Care of Abandoned Children in Sunni Islamic Law: Early Modern Egypt in Theory and Practice

Ahmed Fekry Ibrahim - Filiation and the Protection of Parentless Children


The concept of the best interests of the child comes into tension with premodern Islamic law with respect to the issue of adoption because Islamic law does not allow a child to take the name or inheritance of her or his non-biological parents. Many scholars and policymakers have considered premodern Islamic juristic discourse to violate the child’s best interests as it creates a number of disadvantaged legal categories of children in Islamic law, all while prohibiting adoption. In this chapter, I show the ways in which premodern Muslim jurists and judges (with focus on early modern Egypt) were able to circumvent the prohibition of adoption through discursive moves and practices, which helped create a family life for many parentless and non-biological children. I discuss the institutional care of children to show that most premodern children were indeed given a family life rather than left to the care of orphanages. The premodern jurists’ permissive attitude toward the acknowledgement of children without the presentation of evidence of paternity was one of the ways in which they were able to provide a family life for foundlings and abandoned children more broadly.