Cleric to face disciplinary panel for controversial decree

One of Sunni Islam's most prestigious institutions, Al-Azhar University, ordered one of its clerics a disciplinary panel after he issued a controversial decree allowing adults to breast-feed.

Ezzat Attiya had issued a fatwa, or religious edict, saying adult men could breast-feed from female work colleagues as a way to avoid breaking Islamic rules that forbid men and women from being alone together.

In Islamic tradition, breast-feeding establishes a degree of maternal relation, even if a woman nurses a child who is not biologically hers. It means the child could not marry the nursing woman's biological children.

Attiya - the head of Al-Azhar's Department of Hadith, or teachings of the Prophet Muhammad - insisted the same would apply with adults. He argued that if a man nursed from a co-worker, it would establish a family bond between them and allow the two to work side-by-side without raising suspicion of an illicit sexual relation.

His fatwa raised a widespread outcry in Egypt, with religious authorities rejecting the edit and several newspapers deriding Attiya for issuing it. Several lawmakers called for Attiya to be punished.

The president of the Al Azhar University, Ahmed al-Tayeb, ordered Attiya on Monday to stand before a disciplinary tribunal and denounced the fatwa as defamatory to Islam.

Attiya had initially stood by his fatwa, but on Sunday he backtracked an apologized for the controversy. He said his fatwa was "only an opinion based on one incident."

Attiya based his fatwa on "hadith," or teaching of Muhammad. In the hadith, Muhammad reportedly told a woman to nurse a teenage boy who was not her own but whom she had raised in order to establish a family bond. But many Islamic scholars deny the hadith, saying it is not verified and should not be used.

Egyptian Religious Affairs Minister Mahmoud Zaqzouq said Monday that fatwas "should be compatible with logic and human nature."

Strict Islamic interpretations forbid an unmarried man and woman to be alone together. But with women in the workplace, the situation is generally accepted in Egypt and much of the Muslim world.