Adult Suckling

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Adult suckling (Arabic: رَضَاعَةُ الْكَبِيرِ), or the act of breastfeeding a male adult, is mentioned in several relied-upon collections of hadiths. According to five hadiths in Sahih Muslim, Muhammad once plainly instructed the daughter (or wife -- sources are unclear) of a companion named Suhail to suckle a "grown-up" freedman named Salim so that Salim would become the daughter's mahram, or a relation whom the daughter could no longer marry, and thus render Salim's cohabitation with the family appropriate and legal.[1] Reports in the Muwatta of Imam Malik[2] and Sunan Ibn Majah[3] add that this instruction was reified by a verse in the Qur'an, Islam's holy scripture, which was still present in the Qur'an after Muhammad's death, indicating that it had not been abrogated by Muhammad while he was alive. The report in Sunan Abu Dawud continues with Aisha, Muhammad's favorite wife, reporting that while she was "preoccupied with [Muhammad's] death", "a tame sheep came in and ate" the scrap of paper upon which the verse of "breastfeeding an adult" was written. The practice, sanctioned by a  number of traditional jurists, is popularly rejected by Islamic scholars today.

Translated literally, "mahram" means "that which is prohibited (haram)", which explains the phrasing used in the hadiths (e.g. "[he] would become unlawful for [her]"). The word mahram is used to refer to relations who one cannot marry. As a result of mahrams not being permitted to conceive of each other as marital/sexual prospects (e.g. a brother and sister), the female does not have to observe all the requirements of hijab and is permitted to be alone with a male.

Following the publication of a book in Egypt promoting adult suckling by Dr. Abd Al-Mahdi Abd Al-Qadir, a scholar at al-Azhar (the "Harvard of Islam"), another scholar at al-Azhar, Dr. Izzat Atiyya, published a fatwa promoting the practice in a widely-read weekly magazine in 2007, causing national and international controversy. The Egyptian government subsequently called for the removal of the relevant edition of the magazine from sellers' shelves and Dr. Atiyya was suspended from his post at al-Azhar.[4]

Adult suckling in scripture

In the hadiths

An entire chapter in Sahih Muslim, containing six hadiths, is dedicated to the topic of "Breastfeeding an adult" (باب رَضَاعَةِ الْكَبِيرِ).[5] The hadiths describes how, via suckling, an adult male can become a female's mahram and thus be allowed to accompany her in private.

'A'isha (Allah be pleased with her) reported that Salim, the freed slave of Abu Hadhaifa, lived with him and his family in their house. She (i. e. the daughter of Suhail came to Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) and said: Salim has attained (puberty) as men attain, and he understands what they understand, and he enters our house freely, I, however, perceive that something (rankles) in the heart of Abu Hudhaifa, whereupon Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) said to her: Suckle him and you would become unlawful for him, and (the rankling) which Abu Hudhaifa feels in his heart will disappear. She returned and said: So I suckled him, and what (was there) in the heart of Abu Hudhaifa disappeared.
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 (ﷺ) said: Suckle him. She said: How can I suckle him as he is a grown-up man? Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) smiled and said: I already know that he is a young man. 'Amr has made this addition in his narration: that he [Salim] participated in the Battle of Badr and in the narration of Ibn 'Umar (the words are): Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) laughed.
Ibn Abu Mulaika reported that al-Qasim b. Muhammad b. Abu Bakr had narrated to him that 'A'isha (Allah be pleased with her) reported that Sahla bint Suhail b. 'Amr came to Allah's Apostle (ﷺ) and said: Messenger of Allah, Salim (the freed slave of Abu Hudhaifa) is living with us in our house, and he has attained (puberty) as men attain it and has acquired knowledge (of the sex problems) as men acquire, whereupon he said: Suckle him so that he may become unlawful (in regard to marriage) for you He (Ibn Abu Mulaika) said: I refrained from (narrating this hadith) for a year or so on account of fear. I then met al-Qasim and said to him: You narrated to me a hadith which I did not narrate (to anyone) afterwards. He said: What is that? I informed him, whereupon he said: Narrate it on my authority that 'A'isha (Allah be pleased with her) had narrated that to me.

