Is Alcohol Forbidden in Islam?

In many discussions I have witnessed regarding the subject of alcohol, the conclusion predominantly is that it has been `forbidden` or that it is `off-limits` regardless if the person debating is a follower of the Hadiths or is researching based on the laws of the Quran only.

This short article will attempt to put an end to the questions and debates on this issue by analyzing the straightforward verses relating to alcohol in the Quran:

"O you who believe, do not approach the Salat while you are intoxicated, until you know what you are saying. Nor if you have had intercourse, unless travelling, until you bathe. And if you are ill, or traveling, or one of you has excreted feces, or you had sexual contact with the women, and could not find water, then you shall select from the clean soil; you shall wipe your faces and hands. God is Pardoning, Forgiving." (4:43)

"O you who believe, intoxicants, and gambling, and altars, and arrows of chance are tools of affliction used by the devil. You shall avoid him so that you may be successful." (5:90) 

"They ask you about intoxicants and gambling. Say: “In them is great harm, and a benefit for the people; but their harm is greater than their benefit.” And they ask you how much are they to give, Say: “The excess.” It is thus that God clarifies for you the revelations that you may think." (2:219)

"And from the fruits of the palm trees and the grapes you make wine and a good provision. In that is a sign for a people who comprehend." (16:67)

"Is the example of Paradise; that the righteous have been promised with rivers of pure water, and rivers of milk whose taste does not change, and rivers of wine that are delicious for the drinkers, and rivers of strained honey, and for them in it are all kinds of fruits, and a forgiveness from their Lord; like that of those who abide in the Fire, and are given to drink boiling water that cuts-up their intestines?" (47:15)

The usual arguments presented on this subject are listed below with their relevant responses:

Argument # 1: Alcohol is `haram/forbidden`

This statement is usually uttered by followers of the Hadith or Ulema with no ability to provide direct evidence from the Quran. This statement is based on no knowledge or research as the Quran is very explicit in the items that are `haram` (see verse 5:3 for an example of how forbidden items are directly stated).

When confronted with obvious contradictions to their statement such as the verse (see 4:43) stating that Salat is not to be approached if a person is intoxicated, they will go into a spin that alcohol was permitted at the beginning of the Quran`s revelation as God did not want to scare people away from the new religion (God had no problem ripping the very fabric of their social and political and religious lives, but did not want to upset people by taking away their drink!). And that when Islam was established, God went ahead and forbade it.

Argument # 2: God tells us that alcohol  is `to be avoided` which is far stronger than being `haram/forbidden`.

This statement, although wrong, is somewhat creative. The debaters have decided to create a new category called `stronger than being forbidden` and they base their view on verse 5:90 which they claim God tells people to `avoid` alcohol and therefore this is more powerful than being forbidden as you have to make a conscious effort to even get out of places and situations where alcohol is present.

SHAKIR: O you who believe! intoxicants and games of chance and (sacrificing to) stones set up and (dividing by) arrows are only an uncleanness (Rijs), the Shaitan's work; shun it therefore that you may be successful. (5:90)

Why is this argument wrong?

Simply because the verse being quoted and used as evidence has been mistranslated.

The word in question is the Arabic `faijtanibuh`. Nearly all translators (and even Arabic speakers) automatically relate this word (which means: `avoid / stay-away`) as addressing the subject of alcohol quoted in the beginning of 5:90. What is obvious to a careful reader is that the wording ends with the `H` which is in Arabic called `dhameer` and is referring to a singular.

Now, the verse in question has two singular items that it may be referring to: 1. Rijs/Uncleanness, 2. Shaitan.

While the majority have obviously selected the `Rijs` to support their theory of alcohol being avoided, the verse is correctly referring to the Devil `Shaitan` as can be seen in the very next verse:

"The devil only wants to cause strife between you through intoxicants and gambling, and to repel you away from remembering God and from the Salat. Will you be deterred?" (5:91)

The correct translation therefore becomes:

"O you who believe, intoxicants, and gambling, and sacraments, and fortunes are foul tools used by the devil. You shall avoid him so that you may be successful." (5:90)

Argument # 3: Alcohol is `Ithm` (sin) and ithm has been forbidden.

This argument is based on verses 2:219 and 7:33.

As with point # 2, this argument is not valid based on a simply study of the Quranic text.

While `ithm/sin` is indeed clearly forbidden in 7:33, the verse linking alcohol with `ithm` is saying `fihima ithm` (`in them is ithm`) and not they are Ithm. Thus, alcohol in itself is not `Ithm` but may be used in a way that produces the `Ithm` (which is in-line with the previous point that the devil uses these tools against people).

Conclusion:

  1. Nowhere does God forbid alcohol in the Quran.
  2. God informs us that Salat is not to be approached while intoxicated. This nullifies the `haram` argument in its infancy.
  3. God tells us heaven will have rivers of alcohol as well as milk and honey. This again nullifies the `haram` argument as no pig or blood or any other `haram` elements are made available.
  4. The verse used most to outlaw alcohol speaks of the `devil` and that he should be avoided (not the alcohol).

Cleary alcohol is not forbidden in Islam and the only restriction found in the Quran is to avoid making Salat if intoxicated.

However, having said all of the above, it must be noted that alcohol is to treated with `caution` as it may lead to sin and is one of the preferred tools used by the devil to entice humankind.

 


By Layth Al-Shaiban (laytth@hotmail.com)

English