8.9 Intoxicating liquors

8.9 Intoxicating liquors

The drink prohibited in the Qur’an is described under the name khamar meaning any intoxicating thing that clouds or obscures the intellect. The Qur’anic verses reveal that prohibition of alcohol was not introduced overnight. In the first stage it was pointed out that its harm outweighed the benefits.

(2:219) They ask thee about strong drink and games of chance. Say in both of them is great sin and some advantages for men, and their sin is greater than their advantage.

The next stage was when the Muslims were prohibited from coming to the mosque while drunk.

(4:43) O ye who believe! Draw not near unto prayer when ye are drunken, till ye know that which ye utter[…]

Finally intoxicating liquors were prohibited as the handiwork of the devil.

(5:90) O ye who believe! Strong drink and games of chance and idols and divining arrows are only an infamy of devil’s handiwork. Leave it aside in order that ye may succeed.

(5:91) The devil only desires to cause enmity and hatred to spring in your midst by means of intoxicants and games of chance, and to turn you from rememberence of Allah and from (His) worship. Will you then refrain?

In this connection I would like to quote the following extract from a handout titled The Islamic View on the Prohibition of Alcohol, by S.M Bleher.

Everybody would admit that there are problems with alcohol: drink driving, for example, or violent crimes in which alcohol plays a part. Yet most agree that the moderate consumption of alcohol as is customary in western society does not do much harm. Let’s take a hard look at the facts:

Alcohol is a bigger problem than we tend to admit, and it starts at an early age. According to government publications on the state of public health (1993) 20% of 9 to 15 year olds have had their first alcoholic drink by the age of 8, and 89% by the age of 15. 12% (more than one tenth!) of 11 to 15 year olds are regular drinkers. And according to ‘social trends’ (HMSO 1994), almost a third of the males living in Britain consume alcohol above sensible limits (consumption above sensible limits is lower in women with 11% of the total). Besides clear convictions for drunkenness or drink driving, courts are kept busy with numerous offences committed under the influence of alcohol, from domestic violence (including child battering) to serious vandalism or grievous bodily harm. The Government’s Health and Safety Executive jointly with the Health Department and Department of Employment had to publish policies on the ‘problem drinker at work’; and the National Heath Service spends large amounts of scarce resources on illness caused or exacerbated by alcohol. Every Christmas there is a nation-wide campaign against drink driving. Government representatives lament the state of the nation’s health and drinking habits, but don’t do much more. There is a great deal of tax revenue in the sale of alcoholic beverages.

Islam takes a different view. It values the moral and spiritual health of a nation as much as its physical well being. It considers anything that interferes with the normal working of the mind, numbs our senses, thereby reducing our level of shame or responsibility, or clouds our perception as harmful (this includes alcohol as well as other drugs altering our mind). And, recognising that different people react quite differently to the same stimulant, it does not leave judgement, as to how much is acceptable, to them. Too many people thought they had control over their drinking habit, yet ended up having ‘one glass too many’. Islam categorically states that if a substance can destroy the clarity of the mind in large quantities, it is harmful even in minute quantities. Islam, therefore, advocates a total prohibition of narcotic drugs, including alcohol. It forbids the use, not just the abuse of these substances.13