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Sunday, February 23, 2014

Why Islamic Scholars Should Support the Global Breastfeeding Movement.

Sheikh Yusuf Estes
 A man came to the Prophet Mohammad and said, ‘O Messenger of God! Who among the people is the most worthy of my good companionship? The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: Your mother. The man said, ‘Then who?’ The Prophet said: Then your mother. The man further asked, ‘Then who?’ The Prophet said: Then your mother. The man asked again, ‘Then who?’ The Prophet said: Then your father. (Bukhari, Muslim)
Religion has existed in every civilization throughout history and commonly focuses on the spiritual and social development of individuals, societies, and cultures. Religious scholars contend that religions have basic features, such as a clear set of textual statements about right and wrong, with a set of devised expectations for their followers.

Islam is the only religion, where maternal well-being and breastfeeding are covered in detail. The Quran requires that all infants are to be breastfed for the first two years of life. The Quran also holds the father responsible and requires that he support the nursing mother by providing her with food and clothing throughout the breastfeeding period. If the mother is unable to breastfeed, the father is obligated to provide another lactating woman to feed the infant on the mother’s behalf.  Together WHO, UNICEF, Holy Quran, and Sunnah clearly stress the importance of breastfeeding for the duration of two complete years. However, though most mothers in Islamic nations start breastfeeding their infants after delivery, they cease to do so quickly and introduce supplemental artificial feedings.

Sheikh Hamza Yusuf Hanson
Current statistics from the U.N. state that today Islam is the worlds second largest religion after Christianity; with an annual growth rate of around 6.40% compared to 1.46% for Christianity. According to these statistics, one in five people on the planet are Muslim. Islamic scholars are very successful in impacting individuals and sharing their knowledge that supports a healthy and vigorous community. Despite the scientific community's effort to promote, protect, and support breastfeeding, culture and religion still have a significant role, even if they don’t realize it yet. With the proper support from Islamic scholars breastfeeding rates should be on the rise as well.

Science, reported by the Lancet medical journal, has established that breastfeeding infants under two years of age, has the greatest impact on child survival rates compared to all other protective medical interventions. In addition, the Lancet reports that breastfeeding also has the potential to prevent over 800,000 deaths in children under five in the developing world where there is a high burden of disease and low access to clean water and sanitation. Despite this fact the UNICEF website reports that “only 39 per cent of children less than six months of age in the developing world are exclusively breastfed and just 58 per cent of 20-23 month olds benefit from the practice of continued breastfeeding”.
Sheikh Mufti Ismail Musa Menk
The potential impact of optimal breastfeeding practices is especially important in the developing countries. Yet non-breastfed children in industrialized countries are also at greater risk of dying despite high sanitation and medical care access in their communities. UNICEF reports a recent study of post-neonatal mortality in the United States found a 25% increase among non-breastfed infants. Similarly in the UK Millennium Cohort Survey, six months of exclusive breastfeeding was associated with a 53% decrease in hospital admissions for diarrhea and a 27% decrease in respiratory tract infections.

The Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) said: “God has forbidden for you to be undutiful to your mothers.” (Sahih AlBukhari)

It is imperative that women receive true support on all levels. Breastfeeding mothers warrant support at hospital level, at the work place, and on the social spiritual level. If scholars are preaching to make the world a better place, where else is a better place to start than at the crux of humanity where it all begins, between mother and child? It is essential for all community leaders to embrace mothers and begin with maternity protection as well as protection against the unscrupulous marketing of artificial formula milk, to name but a few measures.  

A man once consulted the Prophet Muhammad about taking part in a military campaign. The Prophet asked the man if his mother was still living. When told that she was alive, the Prophet said: “(Then) stay with her, for Paradise is at her feet.” (Al-Tirmidhi)

The WHO and Islamic text together are very adamant about the importance of breastfeeding and the need for the child to be breastfed and in close contact with the mother or milk mother for the first two years of life. So why don’t the Islamic scholars get behind this global movement and support it? 

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