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How to Raise Your Children, When You’re Dead


Ali had two young children. While he was playing baseball one day, a ball hit his chest. A few days later, he was gone at the age of 33. Three years later, his widow, Firdaus, died in a car accident.  Someone else was now needed to raise their two children, but who would that be?

Many Muslim parents have no idea what would happen if they were to be put in the place of this hypothetical couple. Complete strangers or unsuitable family members being named guardians are so common that it is not worthy of making the news. You may already know that a busy legal system exists all over the United States to address this recurring problem.

If you are a Muslim, and hope that your child is raised Muslim if you are not around to do so yourself, judges will usually not go far out of their way to honor that hope unless it was followed by action on your part. This is not Islamophobia. Why should busy judges care if the parents evidently did not?  Naming a guardian for your minor child in a legal document is easier than changing diapers. You just need to make a few decisions.

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My goal is to help you make sure that if anything ever does happen to you, the parent, you will have taken sufficient steps to ensure that your child will be raised consistently with your own values.

There have been cases where Judges just hand over Muslim children to non-Muslims to be raised as such, and certainly many other situations where children are raised by people the actual parents would have been horrified to know are now custodians of their care.

Here are a few different types of Muslim families that I typically see, as well as a few possible solutions to help you select a successor guardian. Keep in mind this is about Guardianship, not adoption, which is a different concept. While the examples below are fictitious, they are not too far from reality.

 No Assets

muslim death

Fatima and Abdullah are young and live paycheck to paycheck, with more owed than owned. They do not feel the need to go through the cost and expense of doing an Estate Plan, and even do wills on their own, at least right now. However, they are concerned about who would raise their son Abdul Rahman and daughter Layla.

The easiest way for them to handle this is to name Guardians through a separate writing, called a “nomination of guardian” form (where allowed) or naming them in a will.

By affirmatively naming their preference (and giving their selected guardians a copy) for who would raise their children in the case that they were unable to, they will take two steps. Firstly, the family members or friends selected should know that it is their responsibility to take care of the children, and that Fatima and Abdullah rely on them for this.

Secondly, selecting guardians in writing dramatically reduces the chance of guardianship disputes and the family fitna that goes with it, or even worse, the chance that the children could end up with strangers. As parents may “nominate” Guardians for minor children, judges tend to appoint those the parents selected.

Fatima and Abdullah can then select multiple individuals as possible Guardians so that if one were unavailable or regarded as unfit by a court, an alternate would be available.

Awkward Thanksgivings

Every year, Salma and Ismael have Thanksgiving dinner with Salma’s brother, Sulayman. The dinners are always uncomfortable as Sulayman seemingly has difficulty conducting a conversation without mocking Islam and Muslims and extensively discussing how people who believe in religions are unintelligent. Despite living in close proximity to each other, Salma and Ismael do not let Sulayman babysit their children and would rather not have him raise their children. He is, however, the only relative that lives in the same state and he would be happy to take care of the children if the opportunity ever arose.

If Salma and Ismail are against Sulayman ever raising their children, they should consider doing a negative appointment. Appoint the individuals they would rather have as Guardians but just in case, also make it clear that the parents do not want Sulayman to raise their children under any circumstances.

Husband and Wife do not agree

Bilquis and Hamza have three children and would like to name successor Guardians for them, as they see themselves as responsible parents. However, they cannot do it because they do not agree on who should be named as a guardian and in what order. Bilquis would rather her family members raise the children while Hamza is not nearly as fond of Bilquis’ family as she is. They find it is easier and less damaging to their relationship if they ignore the issue.

The solution to their problem is a Shurah, a panel that decides who the Guardian for the minor children should be. Both parents name people from each respective family. All of these individuals can be successor Guardians, however the panel decides who should act as a guardian for the children should the need arise. While this technique is an innovation of Estate Planning Attorneys, it is generally in keeping with state guardianship statutes. It may also allow for compromise between families and allow for both sides of the family to see the orphaned children.

