Woman’s adoption under Muslim law not recognized by Canada

For almost a decade, Maha Al-Zu’bi would take 10 days off a year to go through fertility treatment, where medical staff would inject syringes of hormones into her body twice a day and put her through incessant tests to check if she had enough eggs to design.

After seven failed attempts — and countless trips on a roller-coaster of hope and disappointment — the pressure from family, friends and society in her native Jordan was becoming too much for her and her husband to bear, so they escaped and pursued a new life in Canada.

The Calgary couple would go for another three IVF trials here before they considered adopting. When they learned the adoption process in Alberta could mean another five years of waiting, they traveled to Jordan to search for an adopted child.

A short trip to visit an orphanage in Amman in January 2019 turned out to be life-changing for Al-Zu’bi, 46, and Tahseen Khraisat, 50, who have as parents rediscovered their zest for life but also experienced an extended exile from their adopted homeland.

For three years now, the couple, both Canadian citizens, have been trying fruitlessly to bring their adopted son Furat, now three years old, to Canada because Ottawa does not recognize kafalathe version of adoption found in many Muslim countries.

Al-Zu’bi, an environmental design manager with a PhD from University of Calgary, has quit her job and Khraisat has sold his popular shawarma restaurant to be with Furat.

After their family home sat empty for three years, they recently rented it out, with all their belongings in Canada locked up in storage.

“I didn’t adopt Furat to leave him in any other people’s hands. I’m his mom. He’s my son. Furat, my husband and I are one family,” said Al-Zu’bi. “We love Canada. It’s our home. It’s so hard to be kept out of our home because it’s where we would like to raise our son.”

Al-Zu’bi and Khraisat married in 2000 and longed to have their own children. Two years into their marriage, they began the in vitro fertilization treatments, which then cost about $6,000 (US) for each 10-day course.

“The first few times, we just couldn’t wait to see what’s going to happen next. We were having a lot of hope that we were going to be successful. The physical and emotional pain was the last thing I would think about. We were aging and didn’t want to reach a point where we’d say, ‘We wished we had tried before,’” said Al-Zu’bi.

“I was born and raised in Jordan, and everyone’s normal life is having kids. We’re always questioned why we didn’t have any kids. Even when people are not talking about it, I can see it in their eyes. There’s so much pressure on us. We were suffering in silence.”

The couple began withdrawing from others in their family and community, and ultimately decided to move as skilled immigrants to Canada in 2011, to avoid the social stigma of being childless in Jordan. They would make three more failed attempts through a Calgary fertility clinic before looking into adoption.

While the adoption process in Jordan could normally take more than a year, officials told the couple there’s a three-month-old boy who’s immediately available. No one was interested in him because he was born with just a thumb and little finger on his left hand.

Despite some initial hesitation, Al-Zu’bi and her husband agreed to meet with the child and were immediately charmed by the boy’s rounded eyes and big smiles.

“One of the reasons we said yes to him is my husband and I had been exposed to social stigma ourselves, and we could foresee what might lie in front of this boy in the future,” she said.

They compiled their documents for the adoption and the local court granted them the full guardianship until Furat reaches 18 years old. The couple began seeking to bring the baby to Canada but their visa application for the adopted child was refused in April 2019 because they needed to first win the approval of Alberta Adoption Services and obtain “a letter of no objection.”

However, when they contacted the provincial authorities, they were told they couldn’t issue the document because Canada’s immigration law does not recognize international adoption under kafala.

“It became a dead end,” said Michael Greene, a Calgary-based immigration lawyer representing the family. “It’s a Catch-22. If the feds were approving them, the provinces would be approving them.”

The Immigration Department said Canada is a party to the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption, which covers only international adoptions that create “a permanent legal parent-child relationship” between the adoptive parents and the adopted child .

“Some countries have other systems in place, such as guardianship or kafala, which does not sever the legal relationship between the biological parents and the child and does not create a new permanent legal parent-child relationship,” said department spokesperson Jelena Jenko.

Adoption is the responsibility of the provinces and territories, she maintains, and immigration officials’ only role in the process is to determine the right of the child to enter and reside in Canada permanently.

The couple still have an application for a temporary-residency permit for Furat that’s in the queue for review, Jenko added.

Friends and supporters were shocked by the ordeal of the couple, who had kept their fertility issue and adoption a secret until recently.

“They are Canadian citizens. They’re well established in the community. They’re adopting this little kid and now they’re stranded out of the country unless they give up this child, which seemed like an impossible situation to be in,” said University of Calgary professor Noel Keough, who used to supervise Al-Zu ‘bi’s graduate work and has known the couple for over a decade.

Al-Zu’bi said life has been tough for the family in Jordan as the rental income from the Calgary doesn’t even cover the mortgage, let alone cover their rent in Amman while raising Furat and struggling with steady employment.

“Our savings were depleted. We have a house in Calgary that we can’t reach or enjoy. We were forced to sell our restaurant,” she said. “We need to stay together as a family and this process has been very difficult on us. We never thought our dream would end like a nightmare.”

Philip Cox, a Calgary-based international development consultant who first met Al-Zu’bi in Jordan almost 15 years ago said he has noticed the joy on the couple’s faces after Furat came into their lives.

“Even though they are in a pickle, I get a sense that they have no regrets. It’s one of these ironies. Their life is upside down but they’ve found this beautiful boy. He’s integrated into their very purpose for living

“It’s like when you see your own child for the first time, you already make that attachment. There’s no going back.”

Nicholas Keung is a Toronto-based reporter covering immigration for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @nkeung

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