Adoption of orphans and children of unknown parenthood is permissible in Islam only to look after them and not affiliate a child to someone other than its own father as it is obliged by some Western countries. 

Adoption in Western Countries

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The Issue

It happens in some Western countries that a Muslim may take a child with unknown parents. The law of adoption in the West obliges him to give the child his own family name, but Islam forbids that a person should affiliate himself to anyone other than his own father.


The Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America has approved the adoption of Muslim children and going through the necessary procedures, provided that the relationship remains one of looking after the child, not the forbidden formal adoption. The concluding statement of the second convention of the Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America stated under the heading related to the ninth topic discussed in the convention, namely, the adoption of immigrant Muslim children outside the Muslim world that there is an urgent need to look after orphans and children of unknown parenthood. The statement explained that looking after such children earns rich reward from God. It draws a clear distinction between looking after children in this way and adoption, in its non-Islamic sense, which affiliates a child to someone other than its own father. Adoption in this sense is strictly forbidden under Islamic law. However, if it is the only way to save Muslim children outside the Muslim world and prevent their adoption by non-Muslim groups, a concession is granted. The adoption may be put in place, taking the formal measures, provided that the necessary steps are taken to clearly identify the relationship as one of care and upbringing and prevent any confusion about family relations.


The Prophet says:

‘I and the one who takes full care of an orphan shall be in heaven like these two (he pointed with his forefinger and middle finger separating them a little).’

(Related by al-Bukhari, hadith No. 5,304)

Islam considers taking full care of such children a duty of the Muslim community so that its children are not lost or taken over by unreliable or unqualified people. If the child is called after its own father, or given a different name that applies to it, there is nothing wrong with this but when it grows up the child should be told the facts and informed of its real family and full identity, as well as the nature of the relationship with the family that looked after it, so that all problems are thus avoided.

If the person who has looked after the child wants to help it after it has become an adult, he may give him or her a bequest by will, provided that the total of such bequests does not exceed one-third of his estate. In this way he helps the child without affecting his heirs. Islam allows a Muslim to make a will leaving up to one-third of his property to beneficiaries who are not his heirs.

It has been pointed out that the law in America requires the carer of the orphan to give that orphan his own family name. In this case this name should be added to the child’s name and its father’s name, or the other name the child has been given. All this should be recorded in a document that should be kept by the family. When the child grows up it should be informed of what had taken place. Thus, the carer will not be legally accountable and at the same time has remained within the limits of Islamic law which requires preserving everyone’s family lineage.

The name of the family taking care of the child may be attached to the child in such a way that some people cannot identify him or her by any other name. Therefore, calling it by that name in this particular way is not considered a sin. Names are used to identify people and when identification is not possible unless such a name is used then it is appropriate, God willing.

Therefore, we appeal to all Muslims who can look after such children not to leave them to a life of poverty, homelessness and loss of identity and religion. Those who are able should take steps to look after such children, whether they are Iraqis, Somalis, Bosnians, Afghans or belong to any other area in the Muslim world. Only in this way can Muslims discharge their responsibility towards those who seek refuge after having endured different calamities. God will certainly reward everyone who does good. He says:

‘Help one another in furthering righteousness and piety and do not help one another in furthering evil and aggression. Have fear of God, for God is severe in retribution.’

(5: 2)


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