Since man fermented the first beverage some 10,000 years ago, his fascination with this mystical drink has never diminished. In almost every society and every nation throughout the course of history, the use of alcohol has known no bounds. Even in the 21st century, wherein the adverse consequences of alcohol have become glaringly apparent, its use still remains extensive and forms part of the social fabric regardless of whether a country is predominantly Muslim-majority or not. For hundreds of years, poets have wooed it, with thousands of couplets having been written glorifying its precariously alluring nature. The twelfth-century philosopher and poet Omar Khayyam writes:
“And much as Wine has played the Infidel And robbed me of my robe of Honour, well… I often wonder what the vintners buy… One half so precious as the stuff they sell”The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam of Nishapur, Translation by Edward Fitzgerald, verse 71
Amongst the Arabs of pre-Islamic Arabia, alcohol was consumed like water – so much so that one of the seven famous hangings in the Ka’bah was inscribed with the following opening couplet:
الاهبى بصحنك فصبحينا
فلا تبقى خمر الاندرينا
“Oh my beloved, awaken from your slumber and give us wine from your large vessel. Let us drink soo much, that no wine remains with the merchants of Syria.”Amar bin Kulthum, 4th Hanging of سبع معلقات , Tafseer e Kabir, Hazrat Musleh Maud, Vol 2, page 480
It has not only been a popular beverage in the east but also appears throughout western literature. William Shakespeare is just one of the many playwrights and authors to mention it in his works. He writes:
“I would give all my fame for a pot of ale.”Henry V, Act 1, Scene 3, William Shakespeare
In this essay, I will endeavour to demonstrate the negative aspects of alcohol from a spiritual, physical, moral, social and economic standpoint through the lens of the true teachings of Islam, which, being a complete code of conduct for man, lay down rational and pragmatic guidelines with respect to this subject.
The consumption of alcohol, as noted earlier, was deep-rooted in pre-Islamic Arab culture and even with the advent of Islam and the mission of establishing peace in the world assigned to the Holy Prophet saabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" alcohol continued to be consumed in some small circles amongst his companions.
While the injunction prohibiting alcohol in Islam remains axiomatic, the profound pragmatism with which the Qur’an addresses this issue is plain from just a cursory reading of the following verse from Surah Al Baqarah, wherein God Almighty states:
يَسْأَلُونَكَ عَنِ الْخَمْرِ وَالْمَيْسِرِ قُلْ فِيهِمَا إِثْمٌ كَبِيرٌ وَمَنَافِعُ لِلنَّاسِ وَإِثْمُهُمَا أَكْبَرُ مِنْ نَفْعِهِمَا
“They ask thee concerning wine and the game of hazard. Say: ‘In both there is great sin and also some advantages for men; but their sin is greater than their advantage.”The Holy Quran (2:220)
The verse in question establishes a law whereby an individual has been fully equipped to judge through an objective perspective whether the consumption of alcohol is in his best interests. In acknowledging the benefits of alcohol, and yet cautioning against its risks and demerits, The Qur’an has adopted a nonpartisan approach towards the subject, affording complete liberty to the free-thinking and rational individual to reach an informed decision.
Hazrat Khalifatul Masih II writes in his commentary of the said verse,
“God Almighty has not just stated, “Do not consume Alcohol,” in fact, He has openly stated that although it may have benefits, the disadvantages outweigh the benefits… In this verse there is a golden principle outlined by God Almighty and that is, if something has greater benefits than its risks, you can adopt it. On the other hand if its risks are greater, then refrain from adopting that practice.”Tafseer e Kabir, Vol 2 page 480
Since God Almighty has stated in The Qur’an that alcohol has some benefits as well as great dangers, it is expedient to study briefly the minimal advantages found in alcohol, before proceeding to its more far-reaching adverse disadvantages.
Alcohol, when consumed in moderation, can lead to a 25%- 40%Goldberg IJ, Mosca L, Piano MR, Fisher EA. AHA Science Advisory: Wine and your heart, 2001 reduction in the chance of suffering a range of cardiovascular diseases including heart attacks and strokes by increasing the levels of “good cholesterol” in the body. Moreover, studies have revealed that a moderate drinker is less likely to suffer type II diabetes as opposed to a nondrinkerLeitzmann MF, Giovannucci EL, Stampfer MJ, et al. Prospective study of alcohol consumption patterns in relation to symptomatic gallstone disease in men, 1999. In light of these studies, the underlying factor with respect to alcohol consumption appears to be the quantity of alcohol consumed with the overriding guideline being “moderate” drinking.
However, notwithstanding such guidelines, the meaning of “moderate” remains subjective and relative to every individual with no uniform rule having been devised that may be applied across the board. Each person responds differently to different liquors and a one-size-fits-all approach is thereby rendered sterile. Furthermore, adherence to these guidelines remains generally low, as the UK Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit concluded in 2003 that in the United Kingdom 40% of male drinking sessions are classified as binge drinking. Such statistics lend cogent support to the overwhelming addictive nature of alcohol, which is one of the primary reasons why Islam forbids its consumption.
Therefore, notwithstanding research in support of the health benefits of alcohol, there exists a vast array of compelling evidence to prove that alcohol is akin to poison for the human body. Importantly, alcohol consumed in large quantities causes irreparable damage to the liver culminating in liver cirrhosis, a condition that may be life-threatening.
Moreover, although moderate consumption of alcohol is beneficial for the heart, consumers are left to walk on a tight rope since immoderate use of the same in fact damages the heart muscle. The World Cancer Research Fund concluded in 2007 that there is a strong link between alcohol consumption and developing a wide range of cancers, including, cancers of the mouth, pharynx, oesophagus, breast, colon and rectumWorld Cancer Research Fund, A Global Perspective, Washington, 2007. Thus, the health risks associated with alcohol are interminable and continue to grow.
These adverse implications of alcohol consumption are not limited to the consumer alone, but affect society at large. One only need to visit one’s local high street on a Friday or Saturday night to witness the chaos caused as a direct consequence of alcohol abuse. Hundreds of extra police officers line the streets of every major city merely in order to ensure the safety of those not under the influence of alcohol from those who are drunk.
The US Department of Justice released shocking figures linking alcohol and crime, stating that alcohol plays a role in one in three cases of violent crime in the USUS Department of Justice, Crime Characteristics, 2006. Astonishingly still, in the US alone, more than 16,000 people die each year in automobile accidents in which alcohol is involvedImpaired driving, Centres for disease control and prevention. In the UK, alcohol is responsible for 22,000 premature deaths each year, with a further 1.3 million children affected due to drinking problems of parents. Moreover, the links between alcohol abuse and sexual aggression and domestic violence are well known, with the Rape Crisis Network Ireland publishing two reports on January 28th, 2013 wherein the role of alcohol in sexual violence has been highlighted.
Another study by researchers from the University of Tennessee has found that men under the influence of alcohol are more likely to perpetrate physical, psychological or sexual aggression against their partners. Notwithstanding these alarming findings, the alcohol trade remains a multi-billion pound industry and whilst its consumption brings in millions of pounds to the State through taxes, it is a burden on governments that fund it. It has been estimated that alcohol abuse costs more than $185 billion dollars a yearUpdating Estimates of the Economic Costs of Alcohol Abuse in the United States. National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. This is a remarkable figure, which if spent on rendering aid to impoverished nations could go a long way in eradicating poverty. Instead, it is spent cleaning up after a social vice which has minimal advantages. It is owing to these devastating consequences that God Almighty provides in the following verse:
إِنَّمَا يُرِيدُ الشَّيْطَانُ أَنْ يُوقِعَ بَيْنَكُمُ الْعَدَاوَةَ وَالْبَغْضَاءَ فِي الْخَمْرِ وَالْمَيْسِرِ وَيَصُدَّكُمْ عَنْ ذِكْرِ اللَّهِ وَعَنِ الصَّلَاةِ
“Satan desires only to create enmity and hatred among you by means of wine and the game of hazard, and to keep you back from the remembrance of Allah and from Prayer.”The Holy Quran (5:92)
