Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Breastfeeding Fatwa

"Men are in charge of women by [right of] what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend [for maintenance] from their wealth. So righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in [the husband's] absence what Allah would have them guard. But those [wives] from whom you fear arrogance - [first] advise them; [then if they persist], forsake them in bed; and [finally], strike them. But if they obey you [once more], seek no means against them. Indeed, Allah is ever Exalted and Grand."

An-Nisa' 34, Al-Qur'an

Emphasis mine. Apparently we need to abolish some laws concerning spousal abuse in Malaysia.
How dare they deny men their God-given right to beat the crap out of their wives, amirite?

A while back, news broke on a fatwa issued by a Dr Izzat Attya (or Atiya), head of the department of Hadith in al-Azhar University in Egypt - the world's foremost Islamic institute. Its ulamas are considered to be second to none in their knowledge about Sunni Islam (the official, legal form of the faith here in Malaysia) and other Islamic universities in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, rely on al-Azhar for academic support. So, in a way, Dr Izzat is probably one of the most eminent scholars in the world on the Hadith. The Hadith, if you're not well-versed in all that is holy in Islam, is a collection of narrations of the words and deeds in the life and times of Muhammad bin Abdullah, the Last and the Mostest Importantest Prophet of Islam. These stories and quotes were written by his wives, relatives and close associates within several years of his death and were frequently consulted to settle matters which the Qur'an is mum or isn't clear on.

The fatwa - a religious opinion concerning Islamic law by an Islamic scholar - was issued to circumvent the problem of Muslim women having to work with men in the same premises, and the inevitability of a woman finding herself alone in the same room with one or more of her male coworkers at some point. And that is an expression of the serious sin of khulwa: the act of two unrelated, unwed persons of opposite genders interacting in a secluded setting where something sexy immoral could conceivably occur.

Dr Izzat Attya's solution is simple: A Muslim woman should breastfeed all her male colleagues "directly from her breast" at least 5 times to establish a mother-son bond, and hence, could be left alone together at work.

Wait what?

Lil Kim Burqa
Holy neathage! I have a sudden burning desire to go work in the Middle East.

He ruled,

""Breast feeding an adult puts an end to the problem of the private meeting, and does not ban marriage."

"A woman at work can take off the veil or reveal her hair in front of someone whom she breastfed."

What the doc was saying is that a guy needs to plant his moist, eager lips on a woman's teats and suckle before he could be left alone with her. So, someone has to watch them do the deed first. And the guy has to call his female coworker "Mama" as well. How ludicrously kinky. Sounds more like the plot of an Islam-themed office porn flick than a religious prescription, eh? Not to mention the stipulation that a guy would have to take 5 swigs from a woman's milk bar before he can even catch a glimpse of her face or hair.

The basis of Dr Izzat's fatwa can be found in a particular
hadith but in order for this to make sense, you will need to know a bit of back-story here, which I'll condense (haha) from what I gleaned from, the Qur'an, the Hadith and other various Muslim sources.

It all started when Muhammad wanted to marry Zaynab, the hot beautiful divorcee of Muhammad's adopted son, Zayd. The prevailing laws of the time forbids a man from marrying the divorcee of his son, whether adopted or blood-related. But lo and behold, Muhammad had just the Qur'anic verses to justify this and he conveniently revealed them to all his Muslim brethren,

"And [remember, O Muhammad], when you said to the one on whom Allah bestowed favor and you bestowed favor, "Keep your wife and fear Allah ," while you concealed within yourself that which Allah is to disclose. And you feared the people, while Allah has more right that you fear Him. So when Zayd had no longer any need for her, We married her to you in order that there not be upon the believers any discomfort concerning the wives of their adopted sons when they no longer have need of them. And ever is the command of Allah accomplished."

Surah al-Ahzab 37, Al Qur'an

It was also revealed to Prophet Muhammad that adoption is not okay in Islam (al-Ahzab 4-5), but the care and fostering of orphaned kids is still encouraged amongst Muslims. Also, foster children are not considered mahram (unmarriageable) to members of their foster families. As a result, the adopted Zayd bin Muhammad returned to carrying his biological father's name and became Zayd bin Harithah, while his ex-wife became fair game for Prophet Muhammad, yet more peace be upon him.

