Recent Scholarship: Powers on Adoption

SHARIAsource Senior Scholar David Powers wrote the entry for “Adoption” in the online research database, Oxford Bibliographies in Islamic Studies. It discusses the history of adoption in pre-Islamic Arabia, types of adoption in Islamic law and tradition, and modern debates about adoption.


Adoption was widely practiced in the Near East—including Arabia—in Antiquity and Late Antiquity. The Arabic word for “adoption” is al-tabannī, literally “to make someone a son or daughter.” According to Arabian custom, the practice had two legal consequences: the adoptee took the name of his/her adopting father, and mutual rights of inheritance were created between the adopting parent and the adoptee. Five years prior to receiving his first revelation in 610 CE, Muhammad himself adopted a son who was known as “Zayd the son of Muhammad” and who was his heir. In 5/627, however, Muhammad received a revelation stipulating that henceforth it would be a sin to refer to a person as the son or daughter of anyone other than his or her biological father.

Muslims of course are not immune from either childlessness or parentlessness, and a substantial number of alternatives to adoption were developed to address the needs of parents without children and children without parents. These mechanisms include the care of an orphan by a close paternal relative who becomes the child’s wali or legal guardian, a legal assumption according to which the paternity of a child is automatically attributed to the husband of its mother (“the child belongs to the marriage bed”), the acknowledgement (iqrār bi’l-nasab or istilḥāq) of a child of uncertain parentage, and a contractual agreement—called kafāla—between caretakers and wards.

Read the full entry here.