As South Africans venture into the 21st century, great parallels can be drawn between Muslim communities of the past and present. Where previously, the notion of ‘Ubuntu’ was an integral aspect of the Muslim community, today we find that individuals are increasingly encaging themselves in gilded-gated estates, far removed from the reality of life within the Cape Flats.
As a result, the orphaned and abandoned children of the Western Cape, who are considered the most marginalized members of society, continue to suffer. It is, therefore, becoming apparent that although the number of Muslims within the Western Cape is increasing, Muslims are not at the forefront of fostering abandoned children.
Though many determining factors could be unpacked, the Muslim community at large should lead by promoting, through action, the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon Him).
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A FOSTER MOM
‘Fostering has given life to my home’
Fouzia Masoet*, a foster mom of two children; a girl, Aalia* (9) and a boy, Sameer*(7), explained that her journey as a foster mother began in 1996 when she was employed as a volunteer at Beit Al-Nur, a home for destitute women and children. She soon realized the great need that exits within the Cape Flats for kids to be hosted.
Masoet began temporarily hosting children over weekends and was quickly inspired to foster children on a permanent basis. Following a gruelling investigation, she was granted the opportunity to foster children, many of whom have ventured on, whilst Aalia and Sameer remain in her care.
The process includes a renewal of fostering every two years. In addition, the children are required to write a letter that stipulated whether or not they wish to remain in the care of their foster family.
Masoet explained that fostering has added value to her life as her biological daughter (32) is at an age where she no longer requires a mother’s presence.
“There is so much to be grateful for, I have my parents and my own daughter, so this opportunity has opened up a whole new world,” she says.
As biological mothers discover the challenges of parenting, so too do foster and adoptive parents.
For Masoet, her main challenge is Aalia, who is evolving into a teenager. She is, therefore, constantly finding non-destructive mechanisms to educate Aalia about respecting herself and her personal space.
“I do from time to time assert my authority because they do test my patience. We know where they came from and, therefore, want the best for them,” Masoet explained.
She assigns each child chores, such as cleaning their bedrooms and washing dishes.
The children understand and respect the boundaries between them, but do consider each other siblings, which is indicative in the manner in which they protect each other.
The fear of having them removed
Aalia met her biological mother before her seventh birthday and visited with her mother on two occasions. Masoet attempted to develop a relationship with Aalia’s mother, however, due to her mental state, attempts at bonding have proved to be a challenge.
Masoet met Sameer’s biological mother on two occasions. The young boy’s mother has, unfortunately, not developed a relationship with him.
He does, however, visit his biological grandmother during vacation periods.
“I find it strange that a mother would not check to see if her child is ok,” Masoet asserted.
During the initial years, she lived in fear of having the children returned to the welfare system. She has, however, reconciled herself with the fact that the children understand the situation and view her as a mother.
“Sameer says, she is my mother, but you are my real mother. You are the one that cares for me when I am sick,” Masoet says.
Do foster parents choose the child?
In most cases, fostering parents are given an opportunity to bond with a child prior to officially fostering the child. In both instances, due to the nature of the cases, Masoet was not afforded that opportunity.
Her choice of Aalia and Sameer was “completely the will of the Almighty,” as she was assigned the kids by the court.
Aalia, who was used for the first three months of her life as a drug decoy, was in dire need of care. Due to the urgency of Aalia’s case, Masoet was entrusted with the child immediately after due process.
“When I saw Aalia for the first time, I literally fell in love, there was no prior bonding period – I didn’t even have a cot for her at the time,”Masoet explained.
Sameer, who came from a similar background and who was abandoned twice before, was sent to Vision Childcare Centre that, unfortunately, did not have accommodation.
Upon meeting him, Masoet subsequently decided to take him home, though it initially proved challenging to bond with the baby boy.
“It took him a while to bond, but I don’t think that I would have wanted it any other way. I can honestly say that they are both like my own children.
I often tell them that they are gifts from the Almighty and I will look after them until their parents are ready.”
In the event that the children display psychological concerns, Masoet noted that she employs the assistance of trained psychologists and social workers. Fortunately, she affirmed, both Aalia and Sameer have not had any serious repercussions, other than the familiar teenage tendencies.
WHY ARE SO MANY CHILDREN ABANDONED?
Most children who land up at children homes, within the Western Cape, are from tumultuous backgrounds, in which parents are drug addicts who have no permanent residence, or employment. Family members, as a result of continued theft on the part of the addict, refuse to assist the addict. Families, therefore, decide to cut ties with the children of the addict for fear that the addict may contact the family if the child remains in their care.
General manager of Vision Childcare Centre for the past 25 years, Saadiq Jacobs, explained that most orphans residing in children homes in Cape Town are predominantly from the Cape Flats area; Manenberg, Bonteheuwel, Hanover Park, Pelican Park, and Mitchells Plain.
