Scholar suspended after allowing breastfeeding of adults
Scholar suspended after allowing breastfeeding of adultsPage 1 of 2
5:00AM Tuesday May 29, 2007
By Abraham RabinovichThe idea of women breastfeeding their co-workers has been rejected at the world's leading Sunni University. File photo / Reuters
JERUSALEM - A religious ruling by an Islamic scholar permitting women to breastfeed adults with whom they work has led to his suspension from Al-Azhar University in Cairo, the world's leading Sunni university.
Dr Izzat Attiya had last month issued a fatwa offering his bold suggestion as a way around the prohibition in Islamic religious law against a woman working in private premises with a man who is not her close relative. Breastfeeding, he argued, would create a familial relationship under Islamic law.
"Being together in private means being in a room with the door closed so that nobody can see them," Attiya explained to Al-Watani Al-Yawm, after his ruling sparked outrage.
"A man and a woman who are alone together are not [necessarily] having sex but this possibility exists and breastfeeding provides a solution to this problem [by] transforming the bestial relationship between two people into a religious relationship based on [religious] duties."
In Islamic tradition, breastfeeding at infancy establishes a degree of familial relationship between nurse and child even if there is no biological relationship - a wetnurse, for instance, is forbidden from marrying a man she had nursed as a child.
Attiya argued that if an adult male is nursed by a female co-worker it would permit them to work side-by-side without raising suspicion of illicit sex. It would even permit the woman to remove her headcover and expose her hair in the man's presence.
Attiya headed Al-Azhar University's department dealing with hadith (oral tradition) outside the Koran, attributed to the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad.
Attiya said he based his ruling on one such tradition according to which, at the Prophet's order, a man named Salem was breastfed by the wife of another disciple. "The fact that the hadith regarding the breastfeeding of an adult is inconceivable to the mind does not make it invalid," said Attiya.
"Rejecting it is tantamount to questioning the Prophet's tradition."
Nevertheless, his ruling evoked almost universal rejection among Muslim scholars and in the popular Egyptian press.
Al-Azhar University formed a committee of hadith experts who dismissed his ruling and the university administration ordered Attiya to publish a retraction. He complied.
"The fatwa I issued was based solely on my personal interpretation. Based on what I have learned with my brothers, the religious scholars, I apologise and retract my opinion, which contradicts [the norms accepted] by the public."
His apology was deemed insufficient by the head of the Al-Azhar Supreme Council, Sheikh Dr Muhammed Sayyid Tantawi, a widely respected figure who is the highest spiritual authority in Sunni Islam.
"Society cannot tolerate a fatwa that undermines religious stablity. There is enough chaos with all the unsupervised fatwas ... We will never permit this chaos to spread to the religious establishment and to Al-Azhar." The university decided to suspend Attiya pending investigation.
The breastfeeding fatwa moved even some conservative Muslims to attempt to draw a line between ancient tradition and modern life.
Dr Sayyid Askar of the Muslim Brotherhood said the hadith regarding Salem was authentic but irrelevant.
"In our modern society it makes no sense to talk of breastfeeding adults."
Egypt's Minister of Religious Endowments, Dr Muhammed Hamdi Zaqzouq, said: "Fatwas like these harm Islam, serve our enemies and push the public towards backwardness and ignorance."