Friday, 4 June 2010

Sucked Up

The silliness that naturally arises when a group of religious believers accept without question the moral example of a seventh-century Arabian warlord is highlighted in the recent case of a Saudi Muslim scholar who waded into controversy after he said that women could give their breast milk to men to establish a degree of maternal relations and get around a strict religious ban on mixing between unrelated men and women.

The idea is that unrelated men and women are not allowed to mix under Islamic law, and so a way to get around the impracticalities of this in the modern workplace is for women to breastfeed the men, thus making them symbolically mother and son, and therefore permitted to work together. Sheikh Abdul Mohsin al-Abaican attempts to get around the repugnance of this "ruling" by adding, unlike an Al-Azhar cleric who made a similar ruling three years ago, that the man does not have to directly suck the woman's breast, but can simply drink the milk from a cup - but the damage to Islam's reputation as a serious spiritual faith is already done.

There were of course Muslims who claimed that this ruling and the one that preceded it were "un-Islamic", but it is difficult to see how their views can be grounded in the example of Muhammad, the "Perfect Man" and an "excellent example" of conduct for Muslims to follow (Qur'an 33:21). After all, the Prophet permitted this kind of suckling himself:

' A'isha (Allah be pleased with her) reported that Sahla bint Suhail came to Allah's Apostle (may peace be eupon him) and said: Messengerof Allah, I see on the face of Abu Hudhaifa (signs of disgust) on entering of Salim (who is an ally) into (our house), whereupon Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) said: Suckle him. She said: How can I suckle him as he is a grown-up man? Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) smiled and said: I already know that he is a young man 'Amr has made this addition in his narration that he participated in the Battle of Badr and in the narration of Ibn 'Umar (the words are): Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) laughed. (Sahih Muslim, b.8, no.3424)

(N.B. This is technically a family-friendly site, so I'm afraid there will be no pictures in this post to demonstrate what breastfeeding looks like.)

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