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First-of-its–kind Islamic fatwa issued encouraging the use of pasteurized donor breast milk for Muslim babies in the hospital

This guidance is believed to be the first Islamic ruling to clarify the issue in the United States after discussions between Muslim scholars and Minnesota doctors.   

MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL (Nov. 16, 2023)The Minnesota Islamic Council issued a fatwa, or a religious clarification, encouraging the use of pasteurized donor human milk for babies, particularly preterm, low birth and ill babies, when a mother’s milk is not available. The ruling comes after extensive discussions between Islamic scholars, Muslim leaders in the Twin Cities and experts from Children’s Minnesota, M Health Fairview, the Minnesota Milk Bank for Babies, the Minnesota Breastfeeding Coalition and Brighter Health.

“Islam has many verses in the Quran and other texts that document the importance of breast milk, whether from the birth mother or shared milk,” said Dr. Mohamed Mahad, imam from Nuruliman mosque who signed the fatwa. “This is a common practice in Islamic culture that dates back far. In fact, in verse 2:233, the Qur’an also indicates that if the mother is unable or does not wish to provide milk, a wet nurse could be selected for her child. The Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) himself was nursed by Halima al-Saadiyah (رضي الله عنه).” 

Clinical staff began discussions with Islamic scholars in September to explore the topic after noting persistent barriers in Muslim families accepting pasteurized donor human milk for their babies in neonatal intensive care units and nurseries across the state due to uncertainty over Islamic beliefs. If a mother’s milk is not available, pasteurized donor milk for fragile or premature babies is lifesaving and prevents serious infections, like sepsis or necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), a life-threatening intestinal tract disease.  

“This is a truly monumental step toward achieving health equity in our communities,” said Dr. Leah Jordan, neonatologist at Children’s Minnesota. “As doctors we can answer medical questions regarding donor breast milk, but we also need to respect and understand spiritual considerations. This fatwa will help clinicians across the country navigate conversations with families that may be hesitant to use donor breast milk when it is medically advised.”  

Donor milk concerns in the Muslim community stem from Islamic teachings that a woman providing breast milk develops kinship with the baby who receives it. The fatwa provides information on the health benefits of human milk for newborns, clarifies Islamic teachings and encourages the use of donor human milk when needed.  

 “To address the hesitancy over donor human milk, we looked beyond our hospital walls and partnered with trusted Muslim leaders to break down barriers and provide critical information,” said Dr. Nancy Fahim, neonatologist at M Heath Fairview and assistant professor of neonatology at University of Minnesota Medical School. “This new guidance will help us better care for our tiniest patients and our communities, ultimately creating a healthier future for all.”  

Minnesota is home to an estimated 140,000 Muslims, including the country’s largest population of Somali residents who are predominantly Muslim. Muslims from across the country and world can use this fatwa for clarification of Islamic teachings and to ease concerns and hesitancy about donor human milk. Children’s Minnesota and M Health Fairview hospitals will provide copies of the fatwa to patients who seek guidance, and other health systems in Minnesota can access information on the new Islamic ruling through the Minnesota Breastfeeding Coalition.  

Community members with additional questions about the fatwa can contact [email protected]. The full fatwa can be found here