Are milk banks permitted in Islam?


Someone from Qadian, India, wrote to Hazrat Amirul Momineen, Khalifatul Masih Vaa to seek guidance about milk banks where human milk, donated by mothers, is provided for orphans. He wrote that such an arrangement would lead to the children, who use the facility, becoming foster siblings, without knowing exactly who among them was whose foster sibling. The individual asked whether, in view of this predicament, it was permissible to establish milk banks according to Islam.

Huzoor-e-Anwaraa, in his letter dated 12 October 2021, gave the following reply to this question:

“According to Islamic teachings, children who are suckled by the same mother, establish a mutual foster relationship, due to which such boys and girls cannot marry each other when they grow up. Therefore, an organisation or a government that provides the facility of breastmilk somewhere in response to a need, will have to exercise great care; they will have to keep a record of which child received the breastmilk by which woman, which would seem impossible. 

“Therefore, in my view, the establishment of such milk banks is not appropriate as per the Islamic sharia because it can potentially create many types of ambiguities and other issues. Anyway, what is the need for these types of milk banks in this era when scores of different types of formula milk are available on the market? If any institution or government is concerned about the upbringing of orphaned children, they can provide the facility of formula milk for such children. 

“Anyway, I am having more research conducted on this issue, but for now, I am of the view that establishing milk banks in this way, as stated in your letter, is not appropriate according to Islamic teachings.”

Later, Huzooraa had research conducted on this issue by Dar-ul-Ifta Rabwah. Then, in his subsequent letter, dated 17 August 2022, Huzooraa gave further guidance to the questioner as follows: 

“I have had further research conducted on this issue by Dar-ul-Ifta Rabwah. 

“According to the findings of their research, establishing human milk banks and providing milk to children through them is not appropriate as per Islamic teachings. This is so because Islam has established the sanctity of relationships that have been forged on the basis of nursing to such an extent that it has prohibited the intermarriage of these relationships in the same way that it has prohibited the intermarriage of mahram relationships due to descent. 

“On the other hand, one cannot know at all about the milk received from these types of milk banks, as to how many women’s and which women’s milk is in a packet of milk. And even if the details of these women were recorded on these packets, the children who drank such milk would become foster siblings of innumerable other children, and it would be seemingly impossible to keep track of them and take precautions with regard to marriages.

“Therefore, if a child needs breast milk, then for this, the method of the foster mother stipulated by Islam should be adopted. However, if this facility is not available somewhere, then instead of making relationships doubtful by taking the trouble to use milk from milk banks, milk from ordinary cows, buffaloes or formula milk should be used, so that the sanctity of relationships established by Islam can be fully respected.”

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