Hadiths regarding adult suckling are also found in the Muwatta of Imam Malik, the Sunan of Ibn Majah, and the Musnad of Imam Ahmad.

Aisha's opinion vs. that of her co-wives

One of the six hadiths on adult suckling in Sahih Muslim describes Aisha as the individual who instructed Muhammad's companions to implement the practice sanctioned by Muhammad.

Umm Salama said to 'A'isha (Allah be pleased with her): A young boy who is at the threshold of puberty comes to you. I, however, do not like that he should come to me, whereupon 'A'isha (Allah be pleased with her) said: Don't you see in Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) a model for you? She also said: The wife of Abu Hudhaifa said: Messenger of Allah, Salim comes to me and now he is a (grown-up) person, and there is something that (rankles) in the mind of Abu Hudhaifa about him, whereupon Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) said: Suckle him (so that he may become your foster-child), and thus he may be able to come to you (freely).

An account described in the Umm of Imam Shafi'i provides further detail, stating that Aisha enforced the suckling requirement on all those who wanted to meet with her. Imam Shafi'i also describes how Aisha would have her sister Umm Kulthum suckle those who wanted to meet with Aisha in her place, since being the mahram of one person renders one the mahram of all of that person's sibling.

[Aisha] reported that 'in what was revealed of the Kur'an, ten attested breast-feeds were mentioned as required to establish the marriage-ban [i.e. render the suckled person a mahram]. The ten were replaced by mention of five attested breast-feeds. The Prophet died and the five were still being recited in the Kur'an. No man ever called upon 'A'isha who had not completed the minimum course of five sucklings.

'Abdullah b. al-Zubayr reports that the Prophet said, 'One suckling does not constitute the ban, nor two, nor does one or two sucks.'
'Urwa b. al-Zubayr reports that the Prophet commanded the wife of Abu Hudhayfa to feed her husbands mawla [freed slave], Salim, so that he could go on living with them. The prophet specified five breast-feeds.

Salim b. 'Abdullah reports that he was never able to visit 'A'isha. She had sent him to be suckled by her sister Umm Kulthum who, however, suckled him only three times, then fell sick. Salim added, 'Thus, I never did complete the course of ten sucklings.'

Similar statements are found in the following hadith in Muwatta Malik, where we also see that Muhammad's other wives adamantly refused the instruction, and considered the ruling given by Muhammad to be a special dispensation just for Salim and Suhail's daughter. [6]

..."Sahla bint Suhayl who was the wife of Abu Hudhayfa, and one of the tribe of Amr ibn Luayy, came to the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and said, 'Messenger of Allah! We think of Salim as a son and he comes in to see me while I am uncovered. We only have one room, so what do you think about the situation?' The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, 'Give him five drinks of your milk and he will be mahram by it.' She then saw him as a foster son. A'isha umm al-muminin took that as a precedent for whatever men she wanted to be able to come to see her. She ordered her sister, Umm Kulthum bint Abi Bakr as-Siddiq and the daughters of her brother to give milk to whichever men she wanted to be able to come in to see her. The rest of the wives of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, refused to let anyone come in to them by such nursing. They said, 'No! By Allah! We think that what the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, ordered Sahla bint Suhayl to do was only an indulgence concerning the nursing of Salim alone. No! By Allah! No one will come in upon us by such nursing! "This is what the wives of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, thought about the suckling of an older person."

Similar sentiments from Muhammad's other wives are expressed in a hadith in Sahih Muslim.

Umm Salama, the wife of Allah's Apostle (ﷺ), used to say that all wives of Allah's Apostle (ﷺ) disclaimed the idea that one with this type of fosterage (having been suckled after the proper period) should come to them. and said to 'A'isha: By Allah, we do not find this but a sort of concession given by Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) only for Salim, and no one was ging to be allowed to enter (our houses) with this type of fosterage and we do not subscribe to this view.

