Orphans Mentioned in the Quran and the Sunnah

The importance of being kind to orphans is expressed in the Quran as well as emphasized by our beloved Prophet (sa). Allah (swt) says: “Worship Allah and join none with Him (in worship); and do good to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, Al-Masakeen (the poor) …Verily, Allah does not like such as are proud and boastful.” (An-Nisa 4:36) This is a general command for all Muslims. The mere fact that this injunction is mentioned alongside the commands of worshipping Allah (swt) alone and being kind to parents shows the high status of being merciful to orphans.

Allah (swt) describes the one who gives charity to the orphans as having the quality of righteousness: “But Al-Birr [righteousness] is (the quality of) the one who believes in Allah, the Last Day, the Angels, the Book, the Prophets and gives his wealth, in spite of love for it, to the kinsfolk, to the orphans…” (Al-Baqarah 2:177)

The person, who in addition to being kind and charitable to an orphan takes it upon himself to take care of him, has been promised a great reward. The Messenger of Allah (saw) said: “I and the one who sponsors an orphan will be like this in Paradise” – and he gestured with his index and middle fingers, holding them slightly apart. (Bukhari) From these Ayats and Ahadeeth we realize that the greater our effort, the greater our reward. You might wonder – does this Hadeeth include a person, who sponsors an orphan through Islamic organizations? Although the one providing monetary aid gets rewarded, the closeness promised with the Prophet (sa) in this Hadeeth is reserved for the one, who meets the definition of sponsoring in its fullest sense.

Shaykh Ibn Uthaymeen said: “Sponsoring an orphan means taking care of his religious and worldly interests, teaching him and guiding him, etc., with regard to religious matters, and taking care of his food, drink, shelter and other worldly concerns.” This is surely not an easy task; therefore, this reward is for those who do it purely for the pleasure of Allah (swt).

Western definition of adoption

Adoption in the West is defined as a man taking an orphan and making him like one of his own children. This entails calling him after his own name and declaring him Mahram for all his children. In other words, the sons and daughters of the man are regarded as brothers and sisters of the orphan, the man’s sisters are regarded as paternal aunts and so on. In addition, an orphan is defined as a child, whose parents are dead.

Adoption in pre-Islamic times

The same concept of adoption existed also among the Arabs in pre-Islamic times for instance, it was permitted to call adopted sons after the man who adopted them. The Prophet (sa) freed a slave Zaid Ibn Harith (rta) and adopted him as his son, calling him Zaid Ibn Muhammad (rta). Afterwards, the following Ayahs were revealed: “…nor has He made your adopted sons your real sons… Call them (adopted sons) by (the names of) their fathers: that is more just with Allah…” (Al-Ahzaab 33:4-5) Thus, Allah (swt) commanded that the adopted sons should be given back the names of their fathers.

Islamic adoption

The Islamic definition of an orphan is: a child whose father is dead. A child, whose both parents are dead, falls under this definition as well. In other words, a child, whose father is dead regardless of whether his mother is alive or not, is referred to as an orphan. A woman is never responsible for providing materially for her children, and if she does so, it is considered an act of charity.

In Islam, adoption entails:

  • A man bringing an orphan into his house or sponsoring him somewhere other than his house, without naming him after himself.
  • Observing the rules of Mahramship between the child and the family.
  • The child may inherit from his real family but cannot inherit more than one third from the family that adopts him which comes in the category of charity.

Naming a child after his father

The following Ahadeeth emphasize the importance of naming a child after his father. The Messenger of Allah (saw) said: “Whoever claims knowingly to belong to someone other than his father will be denied Paradise.” (Bukhari and Muslim) He also said: “Whoever claims to belong to someone other than his father will be cursed by Allah, the angels and all the people, and Allah will not accept any deeds or excuses from him on the Day of Resurrection.” (Muslim)

Is it permissible to call a person ‘son’ or ‘father’ as a term of endearment? Calling someone ‘son’ is not what is prohibited. Ibn Abbas said: “We, young boys of Banu Abd Al-Muttalib, came to the Messenger of Allah at the Jamarat; he slapped us on the thigh and said: ‘Oh my sons, do not stone the Jamarat, until the sun has risen.’” (Ahmad) In reference to calling the adopting father as ‘father’ or ‘daddy’, Shaykh Abd Al-Azeez Ibn Baaz has issued a Fatwah (ruling) stating that this is allowed, because he is acting in the position of a father.

