Islam and the baby formula crisis

Let’s face it. For America’s moms, the current baby formula situation isn’t a “shortage.”

It’s a crisis!

What else can it be called when grocery store shelves are empty, or purchasers are limited to one container per customer? What would you call it when moms are driving all over town and beyond using precious gasoline, enlisting the help of family and friends in their treasure hunt, trying to find the very baby formula needed to keep their children alive?

Some moms breastfeed their babies and aren’t experiencing this nightmare and many of them have extra milk they’re willing to share with formula-feeding moms.

Our government has resorted to airlifting formula from overseas, and promises us that American companies will alleviate the supply-chain issues “soon.”

Islam is a religion that guides all aspects of a Muslim’s life — from the cradle to the grave. Islam gives many rights to children, one of them being the right to be breastfed for two years. God says in the Quran:

“Mothers shall breastfeed their children for two whole years, for those who wish to complete the term.” (2:233)

The verse also states if both parents decide on weaning by mutual consent, after due consultation, there is no blame on them. Further, God says:

“If you decide to have your children nursed by a wet-nurse, it is permissible as long as you pay fairly.”

If a wet-nurse breastfeeds a Muslim baby more than five times before the age of two years, she becomes a “milk mother” to that child, and this relationship has special rights under Islamic law.

The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing of God upon him) himself had a wet-nurse and milk mother named Halima.

According to scholarly and judicial consensus, “milk banks” are considered forbidden for Muslim moms because the mother of the donated milk is generally anonymous. As mentioned, the “milk mother” and the Muslim-suckled child have a relationship with special rights under Islamic law, including sibling rights and even future marriage rights. These rights can’t be guaranteed if the milk being offered is from an anonymous woman.

The only breast milk a Muslim woman should accept from an arrangement with another woman or wet-nurse should be accepted with full understanding of religious ramifications keeping to Islamic law in mind.

Even though a Muslim child has a “right” to be breastfed for two years, Islam recognizes there may be circumstances where it’s not possible for a family to complete this full term. Some mothers may not be able to breastfeed at all for various reasons. In contemporary times, there are options available to Muslim families that include baby and toddler formula. Islam is a religion of ease.

What is clear is that a woman should never be shamed or criticized by others for making the decision to not breastfeed. These decisions are personal and unique to each family. The Quran mentions that these are decisions of the parents, made with “due consultation,” and in contemporary times can perhaps include assistance from medical professionals.

The choice to not breastfeed doesn’t make a mom any less of a woman, or any less of a Muslim mom.

Every mother who is experiencing problems finding baby formula, please beware of online or social media misinformation. Call your family physician or pediatrician for sound advice and to understand the options that are available for you and your baby.

S.E. Jihad Levine (Sr. Safiyyah) is a Muslim Chaplain, and a teacher at the Sunbury Islamic Center Sunday School. She is also Director of Project Hurriyyah, a project that assists Muslim girls and women who are either incarcerated or on parole. She writes about Islam from a generalized Sunni perspective.

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