We advocate breastfeeding here at Eco Child’s Play in any shape or form, but a fatwa (religious edict) issued by a Saudi cleric last month takes the practice of nourishing a child naturally and uses it to justify unrelated male and female relationships. Specifically, the edict calls on women to “give their breast milk to male colleagues and acquaintances in order to safeguard the Islamic law that forbids mixing between the sexes,” according to the Times Online.
The adult breastfeeding fatwa is a means of “circumventing” Saudi Islamic law. New York Daily explains:
As part of Islamic law, men and women are forbidden to be alone together, unless they are blood relatives or have established maternal relations, in order to prevent sexual contact.
As a way to avoid breaking this rule — which can result in lashings or prison time — Sheikh Al Obeikan, adviser to the royal court and consultant to the Ministry of Justice, told Gulf News that women should give their breast milk to male colleagues, acquaintances or anyone with whom they come into regular contact.
Does breastfeeding establish maternal relations with adults? Sheikh Al Obeikan, concerned about women that come in regular contact with unrelated males, advises:
The man should take the milk, but not directly from the breast of the woman. He should drink it and then becomes a relative of the family, a fact that allows him to come in contact with the women without breaking Islam’s rules about mixing.
Sheik Abi Ishaq Al Huwaini disagrees and believes the milk needs to be “suckled” from the breast in order to establish maternal relations.
It is important to note that the adult breastfeeding fatwa has caused controversy in Saudi Arabia sparking a “battle” over who can issue edicts. It is not widely accepted, although it is reported a bus driver asked a regular female passenger for breast milk. She refused.
Is it taboo for adults to drink breastmilk or is the real controversy of this story the Saudi law banning the mixing of the sexes? From my western background, it is hard to imagine only having friendships and working relationships with men during my lactating years and at the cost of providing enough nourishment for my child. As with anything involving a woman’s body, I believe it should be her choice.
I am certainly not an expert in Islamic law or religion, nor do I write this in order to contribute to the stereotypes propagated in the West or claim cultural superiority. There are cultural differences I don’t understand, thus I try to reserve my judgement. I share this story to hear your opinions, and as of interest to those that advocate for breastfeeding.