AOL News (June 5) -- Women in Saudi Arabia should give their breast milk to male colleagues and acquaintances in order to avoid breaking strict Islamic law forbidding mixing between the sexes, two powerful Saudi clerics have said. They are at odds, however, over precisely how the milk should be conveyed.
A fatwa issued recently about adult breast-feeding to establish "maternal relations" and preclude the possibility of sexual contact has resulted in a week's worth of newspaper headlines in Saudi Arabia. Some have found the debate so bizarre that they're calling for stricter regulations about how and when fatwas should be issued.
Sheikh Al Obeikan, an adviser to the royal court and consultant to the Ministry of Justice, set off a firestorm of controversy recently when he said on TV that women who come into regular contact with men who aren't related to them ought to give them their breast milk so they will be considered relatives.
"The man should take the milk, but not directly from the breast of the woman," Al Obeikan said, according to Gulf News. "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."
Obeikan said the fatwa applied to men who live in the same house or come into contact with women on a regular basis, except for drivers.
Al Obeikan, who made the statement after being asked on TV about a 2007 fatwa issued by an Egyptian scholar about adult breast-feeding, said that the breast milk ought to be pumped out and given to men in a glass.
But his remarks were followed by an announcement by another high-profile sheik, Abi Ishaq Al Huwaini, who said that men should suckle the breast milk directly from a woman's breast.
Shortly after the two sheiks weighed in on the matter, a bus driver in the country's Eastern Region reportedly told one of the female teachers whom he drives regularly that he wanted to suckle milk from her breast. The teacher has threaten to file a lawsuit against him.
The fatwa stems from the tenets of the strict Wahhabi version of Islam that governs modern Saudi Arabia and forbids women from mixing with men who are not relatives. They are also not allowed to vote, drive or even leave the country without the consent of a male "guardian."
Under Islamic law, women are encouraged to breast-feed their children until the age of 2. It is not uncommon for sisters, for example, to breast-feed their nephews so they and their daughters will not have to cover their faces in front of them later in life. The custom is called being a "breast milk sibling."
But under Islamic law, breast milk siblings have to be breastfed before the age of 2 in five "fulfilling" sessions. Islam prohibits sexual relations between a man and any woman who breastfed him in infancy. They are then allowed to be alone together when the man is an adult because he is not considered a potential mate.
"The whole issue just shows how clueless men are," blogger Eman Al Nafjan wrote on her website. "All this back and forth between sheiks and not one bothers to ask a woman if it's logical, let alone possible to breastfeed a grown man five fulfilling breast milk meals.
"Moreover, the thought of a huge hairy face at a woman's breast does not evoke motherly or even brotherly feelings. It could go from the grotesque to the erotic but definitely not maternal."
Al Nafjan said many in the country were appalled by the fatwa.
"We have many important issues that need discussing," Al Nafjan told AOL News Friday. "It's ridiculous to spend time talking about adult breast-feeding."
Unlawful mixing between the sexes is taken very seriously in Saudi Arabia. In March 2009, a 75-year-old Syrian widow, Khamisa Mohammed Sawadi, living in the city of Al-Chamil, was given 40 lashes and sentenced to six months in prison after the religious police learned that two men who were not related to her were in her house, delivering bread to her.
One of the two men found in her house, Fahd, told the police that Sawadi breast-fed him as a baby so he was considered a son and had a right to be there. But in a later court ruling, a judge said it could not be proved that Fahd was her "breast milk son." Fahd was sentenced to four months in prison and 40 lashes, and the man who accompanied him got six months and 60 lashes.
The original adult breast-feeding fatwa was issued three years ago by an Egyptian scholar at Egypt's al-Azhar University, considered Sunni Islam's top university. Ezzat Attiya was expelled from the university after advocating breast-feeding of men as a way to circumnavigate segregation of the sexes in Egypt.
A year ago, Attiya was reinstated to his post.