But that's not the end of it. With the revelation of al-Ahzab 4-5, all adoptions in the Islamic world were suddenly and summarily voided, and that opened another can of worms. Enter Abu Huthayfa and his wife, Sahla, who had adopted a freed slave called Salim before this. Sahla relied on Salim to help with the housework and the new verse made it a sin for the two to be alone together in their household. They came to the prophet for a solution and Muhammad's reply as reported in the Kitab Al-Nikah (number 3424) of the Hadith was,

"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."

This hadith on suckling a grown man is the basis of Dr Izzat Attya's fatwa.

The fallout? Outrage and much gnashing of teeth from the ummah swept through Egypt and the Arabic world, including (strangely enough) the men. Apparently, Muslims there are quite lactose intolerant, haha, geddit? Dr Izzat published an apology and retracted his fatwa, saying it was a "bad interpretation of a particular case" but all that did nothing to prevent his suspension and dismissal from his post at al-Azhar, where he may or may not have been working with some mighty fine colleagues of the female persuasion. The subject of whether or not his favourite pickup line was "Got milk?" also went sadly unreported.

Got Milk
"It's builds your bones - and your boners!"

Mahmoud Zaqzouq, Egypt's minister of religious affair, reportedly said that future fatwas should "be compatible with logic and human nature." That made me laugh a little for, er, some inexplicable reason.

So, was the fatwa inherently flawed? Was it not in concordance with the Qur'an and the Hadith? Was it really a "bad interpretation" as he said when he rescinded the fatwa? Sounds like a perfectly valid interpretation to me, but that's just my opinion. And no one would dispute its incompatibility with simple, non-religious logic, of course, but does it really go against human nature? It has the stench of human nature all over it, methinks.

Was rooting for this particular fatwa,
k0k s3n w4i


Laila Neeja said...

What is your main purpose of writing this? Have you think about other's sensitivity before writing? What do you expecting actually???

k0k s3n w4i said...

Laila Neeja: this is called newsblogging. i saw a news item on bbc which is of interest to me, and i wrote about it. it's what real bloggers sometimes do, you know; research and attempt to write articulate educational opinion pieces. if there's any factual errors in my writeup, please point it out to me. and if anyone's too sensitive, my advice is that they should stay away from the internet.

"Have you thought about others' sensitivities before writing? What are you expecting actually???"

you're welcome.

Anonymous said...

I don't think Dr Izzat is an idiot. In my opinion, he made such suggestion just to create awareness about certain issue that most people are ignorant about.

"..second to none in their knowledge about Sunni Islam"

If really Mahmoud Zaqzouq did respond by saying,

"be compatible with logic and human nature."

Religion could be walking one step ahead today.

Lukey Cher Hong said...

so what exactly are u trying to prove? that islam is flawed? or breastfeeding is ok in islam?

k0k s3n w4i said...

Anonymous: what is the muslim equivalent of a poe :P? but i heard that the guy has been getting on with the years and his head isn't what it used to be. as much as i like to think it's intentional, i don't think it was. but yes, his impact on fatwa-making is definitely beneficial.

Lukey Cher Hong: i have my opinions, but for this post, i was contented to just tell people about a funny news item, give them the scholarly background behind the issue and let them make their own conclusions :)

Zzzyun said...

it made me laugh and go "What" at the same time!

but hey, if this wasn't something religious based, nobody would have given two hoots about sensitivities and what not.

nebular said...

Might be just for fun or really gonna to highlighted the issue, further understanding of the true meaning could make u more matured. Btw....StayTune n following your blog too.

Fuzzy A! said...

I applaud you the amount of research that you did but I disagree with your points. Let me say first that this is my point of view, people might disagree with it, but what the hey.

Unlike popular views, even in the Muslim community, a fatwa is not a religious Law with a capital L. A fatwa is an opinion of someone who did the research on a particular subject. That person puts it out there with the arguments to support it and it is the duty of every Muslim to analyze it. If they agree with it, they should follow the fatwa. If they don't, on a reasonable basis, not because it cramps their lifestyles and so on, they are free not to follow it.

