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Radā or ridā'a is a technical term from Islamic jurisprudence meaning "the suckling which produces the legal impediment to marriage of foster-kinship"[1]. The term derives from the infinitive noun of the Arabic word radi'a or rada'a ("he sucked the breast of his mother"). Often it is translated as "fosterage" or "milk-kinship"[2].

The concept of radā derives from Islamic and pre-Islamic notions concerning the state of consanguinity created between wet nurse and unrelated nursling -- that is, a woman and a baby other than her own -- through the act of breastfeeding. Radā also defines the links between various relations and family members of both wet nurse and baby, such that not only are the two forbidden in marriage to one another, but so are their relations in various combination (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, particularly if the nursling is male and of adult stature, such as viewing the milk-mother unveiled or in private, exactly as if he were a relation.


In Islamic law

Radā 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?'[3]

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 radā al-muharrim, "quality of the milk"; which ways of transmission create consanguinity
  • 'adad al-radā al-muharrim, minimal number of sucklings necessary to establish fosterage
  • radā al-kabīr, suckling of a grown-up person; the maximum age at which the milk-relationship may be established
  • al-radā min mayyita, whether or not the absorption of milk from a dead woman creates the impediment

Adad al-radā 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'anic verse had once stipulated this exact number until its wording had been expurgated from the Qur'ānic text[4][5] The following tradition {hadith) treats both this topic as well as that of radā al-kabīr, or suckling of an adult:

She [Aisha] reported that 'in what was revealed of the Kur'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 Kur'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.'[6]

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[7]. 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.[8].

Al-Azhar fatwa controversy

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."[9]

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.[10] 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[9] and that it was based on the opinions of only a minority of scholars.[10] Egypt's minister of religious affairs, Mahmoud Zaqzouq, has called for future fatwas to "be compatible with logic and human nature".[9]


  1. ^ Giladi, Infants, Parents and Wet Nurses: Medieval Islamic Views on Breastfeeding and Their Social Implications, ISBN 9004112235, p. 69
  2. ^ G. J. H. van Gelder, Close Relationships: Incest and Inbreeding in Classical Arabic Literature, ISBN 1850438552, p. 93
  3. ^ Giladi, Infants, Parents and Wet Nurses, p. 70
  4. ^ John Burton, The Sources of Islamic Law: Islamic Theories of Abrogation, ISBN 0-7486-0108-2, pp. 156-158
  5. ^ Burton, Naskh, Encyclopaedia of Islam²
  6. ^ John Burton, The Sources of Islamic Law: Islamic Theories of Abrogation, pp. 157
  7. ^ Giladi, Infants, Parents and Wet Nurses, p. 86
  8. ^ Giladi, Infants, Parents and Wet Nurses, p. 69
  9. ^ a b c Breastfeeding fatwa causes stir. BBC. May 22, 2007.
  10. ^ a b Lecturer suspended after breastfeeding fatwa. Reuters. May 21, 2007.

Further reading

  • John Burton (1990). The Sources of Islamic Law: Islamic Theories of Abrogation. Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 0-7486-0108-2.  
  • John Burton and Joseph Schacht (1999). "Radā" (CD-ROM v. 1.0 ed.).  
  • Avner Giladi (1999). Infants, Parents and Wet Nurses: Medieval Islamic Views on Breastfeeding and Their Social Implications. Brill Academic Publishers. ISBN 9004112235.  

External links

See also



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