The Islamic population in the Middle East has been caught up in a new war, but it is its own enemy in the fight over a “fatwa” that authorizes the breastfeeding of adult men.

“The fatwa-issuing thugs give orders, pass judgment, and make decisions: love is forbidden; looking [at a man] is a sin; expressions of love are contemptible – [but] as for breastfeeding, that is permissible, permissible, permissible,” wrote Nadine Al-Budair, a presenter for the U.S. Arabic-language television station Al-Hurra.

The dispute has been monitored by the Middle East Media Research Institute, which has compiled a history of it and added comments from contemporary Muslims interests.

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The issue first arose in Egypt in May 2007 when a “fatwa” – an Islamic religious decree – was issued from “Izzat” Atiyya, who used to be chief of the Hadith Department at Al-Azhar University. Atiyya permitted a woman to breastfeed a man with whom she must work in private, which MEMRI reported led to Atiyya’s dismissal from his school position.

The dispute returned to headlines just a few weeks ago when Sheik Abd Al-Muhsin Al-Obikan, in the Saudi Justice Ministry, issued a “fatwa” allowing the breastfeeding of adults.

MEMRI documents how the rules are aimed at “enabling an unrelated man and woman to be secluded in the same room, a situation which Islam considers forbidden gender mixing.”

The report explained the fatwas regarding breastfeeding suggest it creates “a bond of kinship between the man and woman … thus making it acceptable for them to be together in seclusion.”

The latest edict “created a stir in Saudi Arabia and in the Arab media at large, arousing a wave of criticism from clerics and columnists alike,” MEMRI reported.

For example, articles in the daily Al-Riyadh argued “only moral education could address the issue of male and female seclusion” and there should even be a body of authorities in Islam “that would prevent the issuing of strange fatwas such as these.”

The MEMRI report said Saudi Sheik Abd Al-Aziz Bin Abdallah Aal Al-Sheik condemned the idea as contradicting Islamic law and ruled that breastfeeding is for children under the age of 2.

Reported MEMRI, “Similarly, Dr. Muhammad Al-Nujeimi, a civics professor and member of the Islamic law faculty at King Fahd University, called on Al-Obikan to rescind his ruling, as ‘adult breastfeeding is not [a way to turn a man into the woman’s mahram] and whoever permits it is wide of the truth.'”

Further, a recent sermon from Sheik Abd Al-Rahman Al-Sudayyis, imam of the Al-Harram Mosque in Mecca, denounced the fatwa, MEMRI reported.

Amidst the arguments over the ideas, Al-Obikan renewed his statements, explaining his ruling is based on Islamic religious law, Shariah.

And MEMRI reported Sheik Dr. Saleh Al-Sadlan, professor at the Imam Mohammad Bin Saud Islamic University, was supportive of Al-Obikan’s position.

“He said the fatwa should not be regarded with disdain, as it is in line with the Sunna and the opinions of numerous clerics. Al-Sadlan also said that since the fatwa seems strange to the public, it behooves the mufti or the Senior Clerics Council – the Saudi Arabia’s supreme religious authority – to examine the fatwa and issue their endorsement of it.”

Another argument was raised by Sheik Ahmad Al-Hashem of the Saudi Ministry of Religious Endowments, who said the mother’s milk belongs not to her but her husband.

It all was too much for Al-Watan columnist Halima Muzaffar.

“We must do away with this phobia of gender mixing,” wrote the columnist, who was joined in sentiment by Layla Ahmad Al-Ahdab. Also writing in the Al-Watan, Al-Ahdab said, “How long will the ‘gender mixing phobia’ serve as a source for fatwas that cause the world to laugh at us?”

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