Family Oceans Away


Salman and Aisha came to the United States 3 years ago from overseas. They have been in their current city for two months and have one daughter, Sultana, who is 5 years old and has just started kindergarten at a local public school. Both have family living thousands of miles away. Salman and Aisha have not developed many very close friendships either, being new in town and mostly transient and too busy for much of a social life. When filling out school paperwork, they chose to name someone as an emergency contact to pick up their child from school if they are late. This person is another parent they had met when the school year started.

This is a hard situation. Sultana would be especially vulnerable to government intervention and foster care if her parents were to die or become incapacitated. Even if family members managed to come from overseas, the child would still be left with strangers.

Salman and Aisha need more than just documents to protect their daughter. They need people in the local area who would be in a position to take care of their children, preferably from the Muslim community, and assist them so that their child can be sent to live with family members in Pakistan. They need to build community, get friends quickly and name those friends in their documents. If a judge feels that it is not in the best interest of the child to live with their family overseas, because the country is an active war zone for example, Salman and Aisha will still have appointed a Muslim family for Sultana to stay with, and who have agreed to be her safety net.

The Conversation

This Thanksgiving as you meet with friends and family members, take some time, if you have not already, to discuss who will take care of your children if you cannot do so. There are sample templates (registration required) available for anyone who wants them, that can easily be filled out and you can take them to your lawyer if you wish. Keep a copy for yourself and keep a copy for the people you are appointing as a guardian.

You may also develop closer bonds with the friends and family you appoint as a result of this conversation and the mutual understandings that will come from it. Even if you live to see your children well into adulthood and none of these loved ones ever needs to be appointed as a guardian, having these conversations and writing down your wishes is always a good thing.








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The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Ahmed Shaikh is a Southern California Attorney. He writes about inheritance, nonprofits and other legal issues affecting Muslims in the United States. He is the co-author of "Estate Planning for the Muslim Client," published by the American Bar Association. His Islamic Inheritance website is



  1. dr farah afzal

    November 25, 2015 at 4:42 AM

    author has discussed a very important issue that we never think about. a quite thought provoking well written article.

    • Suhael

      November 25, 2015 at 10:28 PM

      JazakAllah Khairyn for this. This is very informational and needed for each and every member of our community.

  2. Syed J

    November 28, 2015 at 12:39 PM

    Assalam alaikum wa JazakAllah Khair. Indeed we hardly ever think of this issue in our daily lives.

  3. Ebrahim Karim

    November 28, 2015 at 12:48 PM

    Slms it is best to leave the offspring with well educated persons who understand the ruling &control of children. pre favourable the persons should be well educated in Islam & teaching of upbringing
    Children they must be trusted persons. They also have their own offsprings

  4. Kent Bayley

    November 28, 2015 at 1:28 PM

    I am blessed to be a Christian and in that we must exercise free will to become Christian. We must do that freely as individuals, The huge problem i have with all things Muslim is that you claim you are born Muslims and to change you must renounce the religion. Apparently this then brings penalties. I would hope that your barbaric ways can be set aside and try love for a change. This is how children should be raised and be given choice and use their free will to decide how their lives will be run. In this sense I would hope Muslim orphans would be raised in a home of free will and not branded Muslim from the moment they re born.

    • Hanna

      November 28, 2015 at 2:00 PM

      You demand love, but at the same time you have the ability to judge and be disrespectful. You show so much hate to a community.

      Please do some soul searching, as you appear to have lot of time to spread hate. Why waste peoples time with your lack of knowledge on the subject.
      An individual who believes in god, would not be so harsh, every religion teaches kindness. You want to get your opinion across, then learn to do it kindly like your religion has taught you. What disappointing example of Christianity.

    • Idris

      November 28, 2015 at 9:03 PM

      Anyone who reads your comment will clearly understand where you coming from, your level of education, way of thing and how deep is your hatred. I am glad that you are not claiming you represent Christianity and what it stands for. If you are really serious about giving children freedom to make their choice of religion, please help those children kidnapped by the missionaries from Asia and Africa with empty promises and brought them to Europe and America and left without guidance their entire life. Large number of those children either become atheist and end up in prison when they reach puberty. Those need your help!

