Fatwa issued allowing for donor breast milk to be accepted by Muslim parents

By: - November 16, 2023 4:44 pm

Children’s Minnesota in Minneapolis. Photo by Nafi Soumare/Minnesota Reformer.

A Muslim legal expert issued a fatwa, or religious clarification, that Muslim parents can now use donor breast milk for their infants in intensive care.

Mohamed Mahad, imam from Nuruliman mosque in Minneapolis, signed what he believes is the first fatwa of its kind in the country at an event Thursday at Children’s Minnesota in Minneapolis. 

Minnesota is home to the country’s largest population of Somalis, who are predominantly Muslim. Doctors at Children’s Minnesota hospital noticed that many Muslim parents would refuse donor breast milk. The objection stems from a belief that ingestion of donor milk will form a “kinship” bond between the infant that drinks donated milk and the child of the breast milk donor, referred to as “milk brothers and sisters.” In Minnesota, breast milk donations are anonymous, which made Muslim families nervous about incestuous relationships occurring in the future. 

Iran is currently the only country in the Muslim world to provide support to mothers who struggle to provide breast milk. Breast milk banks have seen a surge in growth amid rising demand for healthy milk for infants. 

“When Islamic law is unclear, Islamic scholars will gather to understand, discuss, and issue a fatwa. After our meeting with the doctors and experts on feeding, we decided that the benefits of pasteurized donor human breast milk are so significant that all babies, particularly preterm, low birth weight and ill babies should be given this milk when their own mother is not available,” Mahad said. 

Children’s Minnesota, M Health Fairview, Minnesota Milk Bank for Babies, Minnesota Breastfeeding Coalition, and Brighter Health MN were among the groups who provided counsel on the updated law.

Breastfed children have been shown to have lower rates of diseases and infections, asthma and Type 2 diabetes. Breastfeeding can also prevent a mother’s risk of ovarian and breast cancer

For decades, medical professionals have noticed a significant disparity in breastfeeding amongst people of color. Stigma plays a role, and here in Minnesota, predominantly white medical professionals’ misunderstanding of cultural differences can lead to a misconception that people of color simply “don’t breastfeed.”

Dr. Leah Jordan, neonatologist at Children’s Minnesota, said that she wants to provide infants with safe, pasteurized donor milk to premature babies who may need it. For the most vulnerable infants, inequitable access to milk translates to an inequitable ability to survive. 

“We know that access to pasteurized donor human milk in the United States and here in Minnesota is inequitable. The likelihood of an infant receiving milk depends on the state they are from, the zip code that they live in, the hospital they are born in, the color of their skin, and the language that their parents speak,” Jordan said.

Muslims from across the country and world can now use this fatwa to clarify their own Islamic teachings.

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Nafi Soumare
Nafi Soumare

Nafi is an intern reporting for the Minnesota Reformer. Her interests in reporting include social justice, reform, and issues in the Minnesota education system.