Thursday, November 12, 2009

Jolie Adopts Syrian Orphan

Angelina Jolie has reportedly filed papers to adopt a child from Syria. As part of her job as a UN Goodwill Ambassador, she recently journeyed to Syria with Brad Pitt to visit the large Iraqi refugee community there. During her trip, she remarked "it is clear that the Syrian people, no matter the challenges or difficulties they may face, have always shown generous hospitality to people in need."

It is also clear that Jolie has always shown her generous hospitality as well. She has already adopted children from Cambodia, Ethiopia and Vietnam, as well as having three biological children. Now, having fallen in love with the Syrian people, she has apparently decided to take in a fourth adopted child.

While it isn't clear whether the child is Muslim or Christian (Syria is 10% Christian), I'll take this as an opportunity to mention Islam pays special attention to the plight of orphans. There are countless references in the Qur'an to the necessity of caring for orphans.

For example, Surah 2:215: "Whatever of your wealth you spend shall [first] be for your parents, and for the near of kin, and the orphans, and the needy, and the wayfarer; and whatever good you do, verily, God has full knowledge thereof."

And 93:9: "Therefore, the orphan shalt thou never wrong."

Of course, such emphasis on treating orphans well makes sense given the Prophet Mohammed was an orphan himself. Mohammed's father died when he was a baby and his mother died a few years later. As such, the Prophet first lived with a Bedouin family in the desert, then with his grandfather. Upon his grandfather's death, he moved in with his uncle, who introduced him to the world of caravan trading.

Interestingly, while Islam promotes the welfare of orphans, it also prohibits adoptions in the Western sense. When a family takes an orphan into their household, the orphan traditionally keeps the name of the biological father. This has two implications. One, orphans are entitled to any inheritance that remains from their biological family, but do not receive anything from their adopted family unless otherwise specified in a will. Two, orphans can marry the biological children of their adopted family, because they are technically not family.

In the modern era, practical considerations have allowed some flexibility with these rules. For example, American Muslims might give change the name of their adopted child for tax exemption reasons.

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