Point 2. Adoption is not not okay in Islam. Al-Ahzab 4-5 stresses that the adopted is not the adoptee's offspring and as such, the biological parents still have rights over the adopted if they choose to exercise that right. Of course, if they do choose to do that, they have to go through the proper legal channels. Yes, Islam had legal systems of their own in the 600s. This also affects matrimonial and inheritance laws and so on. [A person could leave only up to 30% of their wealth to a non-biological family member]. Therefore, adoptions are not against Islam per se, but rather the verses set some ground rules to avoid legal and social problems.

The suckling Hadith, I think, is another instance where Muhammad made a joke. He's rather funny and/or sarcastic when he wanted to be, if you read the Hadiths. He once made an old woman cry because he said that there will be no old people in Heaven. He later explained to the woman that everyone will be in the prime of their lives, and that's why there are no old people in Heaven. It's one of those jokes that you have to be there to get it, I guess.

And about striking women. Yes, the opening verse is rather accurate but one has to take into account that God told Job to strike his wife only with a bundle of dry grass.

Again, this is my opinions on the matter. People might not agree but I don't really give, to quote my favorite journalist, two tugs of dead dog's cock on what most people say.

k0k s3n w4i said...

Zzzyun: this is precisely why i'm into free speech activism. i read a blog post somewhere by a local muslim woman today calling a series of ads by a website which offers refuge to muslims that want to defect from islam, but are afraid that they might be killed. she thinks that those ads "menghina" islam. but the killing apostates is perfectly okay by her.

nebular: it's for fun, yes, but i am hoping to provoke some thoughts and conversations as well :)

Fuzzy A!: i know what a fatwa is. i wrote in my post;

The fatwa - a religious opinion concerning Islamic law by an Islamic scholar...

and when i say "adoption" is not okay, i'm talking in the sense of taking someone's child as your own and having them carry your patronym (which is frowned upon in the verse i mentioned)... maybe i did not make the difference between adopting and fostering a child clear in my writing when i use those words, so my bad on that. seems to me, islam discourages adoption but encourages fostering. hope i've made myself clearer now.

as for the suckling hadith, the prevalent view amongst muslim scholars is that it is a valid advice, but one which was formulated for that special case of sahla and salim only - and thus, inapplicable in the way dr izzat wanted when he issued the breastfeeding fatwa. but as these are merely just opinions, i feel that dr izzat's view is just as valid as theirs.

the opening verse mentions striking, but did not say how hard. besides, the matter is not how hard a man strike his wife - but whether he should strike her at all. let's not lose view of the forest for want of a tree here :)

i wish i have more commenters like you, by the way. s'been a pleasure.

Fuzzy A! said...

Oh you did mention the fatwa thing? I must have missed it. Oh well.

You know what they say. Democracy would work well in a perfect society but most people are idiots. Or is it only me who says that? Anyway, there's been a lot of funny views that the majority of the community holds. To choose a few from the muslim one, how dogs are unholy/unclean - based on three hadiths that don't mention that dogs are unclean at all [and are based on hygiene, prophylaxis of an epidemic and the third might be a false hadith] and in the Quran the only mention of a dog is when the Quran subtly praise the animal for its loyalty; how playing stringed instruments is unlawful - Muhammad mentioned once that at the end of times, music from stringed instruments will be a cultural norm and can be heard anywhere, so, the genii that I call society took it into their interest to stave off apocalypse by not allowing people to play stringed instruments; and other instances that would take too much space to tell. Especially the prevalent view on Jews the community holds. Don't let me start on that one.

And yes, like you, I agree that all individual views are valid to the viewer, and it is the truth to them. And I respect their views. But I'd be lying if I say those views don't seem like idiotic rants of a madman to me.

