Last month, I wrote a PJM article dealing with some of Islam's "problematic" practices, specifically those attributable to the Muslim prophet Muhammad. One of these — the Muslim phenomenon of "adult-breastfeeding," or rida' al-kabir — is making headlines again, precisely three years to the day since it last created controversy in (and inevitable mockery of) the Islamic world. According to Gulf News:
Exactly three years ago, on May 22, 2007, an Egyptian scholar was disciplined by Al Azhar University, one of Islam's most prestigious institutions, after he issued a fatwa calling upon women to breastfeed their male colleagues. Dr. Izzat Attiyah said that his fatwa offered a way around mixing of the sexes in the work place since breast-feeding established a maternal relation even if the beneficiary was not the woman's biological son or daughter.
Now, a high-ranking Saudi, Sheikh Abdul Mohsin al-Abaican, a consultant at Saudi Arabia's royal court, has issued a fatwa asserting that
women could give their milk to men to establish a degree of maternal relations and get around a strict religious ban on mixing between unrelated men and women. [Because] a man who often entered a house and came in contact with the womenfolk there should be made symbolically related to the women by drinking milk from one of the women. Under the fatwa, the act would preclude any sexual relations between the man and the donor woman and her relatives.
Sheikh al-Abaican thus "modernizes" Dr. Izzat's position — that the man must breastfeed directly from the teat — by suggesting that "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."
(So much for simply being in control of oneself without going through bizarre rituals.)
At any rate, where do all these "adult breastfeeding" ideas originate? As usual: Muhammad. A canonical hadith tells of a woman who once asked Muhammad what to do about the fact that a young boy who had been living with her and her husband had grown into manhood: that a non-relative adult male was freely residing with them, seeing his wife without her veils, was upsetting to the husband. So the prophet told her to "breastfeed" the man. Shocked, she responded saying that he was a grown man; Muhammad said — according to some traditions, while laughing — "I know." The woman breastfed the man, and reportedly her husband was no longer upset, as the act of breastfeeding turned him into a kinsman. Muhammad's favorite wife, Aisha — the "mother of the believers" — frequently relied on this practice to meet with non-related males (one of the greatest debates of her time revolved around how many "breastfeeds" were enough —one, five, or ten — to make a man a "family-member." See here for more hadiths).
The importance of this breastfeeding business has less to do with its sensationalist quality and more to do with what it says about the overbearing and intrusive nature of Sharia law in Muslim life. Muslims cannot escape adult breastfeeding simply because it is contained in Islam's most canonical hadiths (including Sahih Muslim and the Sunan of Abu Dawud and Ibn Maja). Moreover, it has been addressed — and endorsed — by such Islamic authorities as Ibn Taymiyya and Ibn Hazm. To reject this hadith is to reject the sources and methodology of usul al-fiqh — in short, to reject Sharia law.
Furthermore, al-Abaican's supposedly "moderate" position — that men should not drink the milk straight from the teat but rather from a cup — actually further demonstrates the inescapable strictures of Sharia law: for his sophistry relies on the fact that the hadiths do not literally indicate that men must drink straight from the nipple (probably because it would have been redundant to say so, as there were few other ways to derive breast milk in 7th century Arabia, "breastfeeding pumps" being non-existent then). Yet, by not out-and-out condemning the practice, al-Abaican demonstrates that he, too, dares not stray from the bounds of Muhammad's literal words.
Now, here's the real problem (from an infidel point of view): If, in the year 2010, Muslims still feel compelled to be true to "adult breastfeeding," simply because 7th century Muhammad said so, surely they wholeheartedly embrace their prophet's thoroughly documented and unequivocal words concerning the infidel.
Look at it this way: the issue of adult breastfeeding is embarrassing for Muslims; far from providing them with any sort of advantage or benefits, it places them, especially their women, in a ludicrous position (indeed, it is ranked first in this list of "top ten bizarre or ridiculous fatwas"). So why is it still a relevant issue among Muslims? Because Muhammad said so. Thus, like it or not, Muslims must somehow come to grips with it.
What, then, of Muhammad's other commandments — commandments that, if upheld, far from embarrassing Muslims, provide them with power, wealth, and honor — that is, commandments that jibe quite well with mankind's most primordial impulses? I speak of Muhammad's (and by extension Sharia law's) unequivocal commandments for Muslims to wage war ("jihad") upon the infidel, to plunder the infidel of his wealth and women, and to keep the infidel in perpetual subjugation — all things that define Islam's history vis-à-vis the infidel.
Indeed, Muhammad himself once warned Muslims: "Because you have forsaken jihad, taking hold of cows' tails and dealing in merchandise, Allah has adorned you with shame and you will never be able to shake it off yourselves until you repent to Allah and return to your original positions [as jihadists on the offensive]," The Al Qaeda Reader, p.162.
In short, the Muslim mentality that feels the need to address adult breastfeeding, simply because Muhammad once advised it, must certainly be sold on the prophet's constant incitements for war and conquest. Living in an era where the Muslim world is significantly weaker vis-à-vis the infidel world, and so currently incapable of living up to such bellicose commandments, one may overlook this fact. But the intention is surely there. One need only look to 21st century Muslims debating an absurdity like "adult breastfeeding" to be sure of that.
Raymond Ibrahim is associate director of the Middle East Forum, author of The Al Qaeda Reader, and guest lecturer at the National Defense Intelligence College.