The verse strikes at the root of the purpose of man’s creation – which in light of the foregoing Qur’anic teachings is to worship God. Alcohol, which renders useless man’s intellectual capabilities, has therefore been referred to as something that inadvertently renders vain man’s spiritual capabilities and prevents him from discharging his fundamental obligations of worshipping God. The Qur’an reiterates this as man’s sole purpose in life,
“We have not created the Jinn or man but that they may worship me”.The Holy Quran (51:57)
Consequently, Islam will undoubtedly forbid any practice that prevents man from achieving this overarching goal in life. In order to carry out the rights owed to God (Huqooq-Ullah) and the rights owed to mankind (Huqooq-ul-Ibad), a Muslim must be in full control of his conscious, mind and actions, and to the extent that alcohol inhibits the execution of these duties, it has been prohibited. Hence, the reason for the Arabic word used to denote wine is: ‘الخمر’, which means:
“any substance that causes intoxication and results in the loss of all sense”.Aqrab Al Mauwrid
These words are echoed by Encyclopaedia Britannica, which provides,
“The effects of the consumption of alcohol are almost due to its actions upon the nervous system. In the advanced stage of drunkenness, the intellectual process of judgement and control are suspended.”Encyclopedia Brittanica under heading “Alcohol”
It is axiomatic then that man’s sense of morality and his sense of moral duty to himself and other human beings is guided by his ability to exercise his intellectual and spiritual faculties, which become severely impaired under the influence of alcohol. The dilution of these vital capabilities inadvertently diminishes man’s capacity to discharge his moral duties owed to himself and to others.
The Encyclopaedia of Religious Ethics illuminatingly provides:
“There is universal testimony as to close relationship between excessive drinking and breaches of the moral law and the law of the state. This is a direct consequence of the paralysis of the higher faculties, intellectual and moral and the resulting free play given to the lower inclination.”Encyclopaedia of Religion & Ethics, vol 1, under “Alcohol”
This latter reference to a lower inclination and it being allowed to run wild in the absence of core intellectual faculties is particularly revealing in so far as highlights the moral, spiritual and intellectual regression of man when in a state of intoxication – a state that often reduces man to a beast from the pre-civilisation era with no control over even his most basic instincts. Such characteristics have become increasingly rampant in society, with drunkards seen loitering outside bars and clubs and urinating on the streets. Such a state stands antithetical to God Almighty’s final law that was revealed to ensure that man makes the attainment of his moral pinnacle the centre of his life and spiritual journey. The Qur’an describes believers as the best of creation, yet if man acts in an obscene manner, defaming public property and abusing his fellow human beings, then he falls short of achieving even an iota of what is expected of him in this life.
In light of the foregoing discussion, the temporal excellence of the teachings of the Holy Qur’an with respect to alcohol and its consumption is self-illuminating in so far as the Qur’an provides a rationalist and objective approach to the subject – alluding to alcohol’s benefits and yet underscoring its disadvantages. The tipping point for lending allegiance to prohibiting alcohol is revealed as man’s inability to control his natural urges thereby leaving him at risk of mitigating his vital faculties of intellect, spirituality and inner morality – that form the sole purpose of man’s life in accordance with Islam. This religious philosophy is completely aligned with modern scientific and empirical research that has made plain the debilitating ability of alcohol to reduce man to animalistic behaviour entirely divorced from his purpose of creation. Therefore, it is incumbent on Muslims to highlight the disadvantages of this mother of all evilsIslam’s Response to Contemporary Issues, page 156, as Hazrat Khalifat-ul Masih IV writes in his book, “Islam’s Response to Contemporary Issues,”
“Crimes go hand in hand with both liquor and gambling. Miseries and tragedies of many homes where the peace of family life is shattered is the ever-increasing by-product of drinking and gambling. Many a broken home and ruined marriage are their direct outcome. Alcoholism has serious economic and social consequences as indicated by the magazine Scientific American. Apart from domestic violence, there is child abuse, incest and rape due to the removal of inhibitions under the influence of alcohol and fatal alcohol syndrome.”Islam’s Response to Contemporary Issues, page 158