KARACHI: The Sindh Institute of Child Health and Neonatology (SICHN), where a first-of-its-kind Human Milk Bank was recently inaugurated but its operation had to be closed down later, has announced that it would approach the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) and Jamia Darul Uloom Karachi for further guidance on what it called a ‘Sharia-compliant initiative’.

The Human Milk Bank was launched earlier this month after obtaining a fatwa from Jamia Darul Uloom Karachi. However, the project ignited a controversy on social media. And when the Darul Uloom also revised its fatwa, the SHCHN had no other option but to suspend the operation of the project.

“We have 30 to 35 premature babies out of the 50 children admitted to our hospital at a given time. These babies needed mother’s milk to save them from complications that would in turn increase their chances for survival. Unfortunately, however, some mothers don’t have enough breast milk to support their nutrition,” said a representative of SICHN.

Responding to Dawn‘s queries about the controversy that led to the project’s suspension, he said that human milk banks were operating in several Muslim countries including Iran and Malaysia.

“Unfortunately, our society has lost the ability to debate like educated people. If we look at our religion, it’s obligatory upon us to make an effort even if one life is in danger,” he regretted, while referring to the “misinformation” on the social media.

Described as life-saving and Sharia-compliant initiative, the milk bank project was launched earlier this month, but had to be closed down within a week

In a press statement issued earlier, the hospital stated that the project was established after receiving a fatwa from Darul Uloom Karachi, which provided the facility “with the necessary religious endorsement” to proceed.

“This fatwa was critical in ensuring that our efforts were in harmony with Islamic teachings, providing reassurance to the community and stakeholders involved,” the statement said.

The pre-conditions cited in the fatwa to establish the milk bank are: “Complete data of women contributing to a ‘lot’ of milk should be maintained and shared with mothers whose babies are provided that milk so that a kinship record is maintained; this service should be provided free of cost and no concept of selling or buying should be there; Muslim children should only be provided milk from Muslim mothers; families should also be told about the kinship concept; milk should be cleaned and free from bacteria and from healthy mothers; this should only be given to babies less than 34 weeks of gestation, not have enough mother’s milk and are in need for medical reasons; personnel should be monitoring this activity with a database.”

The statement added that the establishment of the milk bank was made after considering all the above points.

“However, a recent revised fatwa issued by Darul Uloom Karachi dated 16th June 2024 has prompted us to discontinue the functionality of the project.

In its revised fatwa, the Darul Uloom Karachi had stated that after deliberations it came to the conclusion that it was very difficult and nearly impossible to practically implement the pre-conditions cited in its fatwa issued in December 2023.

“Moving forward, we will seek further guidance on this issue from both Darul Uloom Karachi and the Council of Islamic Ideology. These esteemed institutions are pillars of religious scholarship and their insights will be invaluable in navigating this complex issue. We are dedicated to ensuring that our healthcare initiatives are not only scientifically sound but also religiously compliant,” the statement concluded.

Published in Dawn, June 24th, 2024

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