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Adoption in the Arab World - A Personal Quest

 Wednesday  May 2008

My husband and I are both Syrian mixes: I’m Syrian-American, he’s Syrian-French. Our children will have these three nationalities and be brought up in three languages and cultures.

Our hope was to have four children. We already have one son, with another child on the way. My husband and I realised that we didn’t feel it necessary to give birth to all of our children, meaning we were open to and in fact passionate about the possibility of having children who would not be biologically related to us.

 Although we were ready to investigate how to go about expanding our family through adoption, being Syrian and living in Syria brought about several challenges. First of all, adoption is not often talked about in Syria or in the Middle East in general. In fact, when I bring the subject up among Syrian family and friends, the most common response I hear is, “It’s against Islam.”

As Muslims are well aware, the Prophet Muhammad was himself an orphan. His father died before he was born, and his mother took ill five or six years after his birth and died. He was then passed from wet nurse, to grandfather, to uncle. This tragic childhood is addressed in the Qur'an: "Did God not find you an orphan and give you shelter and care? And He found you wandering, and gave you guidance. And he found you in need, and made you independent".

Some years later, Prophet Muhammad’s wife, Khadijah, offered him a slave, Zaid, as a gift. As the story goes, Muhammad, certainly sympathetic, having been an orphan himself, loved Zaid as if he were his own son and adopted him. In front of the Ka’aba, Muhammad addressed the people and said, "O people, witness the fact that I have adopted Zaid as my own son. From now on, he inherits me and I inherit him." From then on, Zaid was addressed as "Zaid ibn Muhammad."

Later, as the Qur’an was being revealed to Muhammad, it’s verses made clear that adoption was to be prohibited and that every adopted son or daughter must change their name back to the name of his or her biological father. So, in compliance with the word of God, Zaid ibn Muhammad, became Zaid ibn Harithah, to reflect the last name of his biological father, Harithah.

Thus it came to be that, under Islam, you are allowed to raise a child in your home, feed and care for them but their biological family name must not change, nor are they allowed to inherit from another family.

Nonetheless, when I asked people in Syria if adoption was possible, they said yes. However, no one had ever heard of it actually being done. So, I took to asking as many different people as I came into contact with while living in Damascus. Having come up against a general dearth of information, I called the US Embassy to see what I could find out. They offered the following, “Yes, although very rare, adoption is possible through the Catholic run Syrian orphanages. However, the adopting parents must be Catholic.” Well, my husband is Muslim and I’m half Muslim from my father and half Catholic from my mother. When I asked if the church would be willing to consider allowing a half-Catholic woman to adopt, the answer I received was: “Maybe. They have so many children that need adopting.”

Recently, I was at a party, and as usual I brought up the subject of adoption. One of the guests mentioned that a French woman married to a Syrian had just adopted a child. Perfect! But as it turned out, this French/Syrian couple happened to both be Catholic. When we explained our situation, the French woman said the dilemma, “is that the father’s religion is the one that counts”. And since my husband is Muslim, we’re out of luck.

A little more probing into Syrian adoption by Muslims revealed that it is possible to raise someone else’s child as your own, however, you are not allowed to take the child out of the country. As my husband and I travel between the US, France and Syria constantly, such an arrangement would not work.

The French woman soberly offered that we would be much better off trying to adopt in France or the US. However, both my husband and I have friends in the midst of French and American adoption, and both are extremely frustrated by the expensive and lengthy process that has yet to yield a child for either of them.

Additionally, the reason why pursuing Syrian adoption made the most sense to us is that we would be capable of teaching the child about the country they come from and speak to him/her in their native language. Plus, more or less, they would be growing up in a family who shared their physical features.

Also, I had heard tales from various women who work in some of Syria’s orphanages and shelters. One volunteer said it was not uncommon for newborn children to be brought in who had been left on the side of the road or abandoned by their parents. Then my uncle, just last month, described how he was stopped in the Souk by a man who, lira-less, pleaded with him to take his three-year old son to raise as his own. So, certainly, there is need.

I began to do research on the internet. Interestingly, this is what the website for the US Department of State for intercountry adoption had to say on the matter, “The American Embassy in Damascus has been informed that, in Syria, laws concerning personal status matters, such as adoption, are handled by religious authorities. Islamic Sharia law does not provide for adoption, and the adoption of a Muslim child would not be recognized in Syria.

Technically, adoption is allowable under the laws of various Christian denominations; however, it is the Embassy's understanding that, for the past 80 years, most Christian churches in Syria prefer not to handle adoptions in order to conform to Sharia law provisions on inheritance. The Embassy has been informed that Sharia law restricts distribution of inheritance to spouses and certain blood relatives and, for that reason, adoption does not exist in Syria. In Syria, only Catholic civil law recognizes full and final adoptions as a legal convention and defines the conditions, rights and duties thereof. Catholic orphanages in Syria may have children available for adoption by Catholic or Eastern Orthodox families and so prospective adopting parents WOULD NOT have to obtain special permission from Syrian courts allowing Catholic orphans to be adopted in the United States, as has to be done with Islamic orphans.”

Given all this information, we were concerned adopting from Syria would not be possible. So, I turned my sights towards Iraq where the unfortunate daily news of killing undoubtedly is leaving many orphans in its wake.

Interestingly, this is what the same website had to say, “The US and international media have occasionally reported on the difficult situation faced by many Iraqi children, and it is completely understandable that some American citizens want to respond to such stories by offering to open their homes and adopt these children in need.

However, it is a generally agreed international principle that uprooting children during a war, natural disaster or other crisis may in fact exacerbate the children's situation. It can be extremely difficult in such circumstances to determine whether children who appear to be orphans truly are. Even when it can be demonstrated that children are indeed orphaned or abandoned, they are often taken in by other relatives. Staying with relatives in extended family units is generally a better solution than uprooting a child completely.”

Certainly, this is a very sound statement, but it sadly does not address how the numerous legitimately orphaned Iraqi children will be taken care of.

So, I went elsewhere… Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt. In Lebanon and Egypt, once again, only Christian institutions recognise adoptions as legal. However, in Jordan, the law states, “All adoptive parents must be Muslim and married for five or more years. The husband must be between 35 and 55 years of age and the wife must be between 30 and 50 years of age.” Wonderful, I thought, until I read the next sentence, “Parents must be medically certified as infertile.” So, a mixed biological/adoptive family, such as ours, would not be possible under Jordanian law. Disheartening? Yes! But our quest has only just begun. And one day, Incha’allah, we will find the rest of our family.

Rana Kazkaz


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