Fostering Muslim Children for Allah’s Sake

In the name of Allah, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful,

I wrote the following question and submitted to two Muslim Scholars I trusted. One of them replied with a talk he gave on the subject and uploaded on to YouTube. This critical review of the question and answer is a result.

The question was:

I would like to have an explanation on how this hadeeth …

A’isha reports that Sahla bint Suhayl came to the Messenger ﷺ of Allah and said: “O Messenger of Allah! I see on the face of Abu Hudhayfa signs of dislike on the entering of Salim, who is an ally in our house. The Messenger ﷺ of Allah said: “Suckle him.” She said: “How can I suckle him as he is a grown-up man? The Messenger of Allah ﷺ smiled and said: “I already know that he is a young man.” (Sahih Muslim)[1]

A’isha reports that Salim, the freed-slave of Abu Hudhayfa, lived with him and his family in their house. She (i.e. wife of Abu Hudhayfa) came to the Messenger ﷺ of Allah and said: “Salim has attained as men attain, and he has begun to understand what they understand, and he enters our house freely, I, however, think that Abu Hudhayfa feels uncomfortable with this. The Messenger ﷺ of Allah said to her: “Suckle him and you would become unlawful for him, and (the dislike) which Abu Hudhayfa feels in his heart will disappear.” She returned and said: “I have suckled him and what was in the heart of Abu Hudhayfa has disappeared.” (Sahih Muslim)[2]

…has a bearing on the following scenarios?

In the West, there is a serious problem finding foster homes for Muslim children in Muslim families. Most women are advised against fostering children, male or female, due to their being a stranger in their houses.

  1. If a boy, the woman and the woman’s daughters have to keep hijab all the time, him being a non-Mahram boy, especially when he reaches the age of puberty.
  2. If it is a girl, she must keep hijab in front of the man of the house and his sons. This is similar to having a maid in the house
  3. At the same time, there are hundreds and thousands of Muslim children in need of adoption or foster care and no volunteer Muslim families to take them on.

The only foster parents available are non-Muslims. The government attempts to have these foster parents ensure the children know the rudiments of their religion, but no non-Muslim will be as zealous in teaching a Muslim child his or her religion as they would their children their own religion.This leads to the majority leaving Islam due to inadequate guidance, or being converted to their foster parent’s religion.

One possible solution is to adopt or foster a child from a very young age of 2 to 2½ years old. The child could then be suckled by its foster mother, making him or her a part of the family by milk.

But what if the child is adopted or fostered after 3 years old and before reaching puberty?  The four schools of thoughts say quite rigidly that:

It is a well-known and recognised fact amongst the majority of the Muslim fuqaha that suckling is not permitted after two (or 2 and a half) years, neither does it affect the rules of Hijab and marriage.

The Messenger ﷺ of Allah quite clearly mentioned this in one Hadeeth where he said: “…suckling is only valid if it takes place in the suckling period.” (Sahih al-Bukhari)[3]

The Messenger ﷺ of Allah also said: “Suckling (radha’a) does not prohibit (marriage) except which penetrates the intestines (m: meaning which serves as a nourishment for the child) from the breasts, and it is prior to weaning.” (Sunan al-Tirmidhi)[4][5]

Can the hadeeth from A’isha be used as the lesser of two evils? That is to say, is it better to adopt or foster such a child and feed it from the mother’s milk to make his or her stay as family lawful, Sahla bint Suhayl fed Salim her breast milk in order to make his stay in her house lawful, rather than allow him to be raised by a non-Muslim family so risking his adoption of the non-Muslim family’s religion?

If such a piece of religious advice was known and widespread, it would relieve many Muslim family reservations concerning putting themselves forward as potential foster parents, and lead to the avoidance of losing Muslim children to other religions.

I have in mind Ibn Tamiyyah’s advice:

 “Enjoining a right should not cause the loss of a greater right or the emergence of a greater wrong. And forbidding a wrong should not cause the emergence of a greater wrong or in the loss of a greater right.”

Explaining the mistake of some people regarding this point, he (Raheem Allah) then said:

 “… This group consists of those who want to command and forbid strictly by tongue or hand, without understanding, tolerance, or patience. They do not consider whether their action is beneficial or not for the situation at hand, nor do they consider whether they have the capability to do it. So they command and forbid believing that they are obeying Allāh and His Messenger ﷺ, when they are actually transgressing His limits.

