If a child or adult drinks breastmilk do they become unmarriageable (mahram)?

Short Answer

If a child drinks the breastmilk of a woman she becomes his milk-mother and any other child who drinks from her becomes his milk-sister. They can never be married and do not have to observe dresscode guidelines with them. The age of breastfeeding is up to two years and does not establish any milk relationship after that.

What the Qur’an and Sunnah Say

The Messenger of Allah said: “…suckling is only valid if it takes place in the suckling period (of a child).” (Bukhari #2504, Muslim #1455)

A’ishah said that Sahlah bint Suhayl came to the Messenger of Allah and said: “Messenger of Allah! I see on the face of Abu Hudhayfa (signs of dislike) when Salim enters (into our house), and he is a freed-slave. The Messenger of Allah said: “Breastfeed him.” She said: “How can I breastfeed him when he is an adult man? The Messenger of Allah smiled and said: “I already know that he is an adult man.” (Muslim #1453)

A’ishah reports that Salim, the freed-slave of Abu Hudhayfa, lived with him and his family in their house. She (i.e. the daughter of Suhayl and wife of Abu Hudhayfa) came to the Messenger of Allah and said: “Salim has attained (puberty) as men do, and he has begun to understand what they understand, but he enters our house freely. I, however, think that Abu Hudhayfa feels uncomfortable with this. The Messenger of Allah said to her: “Breastfeed him and you would become unlawful for him, and (the dislike) which Abu Hudhayfa feels in his heart will disappear.” She returned and said: “I have breastfed him and what (was there) in the heart of Abu Hudhayfa has disappeared.” (Muslim)

What the Scholars Said

Umm Salama, the wife of the Messenger of Allah used to say: “All the wives of the Messenger of Allah rejected the idea that one can come to them (without observing the rules of dress) with this type of breastfeeding (i.e. the suckling of an adult), hence they said to A’ishah: “By Allah, we do not consider this but an exception given by the Messenger of Allah for Salim. No one is allowed to enter (our houses) with this type of breastfeeding and we do not subscribe to this view.” (Muslim #1454)

Imam Qurtubi said, “Salim (in this Hadith) is Salim ibn Ma’qal…Abu Hudhayfa had adopted him in accordance with the customs of the Arabs. He (Salim) had been brought up and raised by Abu Hudhayfa and his wife as their own son. When the verse of the Qur’an “Call them (your adopted children) by (the names of) their (real) fathers….” 33:5) was revealed, the ruling of adopting children was abrogated (in that one can no longer consider an adopted son to be one’s own). However, Salim continued to reside and enter the house of Sahlah (the wife of Abu Hudhayfa) as he was a minor. When he grew old and came close to puberty, both Abu Hudhayfa and Sahlah disliked the idea of him entering freely upon Sahlah, but they found it difficult to mention this to him, given the fact that he had lived with them (and was brought up by them), hence they asked the Messenger of Allah regarding this. The Messenger of Allah said to Sahlah: “Suckle him and you would become unlawful for him, and (the dislike) which Abu Hudhayfa feels in his heart will disappear” hence she suckled him and it so happened (i.e. the dislike of Abu Hudhayfa disappeared)…” He then stated that all of the Prophet’s wives with the exception of A’ishah considered this to be a special exception, and this is the view taken by the majority of early (salaf) and late (khalaf) scholars. They considered the report to be specific to Salim and Sahlah, and are of the opinion that it is not permitted for an adult to drink breast-milk. If an adult did drink breast-milk, it will be of no consequence with regards to marriage and the rules of Hijab (al-Mufhim lima Ashkal min talkhis Kitab Muslim, 4:186-187)

Imam Ibn Sa’d said that Sahla would pour her breast-milk into a utensil each day for five continuous days and Salim would drink from it. He did not directly drink from the breast of Sahlah, as it is not permitted to expose one’s private parts in front of a non-relative adult let alone have him suckled. (Tabaqat Ibn Sa’d 8:271)

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Shaykh Mustafa Umar