The definition of an orphan is:

An orphan (from the Greek: ορφανός orphanós) is a child whose parents are dead or have permanently abandoned the child

I've seen Islamic websites which say that an child is an orphan when their father dies. I can't remember which website so I found one which states:

Any child (male or female) whose has no father or whose father has died and the child has not reached the age of understanding or marriage (+/- 16 years) will be classified as a yateem or an orphan in Islamic Jurisprudence.

Question: Why are orphans considered orphans when their father dies and not when both of their parents die?

Is there any Islamic evidence from the Qu'ran and Ahadith that proves the claim to be true? (The claim is the Islamic claim that a child is an orphan when their father dies)

  • What do you mean "prove" it? It's a definition, you don't prove a definition because they can't be true or false. Do you mean why is a child whose father died treated in Islam the way other systems only treat children without any living parents?
    – G. Bach
    Commented May 6, 2017 at 15:31
  • I mean is there any Islamic evidence that proves 'the claim of being an orphan when the father dies' true. Commented May 6, 2017 at 15:33

3 Answers 3


It looks like the source of this definition is more linguistic than religious

This is how an orphan is defined in the Arabic language:

الَيَتِيمُ : الصَّغيرُ الفاقدَّ الأَبِ من الإِنسان ، والأُمِّ من الحيوان

Al-Yateem (the orphan):
- from human beings, the child who has lost its father
- from animals, the child who has lost its mother

  • Since the Quran is very fundamental to the development of Arabic, I'm not sure this answers the question; was that the meaning of orphan before the Quran was written and just used as is in Islamic discourse, or did the Quran define orphan this way and then that's how it became the canonic meaning in Arabic? Could be a bit of a chicken and egg thing.
    – G. Bach
    Commented May 6, 2017 at 20:04
  • @G.Bach this is where I really wish we had an Arabic.SE up and running. The Qur'an uses the word Yateem to describe the Prophet in the early days of his prophethood (see 93:6, so it seems like the word was familiar to the Arabs at the time.
    – Zaid
    Commented May 6, 2017 at 20:10
  • @G.Bach I'm going to see if I can find any references to the word from the poetry of the times of Ignorance
    – Zaid
    Commented May 6, 2017 at 20:10
  • 1
    @G.Bach Yathowm in hebrew\aramaic.
    – UmH
    Commented May 8, 2017 at 12:49

Like Zaid said this is more linguistic than religious:

Al-Yateem ( اليتيم ) - A child who has lost his father.

Al-Lateem ( اللطيم ) - A child who has lost both of his parents.

Al-'iji ( العجي ) - A child who has lost his mother.


Salaam, The Quran provides the definition of an orphan in 4:3: (4:3) And if you fear that you won't be equitable towards the orphans, then marry what seems suitable to you among women, two, three or four. But if you fear that you can't be equitable, then (marry just) one of what possesses your right hand. That is more suitable, so that you may not oppress.

In the context of 4:2 which is about protecting orphans' inheritance, you should not marry a woman with "orphans" if you fear that you won't be equitable preserving or managing their inheritance, and marry women without children instead. The definition is the same in traditional Islamic jurisprudence.

  • Welcome to Islam.SE! Please check out a tour of our site to learn more about how this site works. Thanks for your answer. Commented Feb 7, 2020 at 17:40

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