As part of World Adoption Day this November, Sarah tells us about her experience with adopting her young daughter and wants to encourage more Muslim couples and families to consider the blessed path of adoption.
World Adoption Day: Let’s Talk about Muslim Adoption
There is a hadith about the virtue of taking care of the orphans:
From Sahl bin Sa’ad (may Allah be pleased with him), he said: “The Messenger of Allah sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam said: “I and the one who looks after an orphan will be like this in Paradise,” showing his middle and index fingers and separating them.” [SAHIH AL-BUKHARI : BOOK 68, HADITH 53]
1- What made you decide to adopt – especially given you already had children?
Do you remember the show from the 1990s, Ground Force? The presenters revamped people’s gardens. In this particular episode I watched when I was 17, the show had gone to India to work on a garden in an orphanage. I wasn’t expecting it, but it hit a nerve.
Unwanted baby girls were left on a shelf outside the orphanage, in a hope they would be adopted one day.
The seed had been planted. I went straight to my mum and exclaimed I won’t be getting married, I’ll be moving to India and opening an orphanage. In typical south Asian parental style, my mum said, ‘Uh huh, just get married and then you can do whatever you want.’ She buried that seed deep!
Fast forward 15 years and two birth children later, my husband, Altaf, and I had always wanted a bigger family. We both spent some time working with refugees and in particular child refugees. After returning from Greece during the migration crisis, that seed germinated as I broached the idea with Altaf. We agreed the only way to grow our family was through adoption and things grew from there.
2- What do you think adoption has added to your family? Has it changed your family dynamic?
Our family has taken a complete 180 since our daughter came home. I’m not sure if it’s because she is adopted, a girl after two boys or because now Altaf and I are outnumbered!
Before anyone can adopt in the UK, there is a very vigorous training program. Through this we learnt why children are taken into the care, the trauma they would have endured and the trauma they will continue to hold throughout their life. This was eye opening. It opened our whole family to a whole new vocabulary; birth children, birth parents, tummy mummy, early permanence, looked after children, placement order, court order, celebration day. This was a lot for our birth sons to take on at age of five and seven. But they were along for the ride, excited for a new sibling!
In school they learned about different types of families, but now they actually were one. It is important to us that they appreciate that family comes in all shapes and sizes and being an adoptive family has helped them realise that.
3- What would you say are the myths and misconceptions about adoption?
You don’t tell a child they’re adopted until they’re much older
It’s the last resort!
We’re too old!
Birth parents don’t love children, that’s why they go into care.
It’s a long and difficult process.
The Journey ends with adoption.
4- People worry about the Mahram aspect of adoption? What is your experience of this?
Whilst it is important to be aware of the fiqh, much praise has been put on looking after orphans within the Sunnah. The majority of people who find out that we have adopted, ask us about the mahram aspect almost immediately. A lot of people have told me that they also thought about adopting but managing the fiqh was too complicated. It is something that needs to be taken into consideration. But different families have handled this in different ways, if you remember your intention everything else will fall into place.
5- Is it hard navigating and fulfilling the UK paperwork and the Islamic aspects of the criteria?
It’s funny, if and when you choose to have a child, you can. However, if you want to adopt a child, the process can be much longer than nine months! We went through our local council and though they were sometimes over stretched, we generally had a very good experience. There is a fair amount of paperwork and vigorous vetting procedure, but keeping in mind the children we are talking about have all been through some sort of trauma, it’s understandable. Our particular social worker was incredible, she was very experienced, supportive and understood our values.
We felt that adoption under the current UK system is very much in line with our Islamic interpretation of adoption. For example, adopted children keep the name given to them by their birth parents and their adoption is never hidden from them.
6- What would you advise a Muslim couple thinking about adopting?
My advice would be, do your research. It’s is not an easy path, but a mountain for one person may be just a mole hill for you. There are approximately 3000 Muslim children in foster care at the moment, but very few are living with Muslim families. My daughter’s birth family requested she be adopted by a Muslim family, my heart breaks for the children currently in foster care who won’t be as there is a chronic shortage of Muslim carers.
Councils and adoption agencies offer on going Information days, which is a great place to start. Speak to people who have adopted, first-hand experience is crucial.
There are lots of films, TV shows and podcasts that give first-hand information about how adoption has affected them, parents and children.
Remember that the Prophet (PBUH) placed great importance on looking after orphans. He even adopted a son himself. This isn’t given enough attention, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less of a Sunnah.
7- Do you envisage issues as your daughter enters teen years and grows up?
I wish I could say no but adopting our daughter and bringing her home is just the beginning of our story, not the end. Adoption is never the happy families we all assume it to be. It’s is not all that she is but adoption is a part of her identity, that she should never be ashamed of. We are aware that the future will be a roller coaster. Good days and bad days. What will be going on in the back of her mind? On mother’s day or her birthday? The older she gets the more she will understand what it means that she didn’t spend nine months in my tummy like her brothers did. She won’t know where she inherited her distinguishing features from. Why she couldn’t grow up with her birth parents. Will she want to find her birth parents? All these situations may be painful, but we’re here for the whole journey. We are raising her with honesty and openness, she will always be able to talk to us about her adoption without fear. But if it were me, I would always be wondering, ‘What if?’
8- How do you handle sibling rivalry and do you feel you treat children differently?
My boys complain that we parent them differently, but in reality we let their sister be the boss, but that’s the only way to live with a four-year-old I think!
9- How do you deal with parents/family accessing your adopted child? Has this been a problem?
There was a little hesitation from our friends and family when we first mentioned we were adopting. I think this is mainly because it was so alien to all of us, except for that one unhelpful story everyone seemed to have of someone being adopted ‘back home’! However once our daughter joined our family, she was completely embraced by our entire support system, more than we could have ever hoped for. Now they can’t live without her.
Once an adoption order is granted and you have full parental responsibility, the birth family have no further contact with the child. Usually a contact letterbox system is set up whereby you write an annual letter to the birth family keeping them up to date of your child. This is a wonderful way of showing your child that you don’t have any negative feelings towards their birth family. They are a part of your child’s identity, but unfortunately, just weren’t able to raise your child in an environment that was best for them.
And here: FAQS | My Adoption Family