News that a Christian child was forced into Muslim foster care caused a furore earlier this year. But, despite the challenges, these households play a vital role in bringing up vulnerable children, says Sarfraz Manzoor
About 100,000 young people go through the foster system every year. In recent years an increasing number of these have been child refugees from Muslim-majority countries such as Syria and Afghanistan, many arriving here traumatised and in need of care.
” We calculate there is a shortage of 8,000 foster carers ,” says Kevin Williams, chief executive of the Fostering Network,” and there is a particular dearth of Muslim foster carers .”
Those featured here were nervous that their narratives would be misreported, an issue highlighted recently in the narrative about a white Christian daughter supposedly” forced into Muslim foster care “. The tale was quoth as emblematic of a greater clash between Islam and Christianity. It has also elicited were afraid that the media blizzard could deter Muslims from promoting at a time when the need for a more diverse pond of carers has never been greater.
Sajjad and Riffat
Just before Christmas seven years ago, Riffat and Sajjad were at home when the phone reverberate. It was the foster agency letting them know that three children they’d never gratified would be arriving shortly. The children- two sisters and a brother- were in urgent need of short-term care. Sajjad and Riffat had been approved as foster carers merely two months more quickly and these would be their first placements.
” We were aroused, but I was also a bit nervous ,” remembers Sajjad, 50. The couple had tried to start a family when they are married, but fertility problems led to six failed cycles of IVF. They considered adopting, but eventually decided to sign up as foster carers.
Both are observant Muslims of Pakistani heritage. Riffat, 46, was wearing a headscarf when we fulfilled, and prays five times a day. How did they cope with the arrival of three white English children raised in a Christian household?
” I will never forget that day ,” recollects Riffat, who grew up in Pakistan and moved to Britain after marriage in 1997.” It truly was like being thrown in the deep aim .” They bought chicken and chips from the local takeaway for the children and the supporting worker told the couple about the children’s bedtime routine.
Once the children were asleep, Sajjad headed out on an urgent shopping mission.” We are Muslims and we’d never had a Christmas tree in our home ,” says Riffat.” But these children were Christian and we wanted them to feel connected to their culture .” So he bought a Christmas tree, decorations and presents. The couple ran until the early hours putting the tree up and wrapping presents. The first thing the children considered the next morning was the tree.
” I had never seen that kind of extra happiness and exhilaration on a child’s face ,” remembers Riffat. The children were meant to stay for two weeks- seven years later two of the three siblings are still living with them.
Riffat has grown are applied to surprised looks from strangers and people asking if the reason she has such fair-skinned children is because she wedded a white man. But she focuses on the positives- including with regard to how fostering has given her and Sajjad an insight into a world that had been so unfamiliar.” We have learned so much about English culture and religion ,” Sajjad says. Riffat would read Bible narratives to the children at night and took the girls to church on Sundays.” When I read about Christianity, I don’t think there is much change ,” she says.” It all comes from God .”
The daughters, 15 and 12, have also introduced Riffat and Sajjad to the world of after-school ballet, theater classes and going to pop concerts.” I wouldn’t see many Asian parents at those places ,” she says.” But I now tell my extended family you should involve your children in these activities because it is good for their confidence .” Having the girls in their own lives has also made Riffat reflect on her own childhood.” I had never spent even an hour outside my home without my siblings or parents until my wedding day ,” she says.
Just as Riffat and Sajjad have learned about Christianity, the girls have come to look forward to Eid and the traditions of henna.” I’ve taught them how to make potato curry, pakoras and samosas ,” Riffat says.” But their spice levels are not quite the same as ours yet .” The daughters can also sing Bollywood ballads and speak Urdu.
” I now look forward to going home. I have two girls and my wife waiting ,” says Sajjad.” It’s been such a bles for me ,” adds Riffat.” It fulfilled the maternal gap .”
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