The difference between adoption and fostering, as is mentioned in the verse, is merely semantics. The Quran doesn't want the branding of these patronyms because legal documents can be forged or even be non-existent as it was the case back in the day when the issue was addressed. By mislabling the child and concealing his past from him, you might deprive certain individuals the rights that they have and name-branding shouldn't really matter outside of the circles of law, which is an important aspect of society because we don't live in Utopia. If you love the child like your own, you treat him as your own and he treats you as his parents, why would something like a name make things any different?

The striking here, I believe, should be taken as a symbol. A husband, by Islamic ideals, should love his wife deeply and to be able to raise his hand against his beloved should take a lot. When a husband raises his hand against his wife, the woman should be aware that this is the sign that it is the last warning, that things have been taken too far. That is why, I believe, in the verse it says that after that one strike you should leave your wife if she continues on. The verse, in my opinion, doesn't allow a husband to beat the wife repeatedly.

Yes, yes, in a perfect society, we shouldn't be doing any of this. But that's why I see Jesus and Buddha as idealists, while Muhammad is more of a realist.

But again, I have to mention this in every sensitive... discussion like this, this is strictly my opinion and you can treat it any way you like. Not that I care how you'd take it.

k0k s3n w4i said...

Fuzzy A!: you know what they say; you cannot put the truth to a democratic vote. and being a malaysian, i am perfectly aware of the anti-semitic sentiments the muslims here hold. there's a graffiti right outside one of my favourite eating places calling for the genocide of jews. and one of my med school colleagues openly calls hitler a hero.

the difference between fostering and adopting a child in islam means little to me, as i am an atheist. it was just a bit i put into the post so my readers can have a fuller picture of the saga of zaynab's marriage to muhammad. i neither endorse these qur'anic views nor do i necessarily agree with them. so, continuing the discussion on them will serve no further purpose.

you're a civilised man and believe that the verse on striking one's spouse should be taken symbolically - but that's your personal interpretation, one which i daresay is not scripturally explicit. a man looking to tear his wife a new one could easily justify his actions using that verse. we do not live in a perfect society, but even in our imperfect society, we have laws preventing husbands from striking their wives even once. would you strike your wife if she, as you have said, went "too far"? if you say yes to that - i would have to retract what i said about you being a civilised man earlier. humanity and civilisation have left the qur'an behind on this issue, i'm afraid. and in the most civilised quarters of the world; withholding sex can be construed as a form of spousal abuse as well. so long as the qur'an and that verse exists, men will continue to use it to justify abuse. this is the realist in me talking.

and i beg to differ; the verse says to stop hitting your wife once she obeys you once more. so, your assertion that says that "after that one strike you should leave your wife if she continues on" left me more than a little confused.

i see jesus as a schizo, buddha stoned off his lotus and muhammad as... well, to say it in the most tactful way i can; it's hard for me to see the qur'an as a divinely inspired collection of texts. and neither should anyone expect me to, since i'm not a muslim.

PeeWeet said...

Bit complicated for me....btw following your blog.

Elaine New said...

you know, i dun really write things regarding islam bcuz im from msia where any wrong words gets u arrested. hahaa.

that being said, i think diff religions have their own ways of practising their things. haha. its like chinese (me) burn incenses n its like polluting the air but tats how we do things. n this is how they do things. dun have 2 understand WHY.

Fuzzy A! said...

You have to see it in the perspective of the Arabic barbarians. We are told that at the birth of Islam, the Arab world is in its dark ages. It is bad enough that Muhammad banned a lot of their social norms. He had to do it gradually. Even giving up alcohol was done quite a while after Islam was more-or-less established. To tell these uncouth people that they had to change everything at once is political suicide. He's just following Robert Greene's 45th Law of Power: Preach for Change but Never Reform Too Much At Once. Or rather, since he predated Greene, he's setting down the law or whatever. In a culture that bludgeoning a wife to death and infanticides are not considered faux pas, minimizing the former to 'as needed' is perfectly an understandable progress and frankly, almost too much so.

As a medical student/professional, I'm sure you understand that civility is as much part of evolution as gradually losing the coccyx and fibula.

I do not condone the beating of your spouse, of course, wife or husband, but to understand the message that is being told, you have to put your mindset in the immediate audience's. In a way, they're not yet evolved to what we are now.