… This whole issue comes under the general principle that whenever there is a conflict or competition between advantage and disadvantage, between right and wrong, it becomes necessary to weigh the two and establish that which is heavier.

Thus, though commanding and forbidding is meant to attain benefit and remove harm, one must consider the opposite outcome (i.e., the expected reaction to his action): If this would result in more loss of interests or more harm, i.e., if its disadvantages outweigh its benefits, it is not recommended but, rather, forbidden to perform it.

And if those commanding and forbidding know that the outcome of their action will have an inseparable combination of good and evil, they are not allowed to do it until they evaluate this outcome: If the good would be predominant, they should proceed; otherwise, they are prohibited from doing it, even if it entails the loss of a lesser good. In this case, enjoining a right that causes more wrong would be an act of enjoining wrong and promoting disobedience to Allāh and His Messenger[6] ﷺ”.


Islam strongly encourages the care of orphans and foundlings.[7]

The messenger ﷺ of Allah says, “I and the sponsor of the orphan are in Jannah like these two (index and middle fingers of his right hand held up together with a small space between them).”[8]

This shows the high status of a trustee in charge of orphans/foundlings.[9]

Taking care of the orphans and foundlings is a Communal Obligation (Fard Kifaya) so we have to step up, at least some of us – enough of us to take care of the problem. This obligation is even more incumbent upon taking care of the foundling than the orphan because the orphan has extended family, or even his mother, to take care of him/her.

A generally voiced opinion is that Adoption is Haram. Forbidden, without exception. This seems to be based on the concept that adoption is the direct parallel to “ettobeni”. [10]

“Ettobeni” actually means: to make a child your hier, giving them the same status as a biological child. There is no doubt that giving a child born of someone else the same status as one’s biological child is prohibited.

Allah has not put for any man two hearts inside his body. Neither has He made your wives whom you declare to be like your mothers’ backs, your real mothers, nor has He made your adopted sons your real sons. That is but your saying with your mouths. But Allah says the truth, and He guides to the (Right) Way. Call them by their fathers (names); that is more just with Allah. But if you know not their fathers (then call them) your brothers in faith and your freed slaves. And there is no sin on you if you make a mistake therein, except in regard to what your hearts deliberately intend. And Allah is Ever Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. [Quran 33:4-5][11]

Even an adopted child should take the name of his biological father.[12]

Zayd ibn Haritha d was a servant of Khadija who gave him to her husband ﷺ as a gift. Later, when his father found him, the Prophet ﷺ gave Zayd the choice to stay with him or to go with his family. He chose to stay. So the Prophet ﷺ adopted him. Then, when the ettobeni verse in Suratul Ahzab was revealed, he ﷺ repudiated the adoption and married Zayneb , Zayd’s ex-wife.

It is only after this, and after the hijab verse, that the events in the hadeeth concerning Salim, Salha  and Abu Hudhayfa actually occurred.[13]

The relationship between the adopted child and the opposite gender of the adopting family concerns the issue of mahramiyya. A mahram is somebody with whom another person is permanently forbidden to marry due to blood kinship, breastfeeding (milk) kinship and marriage.

A man’s consummated wife’s daughters and contracted wife’s mother are mahram, His father’s or son’s wives are also permanently forbidden. Blood mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts and nieces (and lineal ascendants and descendants) are all mahram to him, too. Those who are mahram because of blood are also mahram because of breastfeeding.[14]

The consensus of the Ummah agrees that if the child is breastfed with five separate feedings up to the age of 2 years, then the child becomes a member of the family. There are opinions that stretch two years to 2½ years and reduce the number of feedings required to three, but all agree that a two-year-old fed five times becomes mahram.

The majority also agree that the milk does not have to be directly from the breast. It can be medically induced. It can be expressed and fed fresh, it can be expressed and kept frozen and later thawed and drunk.[15]

The overwhelming majority of scholars say that there is no effect of breastfeeding after the age of 2½ years. This means there is a minute number (or underwhelming minority) of scholars who disagree, admitting that there is a breastmilk effect on children passed the age of suckling in special cases.[16]

The incident of this hadeeth concerning the problem Salha came to the Prophet ﷺ with, quoted earlier[17], was after the verse of hijab and after the verse of ettabeni.[18]


Sahla said that it was difficult for her to maintain hijab in the house with Salim coming in and out. The difficulty was acerbated because the boy had been raised in the house as if he was one of their own.

