Cairo (Reuters) May 21, 2007
CAIRO'S al-Azhar Islamic University has suspended a lecturer who suggested men and women work colleagues could use symbolic breastfeeding to get around a religious ban on being alone together.
The lecturer, Ezzat Atiya, had drawn on Islamic traditions that forbid sexual relations between a man and a woman who has breastfed him to suggest that symbolic breastfeeding could be a way around strict segregation of males and females.
But after controversy in the Egyptian and Middle East media, university president Ahmed el-Tayeb suspended Mr Atiya overnight pending an urgent investigation into his opinions, the Egyptian state news agency MENA reported.
Mr Atiya is the head of the department that deals with sayings of the Prophet Muhammad and the university is part of the al-Azhar institute, one of the most prestigious in Sunni Islam.
Mr Atiya's unusual opinion was widely publicised by Arabic-language satellite television channels and featured in a discussion in the Egyptian parliament.
The Dubai-based channel Al Arabiya quoted him as saying after five breastfeedings the man and woman could be alone together without violating Islamic law and the woman could remove her headscarf to reveal her hair.
But a committee from al-Azhar said his proposal contradicted the principles of Islam and of morality.
Mr Atiya had said he had drawn on medieval scholarship to justify his position. The opposition party newspaper al-Ahrar overnight quoted him as saying he retracted his views because they were based on the opinions of a minority of scholars.