Caring for the Orphan in Islam

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Does Islam encourage caring for Orphans?

Emphatically, yes. Indeed, Allah counts the good deed of caring for an orphan as a cardinal commitment that flows organically from the human covenant of true belief in Him as One without partner (tawhid).

That makes orphan care among the principal righteous acts believers can do to put the pure belief in God they profess with their mouths into action in the world. Allah holds orphan care high as a divine virtue, on par with Islam’s lofty ethics of parental obedience and the obligations of daily ritual prayer and yearly Zakat alms. (See Sponsoring the Orphan in Islam)

In fact, caring for the orphan in Islam ranks as one of the eight great duties of the sincere believer who Allah makes able.

Moreover, God has called on believers of every generation and place through His prophets and Revealed Books to give special care to orphans, for “never will you find in the established way of God any alteration” (Surat Al-Ahzab, 33:62).

Now, behold! We took the covenant of the Children of Israel, commanding them: You shall worship none but God. And to your parents you shall be good — as well as to close relatives, and to orphans, and to the indigent. And you shall speak to people in a good way. And you shall establish the Prayer. And you shall give the Zakat-Charity” (Surat Al-Baqarah, 2:83).

How does orphan care fit in Islam’s moral vision?

Allah Himself has identified orphan care as one of the defining components of righteousness. He groups these parts of righteousness into five general categories, each with its own required convictions and actions.

He lists orphan care high in the second category — giving of one’s cherished wealth in charity. Without fulfilling the duties of this second grouping, to the extent one is able, one’s righteousness remains deficient.

Here are the five orders of righteousness set out in the Quran:

  1. The five Imperatives of belief

  2. Giving of one’s cherished wealth in charity

  3. Establishing the five daily ritual Salah-Prayers and the yearly payment of Zakat-alms

  4. Fulfilling divine and human covenants

  5. Persevering in faith through life’s hardships

Allah tells us in the Quran:

Righteousness in the sight of God is not the mere turning of your faces toward the East or the West. Rather, true righteousness dwells in one who believes in God, and in the coming Judgment of the Last Day, and in the angels, and in every revealed Book, and in all the prophets; and dwells in one, who — despite his love for it — gives of his wealth in charity to close relatives and orphans, and to the indigent and the wayfarer, and to beggars, and for the emancipation of slaves; and dwells in one who establishes the Prayer and gives the Zakat-Charity; and dwells in all those who fulfill their covenant when they make a covenant, as well as in those who are patient during periods of affliction and harm and times of conflict. These are the ones who have been truehearted, and it is such as these who are the God-fearing" (Surat Al-Baqarah, 2:177).

Note that four of the six kinds of people Allah designates as deserving recipients of our wealth if we are to demonstrate our righteousness — the indigent and the wayfarer, and to beggars, and for the emancipation of slaves — make up half of the eight exclusively eligible Zakat categories of people He commands us to make our yearly obligatory alms payments to. Yet He places orphans before all of them, making only the near relative a higher charitable priority.

Allah highlights this same precedence of orphans in instructing His Prophet, on him be peace, how to answer his Companions’ question about the best beneficiaries for their sadaqah charity.

They ask you, O Prophet, what ways they should spend charitably. Say to them: Whatever good offering you spend is to be for your parents, and nearest relatives, and orphans, and the indigent, and the needy wayfarers. And whatever good you do, God is, indeed, all-knowing of it” (Surat Al-Baqarah, 2:215)

He again elevates the moral worthiness of orphans and their care by placing them and their care in the highest echelons of belief in His Oneness, along with goodness to parents and close relatives.

Significantly, this reminder comes in Surat Al-Nisa’. This division of the Quran intensely and specifically translates for Muslims the general divine command that they be personally and communally ever God-fearing into delineated terms of how we are to live with one another. It also addresses how we should manage our conflicts, and how we should govern our interpersonal communal relationships, including our material ties and duties in these relationships.

The Sûrah casts a strong focus on our individual and communal human and material responsibility for the vulnerable among us. It specifically seeks to develop our personal inner- and communal spirit of fear of God by teaching us how we should dispose ourselves with family, relatives, and community orphans and widows, with a dire warning against the diseases of stashing wealth away and withholding it.

You shall worship God alone. And you shall not associate anything with Him therein. And to your parents you shall be good, as well as to close relatives and orphans and the indigent; and also to the neighbor who is near, and to the neighbor who is distant; and to the companion by your side, and to the wayfarer; and to those whom your hands rightfully possess. Indeed, God does not love anyone who is self-conceited, boastful — those who are miserly and enjoin miserliness on people, and who conceal whatever God has given them of His bounty. Thus have We made ready for the disbelievers a disgracing torment” (Surat Al-Nisa’, 4:36-37).

Does Islam protect the wealth of orphans?

Yes. If an orphan possesses wealth in any form, Allah commands the community or orphan guardian to use it judiciously in their benefit, conserve it for them, multiply it for them, if possible, and turn it over to them when they come of age.