The Prophet ﷺ said that if she breastfed Salim d, he would become impermissible for her to marry (he will become mahram).

In considering this undeniable ruling of the Prophet ﷺ, the majority of the scholars say that this was a specific case only for Salha. This majority is not overwhelming, and there are more dissenting voices to it than to the opinion that breastfeeding over the age of two has no effect upon the relation of the child to the breastfeeder and consequently the breastfeeder’s family ties to the baby.

These dissenting voices, (the minority) which include ‘Aisha  and a minority of other companions who agreed with her f, say that whoever’s case resembles Salha’s – that is, a child is raised in the house as one of their own before puberty and then reaches puberty, and there is no shyness between them and the opposite gender members of the family because they regard each other as brother and sister/ father and daughter/ mother and son – then the child can be breast fed and he will become Mahram for them.[19]

As indicated above, some of the companions, including Aisha, g did not regard this case as peculiar to Salha g (only).[20] However, Shaykh Tahir said,

“It does not mean a person who is already pubescent can come into the family, drink breast milk from a family member and become mahram. It cannot be generalised this way.”[21]

This means making case by case studies that need to deal with each case separately. Factors such as the size of the house, the age of the child, how long the child has been living with the family and so on, have to be taken into account.


Listening to this, I noted that an age range is avoided in categorical ruling, namely between the age of 2½ and the normal age of pubescence (9-12). The Scholars stick together, and few will step outside the majority consensus to address minority fiqh issues.

The sad case is that there are hundreds and thousands of parentless Muslim children – foundlings born out of wedlock or children simply abandoned by their parents, orphaned, taken into custody by the state and so on – in need of Muslim fostering.[22] Instead of making a general statement concerning such a middle way, the conservative, safe, scholar calls for an action plan. As a consequence, no-one wants to step up and take care of them for fear of dong the haram (i.e. adopting!) or for fear of issues of mehramiyya.

Are we really following the Sunnah way of Mercy by denying a middle way? Can the ruling the Prophet ﷺ made for Salha g be generalised on the condition that the child comes into the family as a prepubescent and has come to regard the family members as mom/dad/ bro/sis? Does cutting this way off reflect the will of Al-Rahman?

Shayk Tahir Wyatt said, “We need to get a foster parent network/institution up and running with qualified foster parents. We cannot allow Muslim foundlings and Orphans and children put into care to be catered for by the system that does not cater for religion and provides non-Muslim fosterers. We have a responsibility as a community.[23]”

In my opinion, this a stop-gap solution rather than a definitive one. It does not adequately address the core problem, which is the unwillingness of ordinary Muslims to risk displeasing Allah (or risk their reputations in the community) by adopting, or by fostering a child who will cause problems of mehramiyya inside the family.








[6] Al-Jibaly, M. (2016) Enjoining the Right & Forbidding the Wrong among Muslims & Non-Muslims, pp. 27-28



[9] FROM THIS: ALL A PERSON NEEDS to do IS FOSTER a foundling or orphan JUSTLY and MERCIFULLY if he or she would like to be in Paradise next to the Prophet.

[10] FROM THIS: People are driven away from the Jannah awarding action of adopting, taking responsibility for the foundling or orphan.


[12] FROM THIS: It is O.K to adopt or foster, but you should not give the foster/adopted child your name as if you were his or her biological father. Nor does the adopted/fostered child have an automatic share of your inheritance.


[14] That is, if a man’s mother or daughter or sister or wife breast feeds a baby girl, that girl becomes mahram to him.

[15] The hadeeth the subject of this inquiry and its surrounding evidence is the proof offered for this ruling.

[16] This disagreement is due to the hadeeth concerning breastfeeding Salim, a pubescent boy, who was the freed slave of Abu Hudhayfa, and Salha g, his wife, which is the subject of this inquiry.

[17] Is the hadeeth of breastfeeding a pubescent boy abrogated by or abrogating the other rulings, or is it a conditional release from those rulings? If it is the latter, is it only applicable to Salha and Salim, or can it be generally applied to families in a similar situation?

[18] This puts it chronically about some time after hijra, so other hadeeth concerning the limits to the age of suckling are around the same time or earlier.

[19] In other words, this method can solve the problem if generalised as the easy, middle way.

[20] The majority of the fuqaha are of the opinion that this is not a general fatwa.





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