The Northern Virginia couple fostered the 6-year old twin girls for a year before they legally adopted them. The twin girls birth parents were abusive, and their parental rights were terminated by the court. The Ismails tried to keep some connection with the birth parents but they were unsuccessful.
The phone call this evening is coming from the Fairfax County Foster and Adoption Program Coordinator. The coordinator needs to place a 16-year old Pakistani female removed from her parent's home. Her religious background is similar to the Ismails; they are prepared for this call as registered foster parents with Fairfax County.
In the middle of the night, she arrived at the Ismail home, frail, alone, leaving behind many siblings, with a small backpack- the only thing to call her own. She stayed for three weeks and won a place in their hearts. Placements are temporary and can last anywhere from overnight to several months.
"When the call comes we have the choice to say no, specify gender and age preferences; there is no pressure from the county," says Anna, an administrative supervisor at Canon USA and Muhammad, who works for the Department of Justice.
The Ismails say becoming a foster or adoptive parent is not hard. What is required is an open mind, a compassionate heart and a stable home environment. A valid US visa (citizenship is not necessary) is required to become a foster parent. Whether single, married, separated or divorced, as long as there is adequate space for the child in your home, and one is over 21 years of age, one can apply. A background check and a home study for safety and space by a social worker will assess renters or homeowners for eligibility.
The Need For Muslim Foster Parents
There is a nation wide need for Muslim foster families, a fact underscored by the tragic case in Michigan of the children of Rehab and Ahmed Amer.
The American Arab Discrimination Committee (ADC) has been working on the Amer family case for nearly two decades. According to the office of Representative John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.), in 1985, Rehab and Ahmed Amer lost two of their children to Michigan’s foster care system after the death of their toddler Samier, who died of head injuries after a fall in a bathtub. Although Rehab was acquitted in August 1986 of any criminal wrongdoing in connection with the death, the State refused to return the Amers’ other two children to them and removed a third child from the Amers’ custody four months after Rehab’s acquittal.
The Amers’ children were sent to live with an evangelical Christian family, renaming the Amers’ children and raising them as Christians. Today, only one of Amers’ three living children, Mohamed Ali, now known as Adam, communicates with them.
Similar cases are happening in the Washington Metro area.
“We get calls for Muslim foster families, for Muslim children…and we cannot place them. When everyone says no, that means they are placed wherever the state can place them. That will be within a culture and religion that is foreign to them. Every day they are within a non-Muslim home diminishes their Muslim identity,” Molley Dagget of the Lutheran Social Services told the Muslim Link. Dagget, who holds a masters in social work, is based in Baltimore.
Mona Fadulalla, whose daughter is with an orthodox Christian foster family in Springfield, VA, fears for her 17 year old's loss of identity.
"The last time I saw her she was dressed in a small skirt that her foster mother bought for her," she said. Mona is looking for a Muslim foster family who can open their home for her daughter. She was taken away after the judge found Mona incapable of taking care of teenagers. An older son had dropped out of high school, and her daughter was getting into fights at school and caught with friends who were shoplifting. She ran away from the first foster home she was placed in where, according to her mother, she was exposed to illicit sexual activity.
In the Amer's case, Rehab’s brother petitioned to be a foster parent to the Amers’ three children, but was denied his petition even though he had previously served as a foster parent for other children. This case spurred changes in the foster care system requiring placement agencies in Michigan to give special preference for relatives when making a decision. The “Rehab and Ahmed Amer Foster Care Improvement Act of 2013” is currently making its way through Congress. According to ADC, the legislation will enhance the existing federal policy of encouraging state foster care programs to place children in the care of willing and able relatives.
"Fairfax County's first priority is to reunite the family of origin; keeping the best interest of the child in mind," says Rosa Suau, a community educator for Fairfax County Foster Care and Adoption at an informational event held at Dar al Hijrah in Falls Church this past March. Foster parents are responsible for the day-to-day care of the children, but social workers and the courts make major decisions, sometimes involving birth parents. All counties provide a stipend for foster children to help cover costs. Fairfax County pays for dental/health insurance. Resources for parenting, a psychologist, a social worker, and ongoing training are also provided for foster parents.
Children live with the foster family until problems in the birth family are sorted out. While the investigation is taking place, the child needs a place to stay.
Sometimes the problem is multifaceted. When an abuse incident is reported, the county errs on the side of caution and Child Protective Services (CPS) makes a snap decision at the time. Upon further investigation, CPS may decide that the best place for the child is the home of origin. If the abuse is egregious, the termination of the birth parents' rights are initiated in court.
Anna Ismail says one of her foster daughters told her that she did not want to face her parents. The Ismails did face hostile stares from the birth family as they entered the court. “I can understand; I wouldn't want to see my daughter with another family," she said. But knowing that they were there to support a vulnerable young person deal with fear, anger, resentment and uncertainty as she faced her family helped them deal with their own angst. These tense scenarios often deter Muslims from fostering; an unfamiliar legal process and finances are other reasons more Muslims don't take in Muslim children in need of support. There are less than five Muslim families in the Northern Virginia Area registered as foster families.
"The term foster child still carries stigma," says Anna Ismail," people think that there is something wrong with the kids." Abuse, neglect, parental incompetence, and having an unaccompanied refugee status are some of the many reasons why a child may be in the foster care system. Currently, there are 10,867 children in foster care in Maryland.
Muslim social workers say the lack of Muslim foster families is a failure on the part of the community. Many are unfamiliar with the concept of fostering. Imam Faizul Khan of the Islamic Society of Washington Area (ISWA) says that across Muslim cultures, adopting and fostering children takes different forms. "Fostering (kafalah) means to assume partial or complete responsibility for a child who has been temporarily or permanently deprived of parental care," explains Imam Faizul Khan. He clarifies that adoptions where the child assumes the family name of the foster family is forbidden in Islam, whereas fostering is highly recommended.
Due to Islamic restrictions on gender mixing, it is less common for Muslims to assume custody of unrelated children, as they are concerned that the child will be a non-mahram living in their home. "Our first priority should be to place Muslim children in Muslim homes. It is always difficult for non Muslims to raise the child as a Muslim in a non Muslim home," says Imam Faizul Khan.
He says Islam's prohibition on a man being alone with a woman unless he is her mahram, and its requirement that women wear the hjiab in front of non-mahram men are often used as reasons why fostering is not an option for Muslim families.
Imam Faizul Khan acknowledges the need to set up some mechanism whereas the community can take responsibility to effectively offer this service to provide foster care to Muslim children who need it.
Kafalah is a neglected Sunnah; the Prophet Sallallahu 'alyhi wa sallam himself was both a foster child and a foster parent. There is great spiritual benefit in taking care of children who are needy, abused, and neglected. "It is as great for you as it is for the child," says Iman Potter, who fostered and adopted her friend's daughter after she passed away from breast cancer. Each and every Muslim needs to make the niyyah (intention) to foster a child in need. Muslims believe taking care of there children is a part of the faith and that Allah provides the means if one makes the intention.
Faith played a large role in the Ismails' decision. They take one day at a time, one week at a time, relying on Allah.
Families interested in becoming foster care families should attend attend orientation meetings at 7 pm on the 2nd Monday of each month Department of Family Services, Pennino Building, 12011 Government Center Parkway, Fairfax, Virginia 22035.
Find information about becoming a foster family in your region: