Fostering Muslim Children and Youth in Canada

By Ahmad, Syed Imtiaz | Islamic Horizons, May/June 2019 | Go to article overview

Fostering Muslim Children and Youth in Canada


Ahmad, Syed Imtiaz, Islamic Horizons


Fostering occurs when a non-related family takes in a child or a youth to provide him/her with life's necessities and emotional support. Canadas Child and Family Services Act (CFSA) defines foster care as placing a child or young person in the home of someone who is compensated for caring for him/her, despite not being the child's biological parents.

"Foster care" and "adoption" are often used interchangeably, despite two fundamental differences between them. Foster care is a temporary measure that may be acceptable if there is an expectation of ultimate return to the biological parents; adoption is permanent. Funding agencies don't favor indefinite foster care because of potential complications, although technically no limitation has been placed on its duration. In addition, the child's biological parents retain parental rights while he/she is in foster care. Adoption terminates all such rights, even to the point of giving these children new names and telling them nothing ab out their biological parents.

Fostering may take place in families or "group homes," such as orphanages. While orphanages exist in many parts of the world, particularly in Muslim countries, in the U.S. "orphanage" has been replaced by "group home," which indicates the lack any family setting. In Canada, the number of children and youth involved in family fostering is over 500,000. The fact that more than 20 percent of them live in group homes is considered unsatisfactory, because research shows that children placed in foster families have a better chance of success.

A common thread running through all religions and community cultures is the core importance of being good to others and doing good to them. In Islam, these terms are ihsan and khayr, respectively.

Muslims have fostered children ever since the advent of Islam, most notably the future Prophet Muhammad (salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam), who was fostered by his uncle and then his grandfather. The Arabic phrase for this arrangement is reaya at-tifl, or simply reaya: taking in an orphaned child who continues to be known by his/her biological father's name. The Quran uses tabanni for adoption.

In February 1853, a group of Canadian social reformers established the Children's Aid Society (CAS) with Charles Loring Brace as its secretary. The founders were motivated by the desire to inform policy and provide social services to poor, disabled and homeless children and impoverished families.

In 1988 President Reagan proclaimed May to be "National Foster Care Month" to recognize those parents who open their homes to children in need and care. Every year a new theme is chosen. This year's theme is "Foster Care as a Support to Families, Not a Substitute for Parents."

This year, Foster Care Month coincides with Ramadan. The purpose of fasting is to cleanse oneself spiritually and to rejuvenate oneself by striving to live more in accord with Islam's teachings and ideals. There is a heightened focus on proper practice, for belief has no value if it is not manifested in practice. Ramadan asks us to focus on cleansing our souls by reflecting on what we pray for and cleansing our possessions by seeking ways to be responsive and proactive when it comes to meeting the needs of those around us. Being a foster parent is clear need.

Four years after Canada's founding in 1867, the 1871 Canadian census recorded 13 Bosnian Muslims among the population. Even before the country's founding, there is evidence that Muslims were moving to areas known today as "Canada" since 1851, even as far back as 1492, when Columbus reached the "New World."

The 2011 Canada National Household Survey counted 1,053,945 Muslims, or about 3.2 percent of the population, making Islam the country's second largest religion. Perhaps the same or a higher proportion holds true today. More than half ofthese Muslims reside in Ontario; however, every Canadian province and territory contains Muslims.

As Canada's Muslim population continues to grow, we can see that many of their needs have not been met, as is the case for the population at large. …

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