Jacobs explained that through his work with the centre, which is home to 50 residents who are mostly siblings aged between one and 23 years, he has discovered that younger children stand a better chance of being placed in a home as opposed to teenagers.
Since the Department of Social Development does not permit the separation of siblings, individuals are generally not able or willing to care for two or more children. Siblings are, therefore, often left in orphanages until the age of 18.
“Nobody wants to adopt a child of four or five years, they want a small baby of two or three months, and they do not want anything to do with more than one child,” Jacobs asserted.
The centre has a process in which it assists in rehabilitating parents of children in its care.
Rehabilitation centres, at a cost of approximately R3 000 per month, proves too expensive for addicts or families of addicts to accommodate. Children, therefore, remain in orphanages for years, whilst their parents manage their addictions.
Children who reside in these centres, understandably, often face psychological problems, which are presented in stressful situations.
“If someone swears at their mother, they get very upset. Though they know that their mother is a drug addict, no one is allowed to speak badly about their mothers. We would then have to do the ‘patch-up’ work with the child.”
Is adoption for everyone?
Nkululeku Mboniswa from Al-Noor Orphanage Centre says adoption, though encouraged does, however, have both positive and negative aspects.
He, therefore, does not advise potential adoptive parents to adopt after having lost a baby, as the adopted child tends to be treated as a consolation.
“What happens is that when you conceive another child, the adopted child is rejected.”
Mboniswa further encourages individuals to host or foster a child prior to making the decision to adopt, as many adoptive parents, after a few months or years, return the child. The returning of a child to an orphanage would, understandably, result in psychological issues and greatly hinder the development of a child.
Are Muslims at the forefront of fostering?
Masoet explained that the Muslim community at large appears to be satisfied with children residing in orphanages, as they consider abandoned children to be “someone else’s problem.”
“The problem is that they want the ‘blue eyed child’, and we cannot go for that since children who are abandoned are from disadvantaged backgrounds, or abusive drug-invested families – we cannot choose based on physical appearance.”
Despite the fact that her foster children are from different backgrounds and have different features, she has learnt to adapt to their specific needs, such as styling Aalia’s hair.
“Without them, I feel the emptiness in my home. There are so many children out there, we really cannot be picky. We should just pray for a healthy child.”
Jacobs explained that within the Muslim community, individuals who do adopt or foster, choose children either from within their family or a close friend and, therefore, conduct private adoptions.
When choosing a child to host, certain individuals tend to exhibit innate racism, by specifying requirements.
“I would like people to come forward and adopt and not be choosy. I have found that certain individuals, when they host children, prefer a light-skinned child with blue eyes, silky hair, and built in a certain way – people need to realise that it is the Almighty’s creation,” Jacobs asserted.
Non-Muslims tend to be less specific when choosing a child to a host. Children, he affirmed, are able to sense when individuals choose based on race.
“I take my hat off for non-Muslims, who are totally different. In Islam, we say that Muslims lead by example and that is not happening. They would pick up the light-colour child and ‘brush-off’ the darker-skinned children.”
“Adoption within Islamic values is emphasised, so centres such as Al-Noor Orphanage should not be required within the Muslim community – adoption is about giving a child a home and a family,” Mboniswa asserted.
FOSTERING IS AN INTEGRAL ELEMENT OF ISLAM
As opposed to South African law, within the Shari’ah (Islamic law) the concept of adoption, which entails raising a child as one’s ‘blood’ and granting the child the family surname, is not permitted.
Shaykh Abduragman Alexander explained that the concept of western adoption has implications relating to inheritance, as well as the issue of mahaarim.
The issue of adoption is clearly mentioned in the Qur’aan, in the verse (which may mean): “You shall not make your adoptive sons like your real sons because that is only what your mouth says. You need to call them by the names of their own fathers.” [Qur’aan – Chapter 33: Verse 4-5]
Alexander explained that Islam caters to the needs of abandoned or orphaned children by permitting fostering, in which children can be immersed into the family structure without the imposition of the foster family’s surname.
The Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon Him) stated that “anyone who cares for an orphan, such a person will be with me in paradise.” [Sahih Bukhari]
As the Prophet (may peace be upon Him) Himself was orphaned and, as an adult, fostered a son, Zaid Bin Harithah (Zaid, son of Harithah), this narration acts as proof that fostering children is an integral aspect of the Islamic faith. In addition, the fact that Zaid’s family name was maintained, acts as evidence that the Islamic faith places much emphasis on maintaining and acknowledging one’s ancestry, as well as assisting in avoiding possible incestuous relationships.
Muslims should, therefore, be at the forefront of caring for orphaned and abandoned children within the Western Cape, since the very nature of Islam is mercy and compassion. By fostering, foster families grant children, who otherwise lay prey to a life on the streets, an opportunity to grow into constructive members of society.
“To foster and to care for an abandoned child is certainly a noble action. Muslims should, therefore, be at the forefront.”
VOC (Thakira Desai)