Moreover, restore to orphans their wealth when they attain maturity. Nor shall you substitute your tainted wealth for their wholesome wealth.  Nor shall you consume their wealth with your own wealth, for it is, indeed, a great offense” (Surat Al-Nisa’, 4:2).

Also:

And you shall not ever approach the wealth of the orphan in your care — except in the fairest manner — until he reaches full maturity and you return it to him” (Surat Al-An‘am, 6:152, and Surat Al-Isra’, 17:34).

More specifically, the Quran instructs:

Therefore, test the judgment of the orphans in your care, until they reach the age of marriage. And when you recognize mature judgment in them, then hand over their wealth to them. Nor shall you consume it in wasteful spending, or in haste, for fear they will grow up and claim it. Moreover, if the one who is the orphan’s guardian is rich, then let him abstain from it entirely. But if one is poor, then let him consume of it only in accordance with what is right. And when you hand over their wealth to them, then bring witnesses before them to attest to it. Yet sufficient is God as a just reckoner” (Surat Al-Nisa’, 4:6).

The Quran gives explicit notice to us to protect the inheritance rights of orphans. Indeed, orphans present at the disbursal of inheritance — even if they are not heirs — are to be provided something from it:

Moreover, when close relatives, or orphans, or the indigent attend the division of inheritance, provide for them out of it. Moreover, say to them a gracious and comforting word. And let those, who were they themselves to leave behind them helpless children — for whom they would be fearful — beware of God! Thus let them fear God and say a forthright word to uphold the inheritance rights of orphans and others. Indeed, those who consume the wealth of the orphan unjustly are only consuming fire into their bellies. For they shall roast in a flaming fire in Hell” (Surat Al-Nisa’, 4:8-10).

Allah makes a special point to particularly protect the material rights of female orphans, as they are recognized as triply vulnerable, on account of their orphanhood, the reality that human communities tend toward impeding the rights of women, and children cannot defend themselves against adult society.

Uphold all rights with regard to female orphans — especially those whom you have not granted all that has been duly prescribed for them by God, though you desire to marry them. Moreover, uphold all rights with regard to children, who are utterly helpless. In addition, uphold all rights with regard to all orphans, with due justice. And know that whatever good you do, then, indeed, ever is God all-knowing of it” (Surat Al-Nisa’, 4:8-10).

Do orphans receive a stipend from Muslim society?

Yes. If a Muslim community gains reparations, orphans receive a part from the one-fifth of the total set aside for the vulnerable and the eligible prohibited from accepting charity.

One-fifth is to be set aside for God, and for the Messenger, and his close relatives [who are prohibited from charity] and for the orphans, and for the indigent, and for the wayfarer” (Surat Al-Anfal, 8:41, also mentioned in Surat Al-Hashr, 59:7).

Is there a special reward for sponsoring an orphan?

Yes, the most special and everlasting of all rewards, the Garden of Delights in the Hereafter. Allah says of Paradise that it is for those:

Who feed with food — despite their own desire for it — the indigent, and the orphan, and the captive” (Surat Al-Insan, 76:8. Read this surah in its entirety for a fuller description of the reward of Paradise).

The Prophet, on him be peace, made this great promise to orphan sponsors:

I and the one who sponsors an orphan shall be in Paradise like these two” — and he raised his index finger and the one next to it, holding them together, barely separate” (Bukhari).

That means Allah will admit a believing person who sponsors an orphan into His highest Garden in close company with the Prophet, on him be peace.

The opposite threat of Hellfire in the Hereafter is also true, for those who do not give generously to the orphan, after God has generously given one of His blessings (see Surat Al-Fajr (89), the citation here is part of 89:17).

Are some orphans more deserving of one’s care than others?

Only in the sense of the individual’s superseding responsibility to offer charitable care should one elevate the sponsorship of one orphan over another.

Orphan relatives have a prior right on one’s charitable sponsorship over unrelated orphans. Allah says:

He has guided him [the human being] to the two highways of right and wrong. Yet he has not attempted the steep road. And do you realize what is the steep road? It is … offering food on a day of starvation to an orphan who is a relative (Sûrat Al-Balad, 90:10-15).

In general, Islam teaches us that our Zakat and sadaqah should go to the eligible person who is closest to us first based on the nearness of the relationship. Thus, a wife should pay her due Zakat to her eligible husband before a cousin, and then an eligible near neighbor, then an eligible far neighbor, and so on. (See What Is Zakat? and Can Zakat Be Given to Family? )

Moreover, there are indications from the Prophet, on him be peace, that such a charity accrues twice the reward, one for good done to a relative, and one for the same good given to him or her in their charitable status, in this case, as an orphan.

Does God mention His care for orphans?

Yes. The best of us, and all human beings, was himself a double orphan. The Prophet Muhammad, on him be peace, was bereft of his father at birth and bereaved of his mother as a child.

Allah reminds him of this in the Quran. And based on this divine care, He enjoins him (and through him, us) to vindicate the physical, social, and psychological needs and worldly rights of all orphans.

Has He not found you an orphan and sheltered you; and found you astray and guided you; and found you needy and enriched you? Then as for the orphan, you shall not suppress him” (Surat Al-Duha, 93:6-9).

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