It is a well known fact that Muslims don’t drink alcohol. It is haraam, forbidden. They don’t eat foods with ethanol, they don’t wear perfumes containing alcoholic ingredients and they stay away from all forms of intoxicating substances.
This abstinence is a command from God, the law maker for Muslims’ health and environment. But why else is alcohol haraam in Islam? Let’s take a look.
Alcohol in Islam
Linguistically, khamr (خمر) Arabic for “wine”, is alcohol derived from grapes. This is what is prohibited by specific texts of the Quran (see 5:90). Therefore alcohol is categorically unlawful (haraam) and considered impure (najis). Consuming any amount is unlawful, even if it doesn’t create any drunken effects.
The Prophet Muhammad of Islam said, “Intoxicants are from these two trees,” while pointing to grapevines and date-palms. Alcohol derived from dates or raisins is also prohibited, again regardless of the amount consumed.
At first, a general warning was given to forbid Muslims from attending prayers while in a drunken state (Quran, 4:43). Then a later verse was revealed to Prophet Muhammad which said that while specifically alcohol had some medicinal benefits, the negative effects of it outweighed the good (Quran, 2:219).
Finally, “intoxicants and gambling” were called “abominations of Satan’s handiwork,” which warned people with self-consciousness to not turn away from God and forget about prayer, and Muslims were ordered to abstain (Quran, 5:90-91).
The Prophet Muhammad also instructed his companions to avoid any intoxicating substances (paraphrased), “if it intoxicates in a large amount, it is forbidden even in a small amount.” For this reason, most observant Muslims avoid alcohol in any form, even small amounts that are sometimes used in cooking.
6 reasons why Muslims don’t drink alcohol
1. Alcohol and prayer do not mix.
Prayer (salat) is a fundamental part of the Muslim lifestyle, an obligatory call to God five times a day. A ritual eco “wudhu” (woo-dhoo) is necessary before the prayer which involves a water saving ablution to spiritually connect to environment, health and creation. The presence of alcohol in the same room does not affect the prayer, according to Islamic scholars, but anyone who drinks alcohol cannot pray for a month, unless he or she repents. Another obligation to Muslims is the annual Hajj or Haj pilgrimage, at least once in their lifetime. This year Hajj has been cancelled, thanks to corona.
2. It’s addictive.
Even when the early Muslims recognised alcohol for its medicinal uses, Prophet Muhammad likened the drink to a “disease”, saying there is no cure in things that God has forbidden. Like the first puff of a cigarette, it is up to individual will-power to continue or stop drinking. Nonetheless, some Muslims seek alcohol treatment.
3. Liquor clouds the intellect.
Khamr also describes how alcohol consumption makes it difficult to differentiate between right and wrong. Muslim faith is founded on the intellect, rational thought and good judgement. Anything that could jeopardise this behaviour is forbidden, and another reason why Muslims don’t drink.
4. It gives the wrong message to children.
Sitting in a restaurant where alcohol is served is not the same as drinking it. This is why Islamic law has the flexibility to say if someone needs to sit in such a restaurant for a work meeting or because no other diners are available, he/she can, but should not sit at a table where alcohol is served.
Bars and environments where alcohol is served could lead to drinking and in the presence of children, it could teach them to explore drinking. Mature Muslim adults are role models and carry a message that you don’t have to drink to have a good time, to work or to socialise.
Classical and contemporary Islamic scholars have helped explain why an alcohol zone can be as bad as drinking itself,
“The difference between [prohibitions in environment] and [prohibitions related to the end goals] is that while both are forbidden, the former is considered lesser in weight because it is related to causes, whereas the latter is related to an actual forbidden act. Thus, sitting at the table, although not the same as drinking, could lead to it whereas drinking in itself is absolutely forbidden,” says Dr. Abdullah bin Bayyah from Suhaibwebb.
5. Alcohol makes one forget.
Any intoxicating substance, whether it’s wine, beer, gin, whiskey or drugs, affects a person’s faculties and behaviour. The result is the same, and the Quran outlines that it is the intoxication-which makes one forgetful of God and prayer-that is harmful.
6. Alcohol can lead to criminality.
Although a controversial statement, in Islam alcohol is viewed as the “key to every evil” (hadith), because of its close relation to creating or making criminal behaviour easier to commit. That isn’t an omission of the medicinal uses of alcohol, but to say that a prevention is better than a cure. Thus, the Quran explains, “(in alcohol) there is a great sin, and (some) benefits, but the sin outweighs its benefit)” (2:219).
Muslims don’t do drugs
All intoxicants were made haraam in Islam’s religious scripture at different times over a period of years. Over the years, the list of intoxicating substances has come to include more modern street drugs and the like.
Islam prohibits the use of narcotics noting that “every intoxicant is haraam (unlawful)”. ‘Recreational’ drugs have become the social culture and despite religious prohibitions, Muslims are just as susceptible to cannabis (marijuana), hashish, and the supposedly herbal ‘hukkah‘ (a tobacco smoking pipe).
Nonetheless, this drug abuse is also haram, not to mention encouraging illegal drug trade and addiction.
Wine that’s halal?
Without side-sweeping the nutritional value to alcoholic beverages, we must accept that wine in particular is not completely “evil”. Wine contains coronary benefits and according to studies, decreases the risk of peptic ulcers.
Hippocrates recommended specific wines to disinfect wounds, and even the great Islamic scholar Ibn Kathir noted wine’s force for better digestion.
But did you know halal wine exists too?
In the Quran is the promise of Paradise for people who conserve God’s laws on Earth and leave it as they found it, or better. This Paradise contains rivers of honey, milk and wine which does not intoxicate (see 47:15).
Some great entrepreneurs took this as inspiration, leading to the production of halal approved wines such as Halal Champ Wine, and Australia’s Patritti Wines of Dover Gardens, which was accredited by the Islamic Council in 2003.
According to a more lenient school of thought in Islam, creams and deodorants containing alcohol are alright to use as it is invariably a synthetic alcohol and not wine (khamr). In Saudi Arabia though, even fuel containing ethanol is getting the haraam boot.
A contemporary fatwa (Islamic ruling) classified non-wine alcohol as permitted in external uses such as perfumes and soaps so long as it’s not used in vain or for intoxicating purposes. However, the main consensus is to religiously avoid it.
Buying and selling wine
For Muslims, when something is made haraam, this means that thing is harmful to one’s health and contribution to the community. That also means Muslims aren’t supposed to encourage others to consume in any haraam, irrespective of who they are.
Dealing with the alcohol trade comes under the haraam category. The Prophet Muhammad forbade people from all actions related to the wine industry, including pressing wine, drinking it, serving it, selling it or buying it. This severity is to stop the expansion of harm caused by alcohol.
And above all, drinking is a lifestyle choice for socialising and enjoying food, a lifestyle that Muslims simply do not indulge in.
More on Muslim health issues:
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Egyptians Question the Health of Their Tap Water
If It’s Not Organic, It’s Not Halal (4 Ethical Zabiha Principles)