A human milk bank is a repository of breast milk to provide for undernourished children
A faction of Islamic clerics in Bangladesh have staunchly opposed setting up a milk bank, claiming it is in violation of religious laws, and commercializes breast milk.
A human milk bank is a repository of breast milk to provide for undernourished children. It collects breast milk donated by lactating women after a medical clearance. Milk banks operate across North America, Europe, Africa, Asia, Middle East, and Australia. In Middle Eastern countries, the concept of a milk bank commonly exists much like having a wet-nurse or milk-mother breastfeeding infants.
The milk bank in Bangladesh was to be a trial conducted by the Special Care Neonatal Unit (SCANU) and Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) of the Institute of Child and Mother Health (ICMH) in Dhaka’s Matuail starting December 1.
Clerics upset over exclusion?
But a faction of Islamic clerics led by Maulana Mufti Gazi Ataur Rahman, joint secretary general of Islami Andolon Bangladesh, sent a legal notice on December 24 to the Ministry of Religious Affairs, ICMH, SCANU, NICU, and the Bangladesh Islamic Foundation (BIF), claiming the joint initiative is un-Islamic and demanded it meets several conditions.
The prophet of Islam, Muhammad (PBUH), was nursed by Halima (RA) in his infancy.
Gazi Ataur claimed they believe the milk bank is not halal. When pointed out the case of the prophet, he said they do not oppose Islam’s approval of foster mothers feeding their breast milk to other children, but oppose how the bank was run.
It was not explained what the clerics knew of the milk bank’s operations even before it began a trial.
Gazi Ataur said: “The bank was opened without discussing with concerned authorities.”
The Islami Andolan Bangladesh is registered as a political party in Bangladesh and has no seats in the parliament. It does not work to regulate or oversee healthcare in Bangladesh in any capacity. They have demanded blasphemy laws to be introduced in Bangladesh and called for arrests of atheist bloggers.
Ataur elaborated their concerns, saying that if two people drink milk from the same person, and grow up to marry, it will violate religious laws. Further citing blood banks, which he claimed were opened on humanitarian grounds but have become commercialized, he forewarned against human milk banks sharing the same fate.
He insisted that the only acceptable outcome was a discussion between Islamic clerics, experts, and stakeholders after the Biswa Ijtema.
However, a reconciliatory tone was struck by Maulana Fariduddun Masud, another prominent cleric who conducts the prayers at the largest Eidgah in Kishoreganj’s Sholakia.
He said: “Other Islamic countries also have milk banks. We should see how they work. But I concur that a discussion is indeed needed to clear any confusion and misgivings.”
Md Abdul Hamid Jamadar, the director general of the BIF, also said the banks may violate Islamic laws: “In Islam, people who share the breast milk from the same person are considered to be siblings. Islam forbids marriages between such siblings. The authorities need to sit down with Islamic clerics and resolve the issue and proceed with the milk bank. It is a good humanitarian initiative. It will help reduce the child mortality rate.”
Milk bank says no issue persists
The milk bank authorities claim they have already fulfilled all the conditions sought by the legal notice, and stressed that misinformation over social media has created confusion among Islamic clerics.
ICMH Associate Professor Mojibur Rahman, also project coordinator of the milk bank, said: “Our systems identify all the donors, and we have a database that registers everyone’s identity that can be easily accessed upon request. We published a 40-page document that details the entire process which covers all religious grounds.”
The milk bank authorities met with 100 Islamic clerics on January 5 to clarify their stance.
Prof Mojibur said that milk banks are needed in Bangladesh to cut down infant deaths from lack of breast milk.
According to the UN Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation, the infant mortality rate in Bangladesh was 24 deaths per 1000 in 2017. Brazil has one of the largest networks with 217 milk banks. They have reduced infant mortality by 73% since 1985.