Like you can't judge the beauty of those Aphrodites depicted in renaissance arts with the criteria of today's fashion judges, can you?

It is the duty of the enlightened, then, to empty their minds of prejudices when trying to understand others' view points. Zen masters say we must empty the cup before pouring in tea. If we have a preconception of what we're about to absorb, we're just a bunch of well-read douchebags.

I guess I wouldn't be counted as a Muslim by the popular meaning. I'm more of a Rational Universalist with Islamic Tendencies, if you HAVE to put a label on me.

I do, however, consider myself rather spiritual. An oxymoron, I know.

You can only imagine, then, the internal conflict I had during my Psychiatry cycle when I realize that all holy men and prophets of all faiths would be diagnosed as schizophrenics. Haha.

P.S. This might not make sense because I'm sleepy as hell.

k0k s3n w4i said...

PeetWeet: really? been trying to keep it simple, but oh well. and thanks :)

Elaine New: which is why i chose my words carefully :) i am a very different sort of creature from you, elaine. i have to know WHY we do anything at all. i believe if we cannot come up with a good reason for the things we do, it's very probable that those aren't things worth doing in the first place - and free speech does not exist if fear and intimidation can so easily censor it.

Fuzzy A!: labels can be powerful things, especially ones a person would put on himself. they are like little cliff's notes about that person, and yours tell me that i haven't been engaging you at your level. my apologies.

i have always advocated the study of religions along with all their historical contexts and cultural baggage. that was how i approached the bible and now, the qur'an. i realise how progressive the qur'an was when it turned up back in the wild, wild west of muhammad's arabia. pound for pound, it's a much more civilised piece of writing compared to the bible. old testamental views of women put them in the category of livestock and property (and pauline traditionalists would probably prefer it to stay that way). the qur'an, at one point, considered a woman to be worth half a man (i believe it's a verse about witnesses; two men or one man plus two women). progress indeed. it's ironic that the christians have now overtaken the muslims when it comes to women's liberation, not because but in spite of their sacred text.

to quote another robert green[e]; robert green ingersoll said, "religion has not civilized man, man has civilized religion."

i grant you all your arguments, but it's not the seventh century muslims i am worrying about - so, do i get to keep all my preconceptions now? :)

you see, the qur'an is a medieval text that is considered by many, many people today to be god's actual little notes to muhammad. they are supposed to be the final revelations, and muhammad is their last prophet. it is immutable and non-editable - and some even consider it heresy to translate it. herein lies the monster of modern-day islam fundamentalism and terrorism. while at its time and in its cultural context, it was an enlightened piece of work, would any of our practicing muslim contemporaries consider it antiquated? would he or she realise that it is not evolving (and cannot evolve) along with the times? my objection to dogma is this.

again i ask; is it inconceiveable that a modern muslim man would use the verse in an-nisa to justify wife-beating? have the murder of apostates in islamic states ceased completely? perhaps, just perhaps, you have not been engaging me at my level as well. i may very well be wrong and if so, please enlighten me.

and i don't believe the religious have a monopoly on spirituality. i'm an atheist and i consider myself to have quite a strong sense of the numinous.

p.s. when i was in psych, i personally got a kick out of the medical definition of delusion, and its exception clause which implied just how indistinguishable religion is from mental illness.

Fuzzy A! said...

I can present my ideas on the revelation and prophet thing but as you mentioned a few times, you're an atheist and I get the vibe that you're not looking to change your view on God in general. Plus, I'm not here to convert anyone. So, I won't do that because it's rather pointless, yes?

No, your point on modern Muslims is perfectly logic and indeed this has happened and will happen many many times. One of the unhappy facts of life. Manson and Hitler believed that their atrocities were perfectly in line with the Bible. To step outside the confinement of religions: a lot of criminals abuse the loopholes in Law systems around the world.

What I'm trying to say is that teachings, be it spiritually or worldly, are ideals. People have, are and will exploit them because we're humans. Are these teachings wrong, then? I believe not. I believe the blame lies in the individuals, who exploit these teachings unwittingly or otherwise.