In the Qur'an

Accounts provided in the hadith agree that a verse requiring ten sucklings was revealed, followed by a verse requiring just five sucklings. The same hadiths detailing these verses state that the final verse, having been written only upon a scrap of paper stored under Aisha's pillow, was lost after the death of Muhammad when a sheep entered her room and ate the scrap of paper. As noted above, the ruling had been very unpopular with Muhammad's other wives. The Qur'anic verse on stoning adulterers is likewise said to have been lost in this same incident.

Yahya related to me from Malik from Abdullah ibn Abi Bakr ibn Hazm from Amra bint Abd ar-Rahman that A'isha, the wife of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, "Amongst what was sent down of the Qur'an was 'ten known sucklings make haram' - then it was abrogated by 'five known sucklings'. When the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, died, it was what is now recited of the Qur'an." Yahya said that Malik said, "One does not act on this."
It was narrated that 'Aishah said: “The Verse of stoning and of breastfeeding an adult ten times was revealed, and the paper was with me under my pillow. When the Messenger of Allah died, we were preoccupied with his death, and a tame sheep came in and ate it.” These verses were abrogated in recitation but not ruling. Other ahadith establish the number for fosterage to be 5.
It was narrated that 'Aishah said: “Once of the things that Allah revealed in the the Qur'an and then abrogated [the word translated as "abrogated" is سقط, which means "dropped"[7], and not نسخ, which is the word used to refer to legal abrogation[8]. This is also the usage found in the Qur'an itself[9]] was that nothing makes marriage prohibited except ten breastfeedings or five well-known (breastfeedings).” (Sahih)

2007 Azhar fatwas

Dr. Izzat Atiyya

In 2007, Dr. Izzat Atiyya, the head of the hadith department at al-Azhar university (one of if the highest authorities in Sunni Islam today and the world's most renowned Islamic university - often described as the "Harvard of Islam"), issued a fatwa empowering Muslims to implement the practice of adult suckling to avoid the social and professional inconveniences generated by the requirements of female hijab. He encouraged that one should be breastfed by a woman's sisters or mother in order to attain mahram status if it was not possible for whatever reason to suckle the woman directly. He also encouraged that women who adopt children, since there is no legal recognition for adoption in Islamic law, ought to breastfeed their adopted sons, no matter their age, so that they can establish a legal mother-son relationship. The fatwa was published in al-Watani al-Yawm, a weekly newspaper published by Egypt's ruling National Democratic Front party, and explained by Dr. Atiyya in person during an interview with the publication. Dr. Atiyya repeatedly declared that the sources he quoted belonged to the Islamic holy texts with the highest possible authority. According to him no less than 90,000 contemporary scholars confirmed that the hadith referred to is authentic. Dr. Abd Al-Mahdi Abd Al-Qadir, another scholar at al-Azhar, wrote and published a book rendering similar ideas based on the same Islamic sources prior to Dr. Atiyya's fatwa.[4]

"The religious ruling that appears in the Prophet's conduct [Sunna] confirms that breastfeeding allows a man and a woman to be together in private, even if they are not family and if the woman did not nurse the man in his infancy, before he was weaned – providing that their being together serves some purpose, religious or secular...

"Being together in private means being in a room with the door closed, so that nobody can see them... A man and a woman who are not family members are not permitted [to do this], because it raises suspicions and doubts. A man and a woman who are alone together are not [necessarily] having sex, but this possibility exists, and breastfeeding provides a solution to this problem... I also insist that the breastfeeding relationship be officially documented in writing... The contract will state that this woman has suckled this man... After this, the woman may remove her hijab and expose her hair in the man's [presence]...

"is that the man and the woman must be related through breastfeeding. [This can also be achieved] by means of the man's mother or sister suckling the woman, or by means of the woman's mother or sister suckling the man, since [all of these solutions legally] turn them into brother and sister...

