Fostering Ethics: Islam, Adoption and the Care of Children
Introduction and Welcome Address:
Khaled Fahmy, Director of the Centre of Islamic Studies, His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Sa’id Professor of Modern Arabic Studies, and Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge
Muslim beliefs and practices with regard to the adoption of children and foster care is currently a subject of increasing attention. Besides various circumstances that can leave many Muslim children in the care of social services, the urgent needs of unaccompanied minors coming to the UK and Europe from war-torn countries have highlighted particular challenges. Meanwhile, legal issues related to the definition of adoption and its Islamic alternative (kafala) remain a longstanding problem, often resulting in families divided across borders. Responding to such concerns, Muslim community leaders and organisations are taking an interest in formulating revised Islamic guidelines on adoption and foster care.
These efforts coincide with a recent growth of scholarship in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies on childhood and the family. Research in Islamic family law has investigated the complexities of child custody and precursors to the notion of ‘best interests of the child’. Historians have documented various forms of fictive kinship in Muslim societies of the past, and the modern development of institutionalised care of orphans. Sociologists and anthropologists have likewise challenged simplistic assumptions about religious norms: while the shari`a is understood to prohibit adoption, it often coexists with an array of culturally legitimised practices (such as the custom of secret adoptions in Morocco). Critical insights from related research in other fields also invite comparison, including British social history before adoption came to be legalised less than 100 years ago in 1926, as well as the factors behind the more recent emergence of so-called ‘open adoption’.
This conference seeks to explore how such diverse perspectives can inform a new ethics of adoption and the care of orphaned or abandoned children in Muslim communities. It will bring together scholars, professionals and others concerned, with an eye towards bridging the gap between academic knowledge, social work, and public education.