Monday, May 21, 2007

Cleric retracts breastfeeding edict

An update to the breastfeeding fatwa issued recently by one of Egypt's Muslim 'scholars'.

A professor at Egypt's Islamic Al-Azhar university on Monday retracted a controversial religious edict which states that a woman can only be left alone with a strange man if she breastfeeds him.

Ezzat Attia, president of the university's Hadith department which studies traditions based on the (so-called) Prophet Mohammed's words and deeds, withdrew his fatwa and apologised for any inconvenience he caused, in a statement distributed by Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam's main seat of learning.

Attia's edict, which sparked an uproar in the media, stated that a woman can only be alone with a man to whom she is not related, such as an office colleague, if she nurses him "directly from her breast" at least five times.

In his retraction, Attia said the fatwa had been a result of his personal analysis of Islamic texts and was in fact "a bad interpretation of a particular case" during the time of (so-called) Prophet Mohammed.

According to Mabruk Attia, a professor of theology at Al-Azhar, the (so-called) Prophet had advised a woman to nurse her adult adopted son, to become his wet nurse, following an Islamic ban on adoption.

The woman gave the man her milk from a bowl, and not directly from her breast, Mabruk Attia said.

The fatwa sparked a furore in Egyptian and Arab religious circles and in the press.

"If the country's top cleric himself had made the same statements, he would not be considered respectable," Malika Yussef, a professor of theology at Al-Azhar told the weekly Al-Karama paper. She said even debating the issue was "insane."

"When you walk into a government building, you should not be shocked to find a 50-year-old civil servant suckling his colleague," the independent daily Al-Dustur said ironically after the fatwa was issued.