P.S. I KNOW. The Russian school of medicine divides delusions into three big groups: Persecutory, Depressive and Grandiose Delusions. It was a facepalm moment for me when I realized that all spiritual leaders have at least one sub-form of each of these three groups.

k0k s3n w4i said...

Fuzzy A!: i've done the god tango. i was born into the syncretic malaysian chinese hybrid religion of ancestral worship, taoism and buddhism; consciously converted to theravada buddhism when i was 14; sincerely studied and attempted to accept one of big abrahamic monotheisms for several years in college (at which point i was agnostic, attended church and asked some of my more well-read muslim friends about islam), and finally decided that it was all - if you'll pardon the espression - a whole lot of bollocks.

i found that i cannot take anything on faith. what are all these holy books but static, unscientific, unchanging worldviews which their adherents insist to be the inerrant words of god? and i sincerely believe that even if abraham's god should reveal himself to me and dispel all doubts i have about his existence, i feel it's my moral duty to reject and rebel against him. at which point is a tyrant powerful enough that we should submit obediently to him?

i have a relativistic view on morality in general, and unlike you, i am certain (verily) that a lot of religious teachings are inherently wrong. no ambiguities about them. on homosexuality. on women. on a whole lot of other things. but this is neither the time nor place for me to tread into this territory.

besides, discussing any religion's scriptures and "revelations" means little to me when there is absolutely no proof any of them are true. the only thing of import to me is the sum expression of religion; what religious people did, are doing and will continue to do till the end of time, or till organised religion is destroyed.

god may or may not exist, but divinely inspired crimes against humanity certainly do.

Anonymous said...


I know I'm a little late coming into this but just wanted to say that I thought the article was really well written, just the right amount of tongue-in-cheek for the subject matter to be somewhat subversive without being offensive. (Have to tread lightly with any topic that's really central to people's worldview unless you want to alienate an arse-load of readers, and your geographical issues)

Really interesting comments debate happening there too. And I'm impressed that for the most part you both managed to stay really respectful of each others views. I mean all of us, religious n non, live side by side, and its good to see people with majorly different ideas debate them without shouting or throwing sly digs. I get that it was typed, you know what I mean.

"I can present my ideas on the revelation and prophet thing but as you mentioned a few times, you're an atheist and I get the vibe that you're not looking to change your view on God in general. Plus, I'm not here to convert anyone. So, I won't do that because it's rather pointless, yes?"

Well done Fuzzy A, nice reading of the situation. It would have been pointless, and it would have been the wrong way to go for sustaining debate.

(i) "what are all these holy books but static, unscientific, unchanging worldviews which their adherents insist to be the inerrant words of god?
(ii) and i sincerely believe that even if abraham's god should reveal himself to me and dispel all doubts i have about his existence, i feel it's my moral duty to reject and rebel against him. at which point is a tyrant powerful enough that we should submit obediently to him?"

For the first bit, i see what you're saying, but that doesn't totally rule out there being some good stuff in there as long as it's not taken too literally, even for atheists. And, yes, religious fanatics of any kind are terrifying, but thankfully most religious people aren't fanatics.

For the second bit, I am high-fiving you through the computer right now :)


Raoul said...

Very good post/ blog due to the quality of comments/ banter!

Very interesting read. Thanks for the enlightening opinions from both KOK and Fuzzy!

"i have to know WHY we do anything at all. i believe if we cannot come up with a good reason for the things we do, it's very probable that those aren't things worth doing in the first place"

Yup, I think I'm also that sort of troublemaker who can't hold his peace when something doesn't sound or seem right and have the insuppressible urge to question almost everything.^^ to qoute C" High-Fiving through the comp!

"the only thing of import to me is the sum expression of religion; what religious people did, are doing and will continue to do till the end of time, or till organised religion is destroyed.

god may or may not exist, but divinely inspired crimes against humanity certainly do."
Extremely well put! :-)

-Haven't done the whole tango, maybe a few steps in, currently an Agnostic

Raoul said...

putting things into the here and now..,8599,2007269,00.html?iid=redirect-aisha