Fostering Ethics: Family in Islam and the Contested Meanings of Adoption

25 June 2020

SG1/2, CRASSH, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge, CB3 9DT

For more information about this conference, sign up to CRASSH's newsletter


Muslim beliefs and practices with regard to the adoption of children and foster care is currently a subject of increasing attention. Besides the various circumstances that can leave many Muslim children in the care of social services, the needs of refugees and unaccompanied minors coming to the UK and Europe from war-torn countries have highlighted particular challenges facing the system. Legal differences between some Western and Muslim countries on the definition of adoption have meanwhile remained a longstanding problem, often resulting in families divided across borders. Responding to some of these concerns, a number of Muslim welfare organizations and community leaders have taken an unprecedented interest in formulating revised Islamic guidelines on the ethics of adoption and foster care.

These efforts coincide with a recent growth of scholarship in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies on childhood and the family. Legal specialists are investigating the complexities of child custody in both traditional Islamic jurisprudence and in modern Muslim law codes. Historians have sought to understand various forms of fictive kinship in Muslim societies of the past, as well as the modern development of institutionalized care of orphans. Ethnographic studies have likewise challenged simplistic assumptions about the social life of religious norms: while the sharīʿatechnically does not allow adoption, it appears to coexist with an array of culturally legitimized practices, such as the rituals of secret adoption in Morocco. Critical insights from related research in other fields also invite comparison, such as with British social history before adoption was legalized in 1926, as well as the more recent emergence of so-called open adoption.

This conference seeks to explore how such diverse perspectives can inform and foster a new ethics of adoption and the care of orphaned or abandoned children in Muslim communities. It will bring together leading scholars, professionals and others concerned, with an eye towards bridging the gap between academic knowledge, social work, and public education. 

Administrative assistance: