A common misconception is that muslims are not permitted to touch alcohol, but the truth behind it is very different. To say that alcohol cannot be used on the basis that the Quran forbids it is wrong.

 

These commonly held beliefs are purely traditional and based on customary jurisprudence – but have no foundation in Quranic prohibitions.

 

The first point to note is that the Quran is the final authority for muslims and the source of all Islamic law. This is confirmed in verse 6:114: “Shall I seek other than God as the authority of law, when He has revealed to you this book fully detailed?” And also 5.44, which says: “Those who do not rule in accordance with God’s guidance are disbelievers.”

 

To understand this, the key words to note are ‘forbidden’ and ‘alcohol’.  The word ‘alcohol’ is not in the Quran. The word used is ‘khamar’ which means intoxicant. This includes alcohol, but can mean any substance such as a drug or depressant that alters a person’s state of mind or body. The Quran says about khamar: “…there is gross harm and some benefits for all people. But their potential to cause harm is greater than their benefit.” [Verse 2:219]. The good is obviously in its sensible use for medical purposes and the harm is from abuse of an otherwise useful substance.

 

The word ‘forbidden’ (Arabic: haram) is never applied for khamar in the Quran. If it was, then drugs such as morphine and preparations which contain alcohol can also not be used. However, the Quran strongly advises only against the abuse of khamar. Considering that its abuse can cause great harm, this guidance is necessary. But this is not prescriptive or law – it’s only guidance. Had God wanted to prohibit khamar, or even specifically alcohol, could He not have done so? Then surely God would have used the word haram which means to forbid, as He has done elsewhere, for example verses 6:145 and 7:33. The words khamar and alcohol are both Arabic, words which God surely knows. We know from verse 20:52 that God does not forget or make mistakes. Had God explicitly wanted to forbid or restrict alcohol, He would have done so directly and without beating about the bush, as some people imply.

 

Looking back in history, it was the muslims who introduced vineyards and wine into Sicily and while not a significant force in the wine market today, as recently as the 1950s Algeria exported more wine than France, Italy and Spain put together. Even now, Tunisa and other Muslim North African countries produce a popular range of wines sold around the world.

 

Wine and oil in plenty are signs of a flourishing community. As a mark of prosperity God’s messenger Joseph announced that in his Misr oil and wine will flow. It is apparent that people in Joseph’s time enjoyed drinking wine and it was not forbidden. Some descriptions in the Quran of a heavenly life are of course allegorical illustrations. What exactly will the superlative pleasures be, we don’t really know, but metaphorical descriptions of pleasures mean that it is a comparison with something already known in this life. Among the delights in heaven are intoxicating drinks (khamr), if intoxicating drinks are forbidden in this life, then how can the metaphor be an encouraging aspiration? In verse 4:43 believers are instructed not to go about their daily tasks while inebriated. Why would this be necessary if intoxicants are forbidden? Furthermore, the Quran says that this is the same Deen as before and that God’s way does not change, therefore we must accept that no gradual changes were made, concluding in the prohibition of intoxicants .[1]

 

Along with other Muslim countries such as Egypt, Turkey and Malaysia, Pakistan also produces alcoholic beverages; mainly beer and spirits for local consumption. Established in 1860, The Murree Brewing Company, now one of the top companies in Pakistan, produces world class prize-winning whisky. It’s also no secret that many of the elite from these and other Muslim countries are no teetotallers.

In the late 1970’s, the largest wholesale supplier of alcoholic beverages in Scotland was a Muslim, and this trade continues to be plied by Muslims throughout the United Kingdom. There are hundreds, if not thousands of Muslim retailers who earn or have earned their living selling alcohol as part of their business. Many of the mosques in Britain were built partly with money from alcohol sales, with donations of money provided by Muslim shopkeepers and restaurateurs. Imams from local mosques continue to accept and indeed encourage donations from local businessmen who deal in alcohol, money which now provides, as it has always done, their wages and the upkeep of the mosques they administer. While they publicly condemn alcohol, they continue to benefit from it indirectly and surreptitiously. Indeed it is going to be a struggle to stop Muslim shopkeepers from selling alcohol or contributing their money to local mosques. Without a doubt, as the Quran says, there is harm in khamar, but would it not be better to be realistic and accept the that the Quran does not make alcohol haram than to be hypocritical about its everyday use?

 

Finally, a verse from the Quran: “Say: ‘Do you note how God sends down to you all kinds of provisions, then you render some of them unlawful and some lawful?’ Say: “Did God give you permission to do this? Or, do you fabricate lies and attribute them to God?’ ” [Verse 10:59].

 

 

[1] Intoxicants: (Arabic: khamr). See verses and footnotes 2:219; 4:43; 5:90; 12:36; 12:41; 12:49; 16:67; 47:15. See verses 33:62; 42:13; 46:9.