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Why Is Alcohol Forbidden?

Question and answer details
Dave
2013/11/11
As-salamu `alaykum.  Is drinking in Islam haram? Is it because drinking leads to transgressions? What if one consumes little alcohol? Is it okay to drink then? Does the same holds true for drugs? What if we take very little or if we were just curious to try? 
Idris Tawfiq
Answer
Salam Dave,

Thank you for your question and for contacting Ask About Islam.

Why would a person want to take something harmful into his body? Why would a rational human being want to dull his senses and cloud his judgment? In a world given to drowning its sorrows in alcohol and drugs, helping people to forget the harsh realities of life and allowing them to enjoy a brief moment of happiness brought about by drink, Islam has a total prohibition on alcohol and all intoxicants. They are forbidden to Muslims. For many people, the problems of this world are too much to bear. Having no faith, or not enough faith to sustain them and give them hope, they turn to drinking.

For the devout Muslim, it is sufficient reason to shun alcohol that Almighty Allah forbids it. This, alone, is enough for him to avoid alcohol and all intoxicants. However, Muslims know that Allah cares for us with an infinite care and has given every advice for us to avoid harm and to do good things that will benefit us.

We need to step back just for a moment into the world of pre-Islamic Arabia to see where this prohibition comes from and how the early Muslims were led, little by little, to give up drinking alcohol altogether.

Allah never asks of us more than we can do, so His injunction against alcohol was delivered in stages. Life in the Arabian Peninsula before Islam was very harsh and people had to be very tough in order to survive. Not only the inhospitable nature of the land, but fierce feuding between tribes, the despicable practice of burying unwanted female babies alive, slavery, and immorality were common.

The people turned to worshipping idols as their way out, beseeching statues of wood and stone to save them. The drinking of alcohol and its associated drunkenness and bad behavior were symptoms of the solace they sought from life's troubles. Alcohol was readily available and shops selling it were open at all times to quench the people's thirst for respite from their woes.

When the message of Islam was first delivered, then, alcohol was readily available and frequently consumed. At first, the Muslims were told in the Qur'an that they should not turn up drunk for the Prayers in the mosque:

{O you who believe! Approach not prayers with a mind befogged, until you can understand all that you say} (An-Nisaa' 4:43)

How could they concentrate on praising Allah if their minds were clouded by strong drink? It still remained possible, though, for them to continue consuming wine and other beverages. At a later stage, another revelation was received which told them that there was some good to be found in alcohol, as people would tell us today, but that this was outweighed by the bad:

{They ask you concerning alcohol and gambling. Say: ‘In them is a great sin, and some benefits for men, but the sin is far greater than the benefits.} (Al-Baqarah 2:219)

Muslims began to question, after the revelation of this verse, whether perhaps drinking alcohol was the best thing for them to do, even though it was not yet forbidden, and many stopped drinking from this time onward. Drunkenness began to be seen as something shameful and not befitting the high moral standards of which Muslims were called to be the best examples. Muslims would help each other in giving up alcohol, supporting and encouraging those who found it difficult.

Finally, a verse was revealed to the Muslims in Madinah which totally forbade alcohol:

{You who believe! Intoxicants and gambling, (dedication of) stones, and (divination by) arrows, are an abomination of Satan's handiwork. Eschew such abomination, that you may prosper. Satan's plan is (but) to excite enmity and hatred between you, with intoxicants and gambling, and hinder you from the remembrance of Allah, and from prayer; will you not then abstain?} (Al-Ma'idah 5:90-91)

From that day forward, alcohol became forbidden. The word used in the Qur'an, by the way, is Al-khamr, which comes from a word meaning "to ferment," so it is usually translated as wine or alcohol. However, as more modern mind-altering drugs have become available, these, too, have been understood to fall within the prohibition.

So, we can see how Almighty Allah weaned the Muslims away from what was harmful to them. At first, Allah hinted that it might not be good since it would affect their Prayers. Then He said that it did have some good but was mostly bad. Finally, Allah declared it to be the work of Satan.

The early Muslims could not have known what recent medical and scientific studies have shown about alcohol. They could not have known, for example, that it acts as a depressant to the nervous system and that it can cause shrinking of the brain and even senility. They could not have known that alcohol can affect the digestive system, cause high blood pressure, even in small amounts increase the risk of brain hemorrhage and strokes, or that it can affect sleep patterns. Subhan Allah that these things were prevented for Muslims 1400 years ago!

So, the answer to why alcohol is forbidden is clear: It is harmful to us. It is harmful to us, physically, and it also harms us as people. Why would we, as Muslims, need to take solace in drink? One of the saddest features of life in the Western world, for example, is how workers look forward all week long to the end of the week when they can go out together to the pub. This often leads to drunkenness and a lowering of one's guard, which in turn leads to other bad behaviors. How sad that many people, because of loneliness and depression, turn to drink and to drugs to fill in that desperate need for affection or fulfillment in life. What a tragedy that alcohol has torn apart families and broken many lives and careers.

In a world where they feel loved and respected, people would not need these artificial stimulants to make them feel good. One of the amazing features of the Muslim world is that Muslims can go out together for fun and can be genuinely happy, without even thinking of the need for alcohol.

It is a pity that many non-Muslims consider the consumption of alcohol a social necessity, whereas it is not a necessity at all. A glass of wine or a glass of whisky is just not necessary to have fun, so why increase the risk of illness as a result? Why allow your mind to become less than lucid because of alcohol and other intoxicants? Why make a fool of yourself in front of others or say things which you might regret later, when you can socialize with friends and family just as easily over fruit juices or soft drinks?

The fact is that people crave happiness and they will find it in whatever form they know. The pursuit of material things, the relentless urge to improve one's position at the expense of others and the desperate need to be wanted are all symptoms of a society without faith. For Muslims, there is no need for drugs or strong drink. Happiness comes from strong family values and for the respect which we give to each other as true brothers and sisters. The real happiness in life, though, comes from Almighty Allah, the source of all goodness. We can show the rest of the world what life is really about by the way we live as good Muslims.

Brother Mohsen Haredy, a previous member of Ask About Islam Editorial Staff, added the following:

When Islam prohibited alcohol and drugs, it prohibited them whether they are taken in much or little amounts. If a person is allowed to take the little, the much will be taken later. This prohibition is based on the Shari`ah objective of maintaining and keeping safe one's mind. `Abdullah ibn `Umar reported that:

 

I heard `Umar (ibn Al-Khattab) while he was on the pulpit of the Prophet saying, "Now then O people! The revelation about the prohibition of alcoholic drinks was revealed, and alcoholic drinks are extracted from five things: grapes, dates, honey, wheat, and barley. And the alcoholic drink is that which confuses and stupefies the mind." (Al-Bukhari)

The Prophet is reported to have said:

"Of that which intoxicates in a large amount, a small amount is haram." (Ahmad, Abu Dawud and At-Tirmidhi)

"If a bucketful intoxicates, a sip of it (the thing that intoxicates) is haram." (Abu Dawud and At-Tirmidhi.)

We hope this answers your question. Please keep in touch.

Salam.

Useful Links:

How to Escape an Addiction

A New Muslim and a New Life

Why Do Some Muslims Smoke?

Signs of the Day of Judgment


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