26 June 2010

Lost in Translation: theories of breasts and breast milk of Saudi women

A story from Saudi Arabia has people amazed at responses of high-up clerics to the problem of women and their 'foreign' drivers in this land. Traditional law seems to state that the women shouldn't be on such a familiar basis with men who are not part of their family. In order to rectify this problem, a high-up cleric has issued a fatwa stating that by sharing her breastmilk with her driver, the women, who are not permitted to drive themselves, can ensure that all is on the up-and-up and not a matter of questionable behaviour, with a foreigner (stranger?).

In the Los Angeles Times, and in many comments online following the National Post article, the emphasis is on the right of women to drive themselves. Saudi women have taken the gist of the fatwa one step further and said they will breastfeed their drivers if they cannot be permitted to drive the cars themselves.

The AOL article refers to the discussion between the two Saudi clerics. Sheikh Al Obeikan, "adviser to the royal court and consultant to the Ministry of Justice", stated that the women "ought to give them their breast milk so they will be considered relatives". But another high-profile sheik, Abi Ishaq Al Huwaini, then apparently announced that "men should suckle the breast milk directly from a woman's breast."

At this point I am wondering if it is a matter of miscommunication, of something lost in translation, as it just doesn't seem to make sense that a cleric would advocate women allow men to suck at their breasts. More detail is given in the articles, but not specifically about what the clerics meant.

The second cleric, Al Huwaini, sounds as though he is stating hypothetically that, if a man is to be considered a member of the family, then the men "should suckle the breast milk directly from a woman's breast." I don't see that as a directive, or even a suggestion. It looks more as though he is discussing traditional laws and what they mean, and the significance of them - these were simply two scholars discussing the theoretical implications of women and family, and laws on sharing breast milk versus actual breastfeeding.

Added June 2012

Writing from her perspective, Anushay Hossain concludes, “These women should be congratulated for using the issuing of yet another insane fatwa and flipping it into an opportunity to maybe one day, finally winning their right to drive” (What’s Up Saudi?, June 2010).

Saudi Clerics Advocate Adult Breast-Feeding
By Dana Kennedy
AOL News
June 5, 2010

Saudi women threaten breast-feeding revolt [plus comments]
By Kelly McParland
National Post, Full Comment
June 23, 2010

Women threaten to breastfeed drivers if they aren't allowed to drive
Los Angeles Times, Babylon & Beyond
June 22, 2010

What’s Up Saudi? The Kingdom Insists on Keeping Women in the Stone Age
By Anushay Hossain
Anushay's Point
June 24, 2010

links updated June 2012

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