The existence and thanksgiving of parents is generally not realized till the time when one becomes a parent too. Or sometimes till the time when one starts earning hard-earned money and becomes financially independent. In many cultures, the value of parents is never appreciated. However there is a group which treasures the love of parents much more than anyone. That group is of the Orphans. An orphan is the child or the minor who, by the will of Allah, has no parents or just one parent. In Islam, the absence of a father either by death or abandonment or any other reason results in the child becoming an orphan. The child remains an orphan till he/she reaches the age of maturity or puberty. Because orphans are minor, they are physically weak in the society and are mostly challenged by poverty. In today’s world, the situation of the orphan depends on the geographical location of the child. For example, an orphan in Africa or Latin America or Asia is more likely to be under-fed as well as poor in comparison to the orphans in Western countries. Often, orphans in poor regions get widespread diseases too because of improper hygiene and lack of availability of proper food.
There is no doubt that supporting the orphans is emphasized by all the religions as well as the rejecters of religions. But Islam is the only faith that has extensively mentioned orphans in the Quran and also in the traditions of the Prophet and the Ahlulbayt (peace be upon them). In fact, the word ‘orphan/s’ (Arabic word Yatim) has been mentioned more than 20 times in the Holy Book indicating the importance that Islam lays down for the parentless children. The many merciful verses, besides giving hope to the orphans, also prove a point that Allah has not taken away the parents just because He hates those children but because it is a test for the believers including the orphans. Let us understand how Islam wants to test and teach us.
It is mentioned in the Holy Quran (2:83), “…..and (you shall do) good to (your) parents, and to the near of kin and to the orphans….” It has been explained by exegetes that orphans are mentioned right after the parents and the kin because when going outside the circle of relatives; the orphans are the most deserving of kindness. It is because they are deprived of a father who is the guardian, protector and bread-earner of the family. Next, the Quran (76:8) describes the righteous people as those who give food to the orphans – “And they give food out of love for Him to the poor and the orphan and the captive.” In Chapter 4 verse 127, Allah calls to justly treat the orphan children. Therefore, the Islamic community should be raised with a thought of justice and equity towards the orphans.
In addition to the pronouncement for doing good towards the orphans and oppressed children, the Holy Book also addresses the guardians regarding their responsibilities towards the needy children. Quran (4:2) states: “And give the orphans their property, and do not exchange something bad (of yours) for something good (of theirs), nor devour their property along with your own; (for) it is surely a great crime.” As explained in the Enlightening Commentary of the Quran, the verse describes that treachery in the property of orphans is strictly prohibited in Islam. Besides, the verse provides three instructions. Firstly, the guardian can take the property till the orphan is minor and keep it as a trustee. Secondly, the guardian should not consume the property of the orphans and thirdly, the guardian should not mix his property with that of the orphans.
Hopefully, the caretakers or guardians in the orphanages worldwide are following the instructions as addressed in Islam. They should also keep in mind that the wealth of the orphans is not applied outside the profit of the orphans. For example, if the wealth is given with the intention to provide ‘good’ food to the orphans in an orphanage then that charity should not be used personally by the wealthy caretakers with the compromise of unhealthy and low-priced meal being given to the children. All in all, wellbeing of the orphan and an honest assessment of his expenses should be met and documented by the guardians. Quran (4:6) also tells about the property being given back to the orphans when they reach the age of maturity. The Holy Book also warn the transgressors (4:9), “And let those fear who, if they left behind them weakly children, would fear on their account, so let them be in awe of Allah, and let them speak right words.” The verse signifies that consuming the wealth of orphans will receive its effects in this world through their own orphans as well as in the next world through the wrath of Allah. We should be kind to the orphans of other people so that our orphans are also treated in the same way in future.
There are plenty of beautiful traditions from the Ahlulbayt that teach us about showing kindness to the orphans and taking active part in their nourishment and growing up. Imam Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (peace be upon him) says, “One who maintains the orphans, Allah makes Paradise obligatory upon him, in the same way as he makes Hell obligatory upon those who usurp the property of the orphans.” Similarly, the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) has said, “I and one who maintains an orphan would be together in Paradise in the presence of Allah, in the same way as these two fingers are together.” And he pointed out to his index and the middle finger joined together. In another beautiful tradition, the Prophet (peace be upon him) has stated, “If anyone from you becomes the guardian of an orphan and deals kindly with them, and he fulfils these actions satisfactorily, and he strokes the head of the orphan with sympathy, then Allah necessarily writes good deeds equivalent to the hair covered by his hand and forgives sins equal to the number of hair, and raises his position in grades equal to the hair of the orphan’s head.” These three narrations are mentioned in the book Greater Sins by Ayatollah Dastaghaib Shirazi who has also described in great detail about the eighth greater sin, usurping the property of an orphan, and the issues related to it.
On day eight of the month of Ramadhan we supplicate – “O Allah, on this day, let me have mercy on the orphans, and feed [the hungry], and spread peace, and keep company with the nobleminded, O the shelter of the hopeful.” Having mercy on the orphans is indeed a noble act. But showing kindness to orphans in today’s world is not as easily achieved as we check the social networking sites or chat with friend over Phone apps. Living in this age where we do not have time to do anything outside of our routinely entangled lives, it is not easy to find an orphan in the street who we can help straightaway. For this purpose, therefore, there are many charitable institutes where you can donate money via the internet for the many deserving orphans. One such way of donation is currently run through AIM Ramadhan Appeal where you can help and be kind to the orphans in the war-torn Iraq. This way you would be following what the Quran and Ahlulbayt preaches.
For the keep-up of orphans, you may also contact the local orphanage in your town, if present, to donate generously and consistently. That would include their food, school fees, clothes and every other thing that a child needs. Moreover, you may also contact the local orphanages in order to cover up your missed (Qadha and Kaffara) fasts of Ramadhan through donating money for the food of poor children. Or if you have enough of time, money and kindness; you may end up buying groceries and personally gifting them to the orphanage. If you momentarily want to bring a smile on the face of an orphan, think about gifting a soccer ball and attractive hairbands to them through a visit. What better time can we get than the month of Ramadhan to give charity that would help an orphan thereby multiplying our rewards?
At the end, we should remember the following deed that Imam Ali dictated in a document to his son, Imam Hasan (peace be upon both of them) on the 20th of Ramadan 40 AH, “Beware! Beware! Do not ever be neglectful of orphans. I warn you again, never leave an orphan hungry and unprotected.”