Breast-Feeding a Man in Islam
- The answer to this question makes the difference between true Muslims who faithfully follow the footsteps of Mohammed and the hypocrites who modify their religion to follow their desires. Allah described them as such in the Quran: Q.28: 50… they only follow their own desires, and who is more astray than one who follow his own desires…
The issue of breast-feeding men is currently a hot topic in
Egypt and has been the focus of the media in many Middle
Eastern countries. It all started when Dr. Izzat Attya who is
the head of the department of Hadith in Al-Azhar, which is the
world’s most prestigious Islamic University, issued a fatwa,
or religious opinion. The fatwa declared that, it is
legitimate for a working Muslim woman to breast-feed her male
colleague to avoid the sin of ‘khulwa’ (staying with a
stranger in one room). Similar fatwas had been issued in the
past by many sheikhs in many Middle-Eastern countries, but
this is the first time it comes from a high level academic of
A Modern Islamic problem, an old solution
Dr. Attya noticed that Muslim women frequently work with men in the same offices, with the inevitable possibility that a woman may find herself sitting alone in the same room with one or more of her male colleagues, which, in Islam, is a grave sin. Some of these women are deeply religious, but they need to work. Both the state and the society are forcing these women to sin without doing anything about it.
The erudite scholar of Al-Azhar, Dr. Attya was asked about the previous fatwas quoting a sahih (= authentic) hadith. His answer was that the quoted hadith is certainly accurate and, if necessary, a Muslim woman is allowed to follow the example set by the prophet.
We may have different opinions about Al-Azhar and the integrity or political affiliation of its staff, but there is one thing about this institute that remains beyond doubt: its sheikhs (ulama) are second to none in their knowledge about sunni Islam. All other Islamic universities in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, rely on Al-Azhar for academic support. It can be argued that Dr. Izzat Attya is probably the most learned man in the speciality the science of ahadith. He knows every nuance about the texts of the ahadith, their isnad (chain of narrators) and their degree of accuracy. When he says something about ahadith, we better believe him.
Dr. Attya proposed an Islamic solution that came directly from the prophet. In the early days of Islam, Muslim women faced a similar problem and the prophet fixed it immediately.
It all started when Mohammed decided to marry Zainab, the beautiful wife of Zaid, his adopted son, which was impossible under the prevailing laws of Arabia. Mohammed, however, always had under his sleeve the magical trick called the Quran. He ‘revealed’ some verses renouncing the practice of adoption as nonsense and ordered Zaid to divorce his wife, thereby clearing the way for Mohammed to marry her. The plan worked well for Mohammed but created problems for many others.
Abu Huthayfa and his wife Sahla, had an adopted son (a freed slave) called Salim, who used to work and live in the house freely. As Salim was like a son to her, Sahla used to rely on him to help in the housework. She could stay with him in the same room without having to cover herself from his looks. When Mohammed cancelled the principle of adoption, Salim became a stranger in the house and could no longer be alone with Sahla, Abu Huthayfa’s wife. The Lady complained to Mohammed who immediately provided her with a genius solution- he asked her to breast-feed Salim, after which she would again be allowed to keep him as a son with her in the house. She said: ‘but Salim is a man and has a beard!’ Mohammed smiled to her and said ‘I know that’.
Mohammed’s wife, Aysha, was very happy to hear the news because she also had problems in allowing men in her house. The new ruling came handy particularly after Mohammed’s death because Aysha needed more flexibility in meeting and talking to men about Islam. Aysha was a strong advocate of this practice; she encouraged the daughters of her sisters and the daughters of her brethren to breast-feed those men whom she (Aysha) wished to allow in her home.
Dr. Attya’s vision is that women are better off making use of this authorization given by Mohammed and breast-feed their male colleagues to avoid the sin of ‘khulwa’ (staying alone with a stranger).
The Muslims Response:
Muslims are divided about this fatwa;
Minority of them (true Muslims) completely agree with the fatwa for an obvious reason; it has a precedence in Islam that happened during the time of Mohammed. The issue of whether this is morally acceptable or not has no relevance, simply because Allah’s wish overrides man’s wish. Allah says in the Quran:
Q.33:36. It is not fitting for a Believer, man or woman, when a matter has been decided by Allah and His Messenger to have any option about their decision…
Some of these Muslims attempted to soften the impact of the fatwa on the shocked Muslim community in various ways. Some expressed reservations about the way the fatwa was presented to the public while others tried to explain that breast-feeding doesn’t necessarily imply direct contact between a man and a woman. They suggested that a woman could collect her milk in a cup and offer it to a male colleague! This group of Muslims try to reform Islam in their own way, in doing so they forget that women do not always produce milk.
With anger and embarrassment, the majority of Muslims, however, reject the fatwa. They claim that Mohammed could have never allowed something like that. Needless to say this group of Muslims never heard of the above story before. I do not blame them, because, as a Muslim I myself heard of it only in my later years. Even then, I assumed the hadith was a weak one, which is why I never considered using it as a credible proof of the falsity of Islam.
But the hadith is a credible one, and has been reported by sahih books like Sahih Muslim, Sunan Abu Dawud and Ibn Majah. Moreover, this hadith has been thoroughly investigated by a number of highly revered Islamic scholars like Ibn Taymiyya, Ibn Hazm and Al Albani. Denying a hadith with such strength would be like denying the existence of main Islamic events like fasting and prayers.
The Islamic establishment deliberately and consistently hide the ugly face of Islam. The majority of Muslims do not know the magnitude of Mohammed’s violations of the accepted Arabic traditions and moralities. Without much qualm, Mohammed even violated his own Islamic laws to suit his own agenda. Starting from childhood, Muslims are brainwashed to see a polished side of Islam. All of Mohammed’s atrocities, invasions, assassinations and mass murders are carefully presented as justified acts of self-defence against the enemies of Allah. Some of Mohammed’s absurdities, like the hadith above, are deliberately kept in the dark out of reach of ordinary Muslims.
Following the media and public outrage, Al-Azhar had to explain its position to Millions of Muslims and Dr. Attya was forced to withdraw his fatwa. In his statement, he said he only echoed the opinions expressed by early highly regarded Islamic scholars, but after extensive consultations with Muslim scholars, he now believed the permission to breast feed an adult was an exception given only to Abu Huthayfa’s wife to solve an exceptional problem, but not to other Muslims. The statement fails to explain what was so exceptional about Abu Huthayfa’s case and why Aysha encouraged it.
Such a U-turn relieved the Islamic community and the Arab
media because, as they put it, the fatwa did not blend well
with the high morality and logic known to be associated with
Islam. It is laughable that Muslims find it difficult to
believe that Mohammed women to breast feed men, but have no
problem at all in believing him when he claimed he spent the
night with Allah and all his prophets and toured the whole
universe. Strange indeed is the Islamic mindset!!
Mumin Salih is an Arab ex-Muslim. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.