The existence of non-Mahram relationship

 Islam teaches us moderation in everything. We are only benefiting ourselves by obeying the rules and guidelines laid out for us. One of these guidelines deals with Mahramship.

A Mahram is a man that a woman is permanently not allowed to marry, such as her brother, father, paternal uncle, etc. She is allowed to display her beauty in front of him (within limits), travel with him and be in Khulwa (private seclusion) with him. Her husband is also her Mahram, but unlike the other Mahrams, she may display all of her beauty in front of him.

When a man brings an orphan into the household, and the child reaches adolescence, the rules that apply to non Mahrams apply to this child as well. Taking care of this child is an act of charity, and we should not let that lead to immorality. Therefore, the man should take care to abide by the guidelines of modesty, especially between the orphan and his own children. The women in the household (the man’s wife and daughters) must observe proper Hijab in front of this child, after he reaches adulthood, because he is not their Mahram. Likewise, it is not permissible for the women in the household to be in private seclusion with him or travel with him as their Mahram.


The child may inherit from his real family but cannot inherit from the family that adopts him. However, the adopting family does have another option, if they wish for him to inherit some of their wealth.

Sad Bin Abu Waqqas (rta) asked the Prophet (sa): “O Allah’s Apostle! May I will all my property (in charity)?” He said: “No.” I said: “Then may I will half of it?” He said: “No.” I said: “One third?” He said: “Yes, one third, yet even one third is too much.” ( ) From this Hadeeth we understand that a maximum of 1/3 of one’s wealth is allowed to be given in charity. So if someone were to give to the child from that charity, there is no harm in it.

Intellectual confusion

Why is there so much confusion among Muslims about adoption? Why do we hear that adoption is not allowed in Islam? Why are there so many orphans in the Muslim world but very few couples willing to adopt? This is largely due to the lack of understanding about the terminology involved.

When used commonly, the word ‘adoption’ refers to the western definition; therefore, it is true to say that ‘adoption is Haram in Islam.’ However, this refers only to the western way of adoption. If adoption takes place under the limitations set by Islam, it is encouraged and rewarded by Allah (swt).

Another misunderstanding is caused by the word ‘sponsor.’ Often this word is used to refer to the Islamically acceptable way of adoption. It is also used by organizations asking you to ‘sponsor a child’ by paying a certain amount every month. Therefore, instead of being understood as an Islamically acceptable adoption option, the word ‘sponsor’ is often presented just as ‘someone providing monetary help.’

Clearly, there are many misconceptions in the minds of the Muslims about adoption. In order to counter them, it is important that speakers, lecturers, websites and articles clearly define the term they are using before talking about this issue.

What happens to the orphans? Where do they go?

All over the world there are millions of tiny feet wandering along the streets with no destination and no place of refuge. Out of desperation and the need to survive, many orphan girls become prostitutes or dance for money just to be able to feed themselves. Some head from one place to another begging, while others resort to crime. Countless orphans are kidnapped and sold for doing labor in dreadful conditions. Orphanages are overcrowded and not able to meet the demands of all that need them. These uncared for souls need love and help of someone who can guide them.

It is a precarious situation out there for these children. It is an equally difficult trial for all well-placed Muslims. What will we have to say to Allah on the Day of Judgment when He asks us about the abundance of wealth, resources, and time we had but we never cared to share it with the displaced orphans? Isn’t it almost the same attitude that Allah has mentioned in the Quran? “Have you seen him who denies the Recompense? That is he who repulses the orphan (harshly)…” (Al-Maun – 107:1-2)

This chart shows the percentage of orphans in different Muslim countries in 2005.

Country Muslim (%) No. of Children (0-14) 1000s Orphans (%) Total No. of orphans (1000s) Lost Father (1000s) Lost both parents


Djibouti 94 287 11.8 34 16 2
Gambia 90 580 8.3 48 28 4
Mali 90 6,089 10.8 656 367 53
Niger 80 6,522 9.7 631 364 55
Nigeria 50 57,125 10.8 6,150 2,814 327
Sudan 70 13,637 9.4 1,287 733 79
Bangladesh 83 55,923 7.1 3,974 2,379 123
Indonesia 88 63,868 6.3 4,029 2,826 229
Iran 98 24,121 5.2 1,256 854 49
Pakistan 97 65,417 7.4 4,861 3,076 283