adopt Mr. Ibn Zaid’s view would be to see the world from a “Clash of Civilizations” lens, one in which Muslim children cannot achieve their full humanity in the “Western world.” Mr. Ibn Zaid wants to preserve those children’s “place of origin” at the expense of their well-being.

    Also ludicrous is his statement that “For the century or so that adoption has been practiced, the greater problems of inequality, poverty, hunger, and communal breakdown still remain,” as if there is a causal connection between adoption and the inequality and poverty of Muslim countries. I hate to have to state the obvious, but to improve the conditions in Muslim and Middle Eastern countries and to adopt children in desperate need of homes and families are not mutually exclusive.

    Finally, how preposterous to suggest that a nuclear family is a Western concept. In the Middle East, including in Lebanon, children live in nuclear and extended families. The setup he describes of children being “raised by the neighborhood” sounds like a positive thing, but only as a supplement to, not a replacement for, a family. The fact is that the children described in the article are not being “raised by the neighborhood” or nurtured as they should be nurtured, and those children should not be forced to live according to Mr. Ibn Zaid’s ideology; they should be provided the fundamental things we already know all children need—not just “Western” children, but all children—love and a family.

  • Semiramis says:

    The crisis created in the world by Western people, such as massive weapins sales, RACISM, massive industrial greed exposing tender girls to financial pressure (and thus soulless prostitution) has increased the orphan population amongst many more Western Evil on East. Too many to list starting with PROUD missionaries.

    Then the hypocrisy of “justice” starts (after destroying the very roots of justice with Western Racism for 700 yrs on Muslims, killing adults/parents who are not of European origin, stealing oil, gold, minerals by “western” companies to make their children comfortable while making non-European children orphans by killing their parents or oppressing like EVIL Israel does. But God has made orphans in Wrst despite their afults PLUNDERING the entire non-Wrstern world! It is Karma. Poor children of abused and abusers.
    Oh, please West?
    Please STOP your WEAPONS SALES.. as a starter. Walk The Talk.
    Protect your women (daughters, sisters, mothers) like a PEARL in the shell of family life as Wiran advocates.
    STOP attacking Quran (a Gift of WISDOM).

  • Semiramis says:

    We noted that Iran and Morocco has about 25% Jewish population who owns Banks & most money. These Jews were given shelter & Protection by Muslims during Christian Inquisitions.
    BUT, please do not work with our Zionist enemies against us (we gave you shelter when you were oppressed & being persecuted because Quran said to help!).
    Why you have no compassion or feeling of LESS PRIDE? Never HUMBLE?
    Please STOP making this beautiful earth a misery for BELIEVERS because Quran forbids USURY? Your money from USURY due to Banking Livelihood? Shame, orphans, blood in street and much more atrocities due to Banker GREED..
    Yes, this is only a tiny snap shot. The picture of atrocities is much bigger. I am not a writer.
    Read about the Psychology Experiment on new borns done by Wrstern people called Nazis with “wooden monkey mother & real monkey mother”. Criminals are created by these Bankers but Quran/God often beat them to the child & SAVES the child. Allahu Akbar.
    They ate trying to create Nazis in Muslim countries. Oh, Allah ! Protect our FUTURE generations from this Evil West and Evil Israelis who want to INJECT immorality into Quran population. May they FAIL & Oh, Allah keep the enemies of our children far from them!!

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