One of the most fundamental legal and social categorization schemes for humans is kinship. While for many individuals, identifying who is mother, father, son or daughter is taken for granted, for other individuals – especially those in intentional families formed through adoption or guardianship – the social right to call a person “mother” or “son,” for instance, and the legal grounding of that label, can be subject to political, moral, or religious forces beyond the human grouping itself. This paper examines the kafala contract of Islamic guardianship as it moves from the abandoned child's state of origin in North Africa into the European and North American states where many guardians reside. It examines the circulation of information through which these family relationships take shape transnationally, and the transformation of identity texts that accompany these children with shifts in the regimes of care that permit and constrain different adults who raise them. With some reference to kafala in the United States, the talk focuses primarily on France as both the most significant receiving country for children from Morocco and Algeria and the most legally restrictive. Through examination of this little-studied Islamic institution and the discourses that surround the individuals engaging with it, the talk aims to contribute to our understanding of how Islamic legal institutions circulate outside of their states of origin, and identify the individuals, administrators and officials who become unwitting mediators of Islamic law in new settings.
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