In the winter edition of ONE magazine, contributor Amal Morcos visits two child care institutions in Egypt helping vulnerable children. She offers some additional perspectives below.
Egyptians love to refer to their country as the “mother of the world.” But, if you are an Egyptian Christian orphan longing for the love of a parent, a combination of Islamic tradition, an unclear law and even international politics will make your chances of being legally adopted practically nil.
The Egyptian constitution — which states that it is “inspired” by Islamic religious law, known as Sharia — actually bans adoption.
Why Islam forbids adoption is not clear. Some believe it is in order to maintain a clear bloodline and to ensure rightful inheritance. Others believe it to be a reaction to Muhammad’s marriage to the former wife of his adopted son, which was a source of scandal in the community.
According to Atonement Friar Elias Mallon of CNEWA, “Islamic law sees three types of orphans: the fatherless (such as Muhammad), who ceases to be an orphan at puberty; the motherless; and the abandoned. “The first one is the one that gets the most attention. There is a great deal of material in the Quran harshly condemning oppressing or cheating the orphan. However, Islamic law is very complicated concerning who inherits what and whom one can marry or not marry. It is precisely here that it gets convoluted. “There is a type of acceptance of the orphan called kafalah, but this has nothing to do with what Western law considers adoption.
“In a traditional society with extended families this was not a problem since children were taken in. In a modern or at least urbanized society this is causing some problems. It has also come up before the European Court of Human Rights. There is also an inner discussion going on about adoption.”
But does Egypt’s law extend to Christians? This is where things get really murky. Those who support legal adoption in Egypt say the law does not explicitly prevent Christians from adopting. Adoptions by Christians do take place, arranged mostly by the churches. Some government officials are aware of this practice and turn a blind eye. Those who don’t fear Christians will adopt Muslims in order to raise them as Christians.
The legal stakes have been raised since two American couples were convicted by an Egyptian court in 2008 of trying to adopt children from a Christian orphanage and remove them from the country. Some observers believed Egypt’s government at the time, under Hosni Mubarak, staged the trial to show that Egypt was cracking down on human trafficking. (The U.S. government had criticized Egypt for not doing enough to prevent African migrants from trafficking into Israel.)
Since the revolution that toppled Mubarak in 2011, Egypt has had two governments. The president who was elected after Mubarak, Muhammad Morsi, led the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s leading Islamist party. He tried to pass a constitution that critics said “further disenfranchised” non-Muslims — especially Christians. After the military toppled Morsi in July 2013, Egyptian Muslims and Christians overwhelmingly endorsed a revised constitution in a referendum in January 2014. While the new constitution prohibits political parties to be affiliated with religions or religious movements, and grants greater freedom of expression, it remains to be seen whether the current government will move to improve the status of Egypt’s Christians, including her orphans.