Saudi Cleric Advocates Breastfeeding—for Grown Men

In Saudi Arabia, it's illegal for women to socialize with men, but a proposed law in the Arab kingdom would create a legal way for women and men to mingle by—brace yourself—breastfeeding.

saudi woman
(Image credit: Gallo Images/Danita Delimont)

No doubt you've heard that in Saudi Arabia, it's illegal for women to socialize with men—unless the guy is a relative. Offenders can get whipped and jailed. But according to a flurry of recent reports, a proposed new law in the Arab kingdom would create a legal way for women and men to mingle. How so? Brace yourself: The idea is that women would breastfeed unrelated men—so the men could be considered family, as breastfeeding signifies a familial bond.

Yes, we were speechless too. And confused. If women aren't allowed to talk to men, how on earth would they be able to bare their bosom? And is this idea even for real? Or just a storm in a D-cup?

Here's the lowdown: A couple of weeks ago, prominent Saudi cleric Sheikh Al Obeikan, a royal consultant to the Ministry of Justice, stated on Saudi TV that women who have regular contact with unrelated men should give the guys breast milk to establish "maternal relations," so there's no chance of the men being considered potential lovers. The sheikh added that men should not drink directly from a woman's breast, but that the milk should be pumped and offered to them in a glass. Ah.

His remarks quickly hit the front pages of Saudi newspapers. Then another prominent sheikh, Abi Ishaq Al Huwaini, weighed in and said that he agreed with the general idea, but that men should suckle the milk straight from the breast. So far, so weird. Let's face it: That's pretty medieval, even for a country that denies women the right to vote or drive.

But thankfully, the pronouncements, or fatwas, of two sheikhs do not necessarily a universal law make. It usually takes the entire religious elite to agree before something as controversial as this becomes practice. And that's unlikely to happen. A similar breastfeeding fatwa was suggested three years ago by a cleric in Egypt, and as it turned out, people viewed him as a major boob. He was ridiculed and fired from his job as a university lecturer.

Of course, Saudis mock religious pronouncements at their peril. But the bottom line here seems to be that clerics say the darndest things, and little is set in stone until they all manage to agree. In the past couple of weeks alone, a dizzying array of other fatwas have been issued by individual sheikhs. These include a ban on teaching sports to girls (boo), a lifting of a general ban on singing (yay), an edict that the ban on women drivers is invalid (yay), and a ban on cameras at graduation ceremonies for girls (boo). As with the breastfeeding edict, it's not clear yet whether any of these will be implemented.

Sassy Saudi blogger Eman Al Nafjan summed up her sentiments on the whole boob thing this way: "The whole issue shows how clueless men are. All this back and forth between sheikhs, and not one bothers to ask whether it is logical, let alone possible, to breastfeed a grown man." Good point.