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Rada (Fiqh)

Raḍāʿ or riḍāʿa (Arabic: رضاع, رضاعة  pronounced [rɪˈdˤɑːʕ(æ)], "breastfeeding") is a technical term in Sunni Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) meaning "the suckling which produces the legal impediment to marriage of foster-kinship", and refers to the fact that under Sunni jurispurdence, a wet nurse is considered related to the infant she nurses. The term derives from the infinitive noun of the Arabic word radiʿa or radaʿa ("he sucked the breast of his mother"). Often it is translated as "fosterage" or "milk kinship". The concept of radāʿ derives from Islamic and pre-Islamic notions concerning the state of blood relations whereby a wet nurse (and her close relations) and the baby she is nursing (and his or her close family) are deemed related to one another (a status known as mahram) through the act of breastfeeding. One important consequence is that the wet nurse and her family are forbidden to marry the baby and members of the baby's family (e.g. the nursling's biological brother with the milk-mother's biological daughter). Conversely, the milk-relationship allows usually forbidden familiarities between the two groups, (e.g. if the nursling is male, when he becomes an adult he may view the milk-mother and her close female relatives unveiled or in private, exactly as if he were a relation). Thus, according to some Sahih hadith, nursing an adult male could be used as a workaround to Islamic gender segregation, so that a male may be allowed in proximity to the nursing woman, her sisters and her daughters.

milk-relationship suckling biological

1. In Islamic Law

1.1. Sunni

Radāʿ receives extensive treatment in the Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) of the classical jurists (faqih). A primary feature of such works is the delineation of which relationships are subject to prohibition once the milk relationship is established. The following are the sorts of questions directed to the founder of the Hanbali school of jurisprudence by his son:

I asked my father about a man who has two wives, each of whom has a daughter. Then one of the wives nurses a certain man. "Is it lawful for this man's son to marry the daughter of the wife who did not nurse him?" ... I asked my father about a man who has a wife who nurses both a youth and a girl, and the youth has a brother. "Is it lawful for the brother to marry the girl?" ... I hear my father asked about a woman who nurses a young female slave belonging to someone else. Then a certain man marries the woman who has nursed the young female slave. "Is it lawful for the man to have intercourse with the female slave his wife has nursed if he buys and takes possession of her?"[1]

Other common topics included the following:

  • laban al-fahl, "milk of the sire", as under Islam the wet nurse's husband is considered the actual owner of her milk (it is his semen which caused the pregnancy that stimulated her lactation), which ties of consanguinity exist between his relations and the nursling?
  • sifat al-radāʿ al-muharrim, "quality of the milk", which ways of transmission create consanguinity?
  • ʿadad al-radāʿ al-muharrim, minimal number of sucklings necessary to establish fosterage;
  • radāʿ al-kabīr, suckling of a grown-up person, the maximum age at which the milk-relationship may be established;
  • al-radāʿ min mayyita, whether or not the absorption of milk from a dead woman creates the impediment.

ʿAdad al-radāʿ al-muharrim, or minimal number of sucklings necessary to establish the milk-kinship, was the subject of extensive debate and ever more elaborate exegetical theorizing. For the adherents of older schools of law, such as the Malikis and Hanafis, one suckling was enough. Others, such as the Shāfi'īs, maintained that the minimum number was five or ten, and that in fact a Qur'ainic verse had once stipulated this exact number until its wording had been expurgated from the Qur'ānic text.[2][3] The following tradition (hadith) treats both this topic as well as that of radāʿ al-kabīr, or suckling of an adult:

She [Aisha] reported that "in what was revealed of the Qur'ān, ten attested breast-feedings were mentioned as required to establish the marriage-ban. The ten were replaced by mention of five attested breast-feeds. The Prophet died and the five were still being recited in the Qur'ān. No man ever called upon 'Ā'isha who had not completed the minimum number of five sucklings" ...

Urwa b. al-Zubayr reports that the Prophet commanded the wife of Abū Hudhayfa to feed her husband's mawlā [i.e. servant], Sālim, so that he could go on living with them [upon attaining manhood]. Sāalim b. 'Abdullāh reports that he was never able to visit 'Ā'isha. She had sent him to be suckled by her sister Umm Kulthum who, however, suckled him only three times, then fell sick. Sālim added, "Thus I never did complete the course of ten sucklings."[4]

For most jurists (Ibn Hazm being one prominent exception), the bar to marriage was effective only if the nursling was an infant. Yet even these allowed that a new relationship resulted between the two; Ibn Rushd, for example, ruled that the woman could now comport herself more freely in front of the nursed adult male, such as appearing before him unveiled.[5] The famous traditionist Muhammad al-Bukhari was forced to resign his position of mufti and leave the city of Bukhara after ruling that two nurslings who suckled from the same farm animal became milk-siblings.[6]

1.2. Shia

As per Quranic guidelines, non-mahram (not related) people are forbidden for each other as long as they are not legally married. Shi'ite Islam prohibits marriage to the consanguineous kin of a milk-parent. In Shi'ite societies, the wet nurse was always from a subordinate group, so that marriage to her kin would not have been likely.

2. Examples

2.1. Egypt

In May 2007 Dr. Izzat Atiyya, lecturer at Cairo's Al-Azhar University, issued a fatwa that suggested that male and female colleagues could use breastfeeding to get around a religious ban on being alone together. The fatwa said that if a woman fed a male colleague "directly from her breast" at least five times they would establish a family bond and thus be allowed to be alone together at work. "Breast feeding an adult puts an end to the problem of the private meeting, and does not ban marriage," he ruled. "A woman at work can take off the veil or reveal her hair in front of someone whom she breastfed."[7]

The fatwa sparked outrage and embarrassment, with critics deriding the author on Egyptian television. The university suspended the lecturer, who headed the university's hadith department. The fatwa was widely publicized by Arabic-language satellite television channels and was discussed in the Egyptian parliament.[8] After being threatened with disciplinary action by the university, Atiyya issued a retraction, saying the fatwa was "a bad interpretation of a particular case" during the time of Muhammad[7] and that it was based on the opinions of only a minority of scholars.[8] Egypt's minister of religious affairs, Mahmoud Zaqzouq, has called for future fatwas to "be compatible with logic and human nature".[7]

2.2. Saudi Arabia

In 2010, a clerical adviser to the Royal court and Ministry of Justice issued a fatwa suggesting that women should provide breast milk to their employed drivers thereby making them relatives.[9] The driver could then be trusted to be alone with the woman. The fatwa was ridiculed by women campaigners.


  1. Giladi, Infants, Parents and Wet Nurses, p. 70
  2. John Burton, The Sources of Islamic Law: Islamic Theories of Abrogation, ISBN:0-7486-0108-2, pp. 156–158
  3. Burton, Naskh, Encyclopaedia of Islam
  4. John Burton, The Sources of Islamic Law: Islamic Theories of Abrogation, pp. 157
  5. Giladi, Infants, Parents and Wet Nurses, p. 86
  6. Giladi, Infants, Parents and Wet Nurses, p. 69
  7. Breastfeeding fatwa causes stir. BBC. May 22, 2007.
  8. Lecturer suspended after breastfeeding fatwa. Reuters. May 21, 2007.
  9. Shaheen, Abdul Rahman (20 June 2010). "Saudi women use fatwa in driving bid". Retrieved 19 September 2010. 
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