"The logic behind [the concept] of breastfeeding an adult is to transform the bestial relationship between [two people] into a religious relationship based on [religious] duties... Since [this] breastfeeding takes place between [two] adults, the man is still permitted to marry the woman [who breastfed him], whereas [a woman] who nursed [a man] in his infancy is not permitted to marry him...

"The adult must suckle directly from the [woman's] breast... [This according to a hadith attributed to Aisha, wife of the Prophet's Muhammad], which tells of Salem [the adopted son of Abu Hudheifa] who was breastfed by Abu-Hudheifa's wife when he was already a grown man with a beard, by the Prophet's order... Other methods, such as [transferring] the milk to a container, are [less desirable]...

"[As for the possibility of using a breast-pump, which] increases the production of the milk glands... that is a matter for doctors and religious scholars who must determine if the milk [thus produced] is real milk, i.e., if its composition is identical to that of the [woman's] original milk. If it is, this method is permissible...

"The fact that the hadith regarding the breastfeeding of an adult is inconceivable to the mind does not make it invalid. This is a reliable hadith, and rejecting it is tantamount to rejecting Allah's Messenger and questioning the Prophet's tradition."

Dr. Atiyya's fatwa was followed by immense controversy in Egypt and internationally. Shortly after publication, a committee assembled by al-Azhar suspended Dr. Atiyya from his academic post and the Egyptian information minister ordered the removal of the relevant edition of al-Watan al-Yawm from sellers' shelves. Dr. Atiyya was ordered by al-Azhar to make a public apology. Dr. Atiyya complied.[4]

"My statements on the issue of breastfeeding an adult were based on the imams Ibn Hazm, Ibn Taymiyya, Ibn Al-Qayyim, Al-Shawkani and Amin Khattab [Al-Subki], and on conclusions I drew from the statements of Ibn Hajar [Al-Askalani]. However, I hold that only the breastfeeding of an infant creates a family relationship [that prohibits marriage between the parties and allows them to be together], as the Four Imams [i.e., the founders of the four Sunni legal schools] said, while the [act of] breastfeeding a grown man [mentioned in the hadith] was a [specific] incident that came to serve a [specific] purpose, and the fatwa I issued was based solely on my personal interpretation. Based on what I have learned with my brothers the religious scholars, I apologize for my earlier [statements] and retract my opinion, which contradicts [the norms accepted] by the public."
Quote from Dr. Atiyya; Ibid.; see also Al-Watani Al-Yawm, Egypt: National Democratic Front Party, May 22nd, 2007 


The head of the al-Azhar Supreme Council, Sheikh Dr. Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, publicly refused to accept Dr. Atiyya's apology.[4]

"We must not be too lax in matters of religion, especially when the matter at hand is a fatwa that significantly affects people's actual lives, inclinations, and views – because it speaks to their natural emotions which [lead them to] embrace what is permitted and shun prohibitions." Tantawi said, "Society cannot tolerate [a fatwa] that undermines its religious stability. There is enough chaos with all the unsupervised fatwas [published] on some satellite channels. We will never permit this chaos to spread to the religious establishment and to Al-Azhar."
Quote from the head of the al-Azhar Supreme Council, Sheikh Dr. Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi; Ibid.

Dr. Abd al-Fatah Asaker commented saying that hadiths such as the relevant hadiths could not be accepted as authentic, even if they came from Sahih Bukhari or Sahih Muslim.[4]

"Would Dr. Abd Al-Mahdi [Abd Al-Qadr] agree [to let] his wife, daughter, sister or even his mother breastfeed a grown man – whether a stranger or a family member? Would the Muslim scholars [want people] to say that their wives breastfeed any man who comes along? . . . It is inconceivable that Islam, which commands the believing [men and women] to lower their eyes [in modesty], should permit a strange man to place his mouth on the breast of a married woman and suckle from [it]."
Quote from Dr. Abd al-Fatah Asaker; Ibid.

The Muslim Brotherhood also criticized the fatwa harshly and took the matter to parliament. Despite 50 Egyptian MPs discussing the matter however, they "refrained from submitting a parliamentary question in order to avoid creating too big an uproar".[4]

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