Caring for Orphans
By Munib Arrabi
If you asked any given Muslim about his wish for the afterlife, he would surely summarize it in one word: Heaven! Heaven, according to Islam, compromises multiple levels—and a Muslim cannot earn the privilege of reaching the highest level, where one is closest to Prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him (PBUH), unless he fosters an orphan. Prophet Mohammad himself (PBUH) said that those who care for orphaned children will be in Heaven with him, gesturing to show that they would be as close as two fingers of the same hand.
Why such a high ranking?
Those who assume responsibility for the well-being of orphans are rewarded so greatly because, by fostering an orphan—bringing him up, fulfilling his psychological and physical needs and providing him with food, shelter and clothes—they serve as an example and a guiding light to those around them, just as Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) did.
Islam and adoption'Kafala'—bringing up and caring for a child—is not prohibited by Islam; in fact, adoption is encouraged as both a humane act and a great social service. In Islam, however, it is unlawful to claim a biological relationship to one’s adopted child, as the religion seeks to safeguard biological lineage. Chidlren under 'kafala' retain their own family identity, never assuming the name of their surrogate parents.
Orphans in the Koran
In Islam, Muslims are not only urged to care for orphans, but are warned against treating them with cruelty or injustice. Orphans are mentioned 24 times in the Koran, appearing in a variety of different verses and contexts. One verse urging people to foster orphans, for example, reads: “They ask you as to what they should spend. Say: whatever wealth you spend, it is for the parents and the near of kin and the orphans” (Surat Baqara 215). Another verse warns against mistreating orphans explaining that, “[As for] those who swallow the property of the orphans unjustly, surely they only swallow fire into their bellies and they shall enter a burning fire” (Surat Nisa’a 10). Another verse further clarifies this, merely stating: “Therefore treat not the orphan with harshness” (Surat Duha 9).
How can you foster orphans?
You can foster orphans through 'kafala' by making them a part of your family, raising them, caring for them and educating them as if they were your own. I once heard a man with three children of his own and three foster children exclaim, “If you asked me who my biological children are and who my foster children are, I wouldn’t really know!”
Dr Husam Din Affaneh, Professor of Fiqh (Islamic Law) at Al Qudus University in Palestine, believes that this type of orphan care prevailed during the time of the Prophet’s companions, as made evident by the Hadith on orphan care.
If you do not wish to bring an orphan into your home personally, you can still sponsor one, supporting his present needs as well as his future hopes and deeds. Many charitable people support orphans through sponsorship.
Other ways of helping orphans
- Preparing treats and taking them to an orphanage.
- Distributing presents to orphans during Eid.
- Participating in activities and excursions held for orphans.
- Reading stories to them on a monthly basis—especially if you are good at storytelling.
Are you looking for a way to soften your heart?
The Prophet (PBUH) said: “Bring the orphan close to you, wipe his head and give him some of your food, for that will soften your heart and fulfill your need.” (Narrated by Tabarani).