Wayas’alūnaka ‘anil-yatāmā qul islāhun lahum khayr
They ask you concerning orphans. Say: ‘It is better to set right their affairs’
(Sūratul Baqarah, No.2, Ayat 220)
Many verses of the Quran mention the rights of those who have been usually oppressed and mistreated by society. Among the groups that are mentioned is the orphan. Society is responsible for them and cannot ignore their needs. All their affairs, regarding their wealth, education, training, religion, etc. must be looked after. According to ‘urf (social norms), the orphan is one who has lost a parent at a young age. According to Sharī’ah, an orphan is someone who has not reached maturity (bulūgh) and has lost his father. According to the law it is one who has no guardian. What all these three definitions have in common is that an orphan is someone who has lost one who supports and looks after him.
Orphans have great regard in Islam. They are to be treated with sensitivity and care. Imam al-Sādiq (a) says: The throne of Allah shakes at the weeping of an orphan (Man lā Yahdhuruhu al Faqīh, v. 1, p 188). The rights of the orphan is not just to provide food and shelter for them. That is necessary, but more important than that is to provide for their emotional needs of affection, love, and respect. The effects of not having a parent should not impair the growth of good character and healthy personalities in them.
The Quran says about orphans;
1. Show them respect – Nay, but you do not honor the orphan (Q 89:17)
2. Speak kindly to them – Speak to them kind words (Q 4:8)
3. Give them what is theirs – And give to the orphans their property (Q 4:2)
4. Provide for them – And give away wealth out of love for Him to the near of kin and the orphans . . . (Q 2:177)
Treating orphans well is not just beneficial for the orphan but also for the benefactor. A man once came to Imam Ali (a) and said: ‘I have become very hard hearted. No words affect me and I cannot shed tears. Please tell me what I can do’. The Imam advised him to go to an orphan and hold him close. ‘Show him affection and respect and do something for him,’ he told him, ‘this will soften your heart.’ Spending time with orphans and volunteering for them would also be a beneficial experience for youth.
The Holy Prophet (s) loved orphans. After the death of Ja‘far bin Abu Talib (renowned as Ja‘far al-Tayyār) he went to Ja‘far’s home to see his children. Abdullah the son of Ja’far narrated that the Prophet hugged them close and wept. He lifted his hands in prayer and asked Allah to fulfill the needs of the bereaved family in the best way possible. Then he took the children to his home, and asked his daughter Fatima (a) to go with other women to console the wife of Ja‘far.
It is interesting to note that Islam does not only apply the word orphan to a person. Sometimes it considers a whole community an orphan, one that is spiritually deprived of a supporter and leader who looks after it. Imam Hasan al-Askarī (a) said: Harder than being orphaned by separation from the father is being orphaned and unguided through separation from the Imam, having no access to him, and not knowing the basic rules of religion. So any of our Shī‘iahs who has our knowledge although he has not seen us, comes across such an orphan and guides him to our laws, he will be in a high place in Heaven with us (Bihārul Anwār, v.2, p.2).
Recite this verse to remind yourself of the rights of orphans. Remember it when you hear of the orphans in Islamic history, including the orphans of Muslim bin Aqīl whose martyrdom is observed on 22nd of Dhul-hijjah and the ones at Karbala, or when you think of the huge number of orphans around the world. Remind yourself of their rights and our responsibilities. We must do what we can to bring happiness to the hearts of orphans.