    • Raed

      October 5, 2016 at 2:50 PM

      With all do respect Kent, I thought of this happening to my children(God forbid) and wondered ” what will they believe after me ?” Kind of what the prophet Joseph asked his children before he passed. If I was ever to have children from other religions placed in my home, I’d make sure they practiced whatever faith they were brought up with but I’d also invite them to Islam starting with the 109th chapter of the Quran. And I’d respect and love them no matter what but they’d need faith in God!! With that being said, Islam is not barbaric at all. Even though I was born Muslim , I didn’t know anything about it, till I September 11 happened. I though to myself, I couldn’t believe that my religion of Islam can be so cruel n was too blame. I needed to educate myself instead of being ignorant. So I opened the Quran that I borrowed from a friend since We didn’t own one. It had an introduction of each chapter along side the parables for the lesson to be learned from the certain verses. The more I read, the more I was awed the mdeeper I fell in love.. then found the miracles of its eloquent words so perfectly said. The rights of every living being from plants to humans. I was amazed! Try it. Not to be a Muslim but so that you can be more understanding to those who do follow Islam and why those laws are important. Good luck!

  5. Kent Bayley

    November 28, 2015 at 2:18 PM

    Your response is perfectly predictable as is your own judgmental stance. Look at what you have written, just look.

  6. Kent Bayley

    November 29, 2015 at 12:04 AM

    Oh dear, these responses are so very poor and comprehension so very bad. You seem to just ignore the facts and ignore that Muslim males subjugate women. In Egypt they aren’t even allowed to drive cars. In Australia Muslims want their own law and for men to have 4 wives. In England whole suburbs are no go zones and in Holland they are taking steps to stop Muslim immigration. So it goes on all around the world and now Germany’s fate is sealed. My eyes are wide open.

    • n

      November 29, 2015 at 3:17 AM

      Thought provoking article, JazakhAllah Khairun.

      Kent – Muslims are imperfect human beings like anyone else, that doesn’t mean the religion is wrong. We believe in Jesus Peace be upon him and his return. Muhammed and Mecca ( in bakka valley) are foretold in the bible. The Quran is the final testament, the unchanged Word of God. Isn’t it worth checking if you are on the right path?

      • Kent Bayley

        November 29, 2015 at 1:30 PM

        Thank you for a civil response unlike others who simply decide I am wrong and stick their heads in the sand. Jesus taught love and was the son of the one true God. He wasn’t a pedophile as was Muhammad who married 6 year old Aisha. I acknowledge he didn’t bed her until she was 9……….nothing to be grateful for really.
        I have checked to see if my path is right and it is. The Koran offers nothing but anger and division and i can provide any amount of proof of that. My friend, it is you who should search for the truth not me and in doing so you will see that Islam is a man made barbaric religion which promotes hatred and not peace. Where ever there are Muslims in number there is war and hatred. Name one place where there isn’t and where there is peace and freedom……name just one.

      • Kent Bayley

        November 29, 2015 at 1:56 PM

    • Mohammed

      November 29, 2015 at 6:05 PM

      Dear Kent,

      Dear Muslim brothers and sisters,
      We need to think who deserves what response.

      Kent is ignorant and is uneasy within self and probably depressed. Hence just say salaam.
      Remember Allah swt commands His true believers “when ignorant speak, just say salaam”

      Don’t respond to Kent with explanations because it’s not us but Allah swt Who guides. Kent’s very presence here indicates their intention “creating fitnah”

      • Raed

        October 5, 2016 at 2:54 PM

        Jzk Allah. U right!

  7. Hanna

    November 29, 2015 at 2:23 PM

    Asalamualaikum Ahmed Shaikh, JazakAllah khiar for this article, it is definitely food for thought! Something we all must consider.
    May Allah guide our children and protect them in the Dunya. May Allah grant our children the
    highest place in Jannah, Ameen.

  8. Hanna

    November 29, 2015 at 2:33 PM

    It would actually be a challenge for a muslim revert to find this support, especially if they are a single parent. Would be a great topic to discuss in the Muslim community.

  9. Kent Bayley

    November 29, 2015 at 7:46 PM

    Oh dear, nothing will stop the onslaught, not even the truth. Believe me when I tell you, if you face it, ‘the truth will set you free’. Now where did I read that?

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