The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, “Bring the orphan close to you, pat his head, and feed him with the same food you eat. It will soften your heart and fulfill your need.” [Makārim al-Akhlāq lil-Kharā’iṭī 661]
Historically, orphans have been mistreated and viewed with disdain throughout different civilisations and empires. This is mainly due to the fact that many cultures over-emphasise the significance of lineage and bloodline.
As a result, orphans were considered unworthy of the same respect as those who had come from established families.
We see this in the recorded history from 19th century Victorian England, and we can even see traces of mistreatment of orphans in 16th century Arabia where lineage was very heavily tied to status. In fact, orphans in certain parts of the world are still being mistreated.
When Islam was revealed to the world, revelations included in the Holy Quran pointed to the significance of orphans as an unmistakable component of the growing religion. This went against many cultural norms and changed the way countless people see orphans to this day.
Let us look at the sources that point to the importance of caring for orphans in the Quran.
Every Muslim is responsible for the care of orphans in Islam
‘They ask you, [O Muhammad], what they should spend [in charity]. Say, “Whatever you spend of good is [to be] for parents and relatives and orphans and the needy and the traveller. And whatever you do of good – indeed, Allah is Knowing of it.”’ [Surah Al Baqarah: 215]
Orphans have the right to be cared for, according to this scripture. Every right, however, comes with a responsibility, and the Quran places this responsibility on the person, implying that every Muslim should help orphans in need.
On a more public level, rulers must ensure that orphans receive their just share of charity and Zakat. This money, as far as Islam is concerned, is theirs.
Orphans deserve dignity
In the Quran, Allah complained to the Quraysh about their treatment of orphans:
‘No! But you do not honour the orphan…’ [Surah Al Fajr: 1]
Allah elevated the status of orphans worldwide by appointing an orphan as His Messenger. The Quran changed their treatment and made orphan care a highly noble element of their religion.
Allah is concurrently informing us that orphans must be revered and respected by rebuking the Quraysh for dishonouring orphans.
They are not only entitled to assistance; they also deserve to be treated with decency, as do all individuals.
A true believer does not ignore orphans
Allah says in one passage that a person who ignores orphans is not truly a believer.
“Have you seen the one who denies the Recompense [the religion]? For that is the one who drives away the orphan”. [Surah Al Ma’un: 1-2]
In another, Allah says that the pious in Paradise are those who cared for orphans during their earthly lives.
“And they [the righteous] give food in spite of love for it to the needy, the orphan, and the captive…” [Surah Al Insan: 8]
The promise of Jannah is repeated by Allah and Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) throughout the Quran and Sunnah, emphasising the need of caring for orphans and children.
What the Prophet (ﷺ) says about orphans in Islam
Apart from excerpts found directly in the Quran, it is said that the Prophet (ﷺ) himself has made the significance of orphans well known.
The caring of orphans is considered a well established sunnah of the Prophet (ﷺ) as well as the companions, so much so that rewards are associated with the act of showing orphans generosity or kindness.
The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “ Whoever takes in an orphan among the Muslims to raise, to feed him and give him drink, Allah admits him into Paradise without a doubt, unless he has done a sin for which he is not forgiven.” [Jami’ at-Tirmidhi]
In the grand scheme of social wellbeing, the fostering of orphans indicates that a community possesses greater empathy as a whole and are more connected with the teachings of Islam in general.
In fact, the softening of the heart can be achieved through the caring or raising of orphans. In Islam, the soft heart is a vital state of being that depicts individuals with higher levels of empathy, kindness, morality and self-awareness. These traits can lead to behaviours that improve the disposition of the Ummah.
The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “If you want to soften your heart, then feed the poor and pat the head of the orphan.” [Musnad Ahmad]
It is documented that the Prophet (ﷺ) would play and joke with orphans, as well as feed them from his own food whenever he had the opportunity.
Harmony in households
Harmony in family households also has a connection with the treatment of orphans according to the Prophet.
The Prophet ( ﷺ) said, “The best house among the Muslims is the house in which orphans are well treated, and the worst is the house in which orphans are ill treated.” [Al-Adab al-Mufrad]
It is clear to see that the mistreatment of orphans generally depicts the degradation of family values or the development of wicked behavioural traits within a certain environment – commonly within individual households. This type of behaviour can lead to greater wickedness throughout a community if left unchecked.
On the flip side, the best houses treat orphans with great respect and kindness. These are the types of environments that are encouraged in Islam, eradicating prejudices, biases, and illusions of superior status over orphans within a family household. This leads to a more wholesome community that makes a deliberate attempt to secure a just society – and it can all start with the proper treatment of orphans.
With the aforementioned sources, it is clear that those who wish to be closer to Islam must adhere to the very clear standards of behaving and acting towards orphans. There is no doubt about the encouragement of treating orphans well in the Quran, and the Messenger ( ﷺ) also gives us plenty of proof about the treatment of orphans in the way he behaved towards them and the things he said about them.