Dr Mohammad Arif Shahar
Dr Mohd Faiz Md Tahir
Last Update: 19 July 2020
To ponder on the lessons in the Quran with regards to alcohol and how it can be applied in contemporary society.
- The Quran prohibits consumption of alcohol (intoxicants) in stages
- These stages can be looked at in chronological order:
- Education with regards to the sin of alcohol in comparison to its benefit (the ‘why’) and advice for alcohol (intoxicants) abstinence (the ‘how’).
- Empowering the society by providing a conducive environment for alcohol abstinence.
- Enforcement (absolute prohibition of alcohol and intoxicants in-total).
- In order to apply these lessons in contemporary society, we can look at it through different perspectives, namely:
- Individual perspective (a personal perspective at the individual level).
- Societal perspective (the perspective of a community with no legal rights to enforce the law or execute punishments).
- Authority’s perspective (the perspective of a governing body having the legal rights to enforce the law and execute punishment in a society).
- Different group of people (i.e. individual vs. society vs. authority) have different role in terms of capabilities and responsibilities (i.e. providing education, empowerment and enforcement) in order to create an alcohol- or intoxicants-free society.
- The success of creating an alcohol- or intoxicant-free society depends on each group understanding their own capabilities and responsibilities; their attitude towards each other and their interactions between one another.
The purpose of this writing is to contemplate on how the Quran managed to create a society which abstained themselves from alcohol. A transformation of a drinking society (pre-Islamic) to a nation that considered alcohol an abomination of the Devil in just 23 years. The notion that alcohol is prohibited is not only embraced in their mind but is also put to action where one fifth of the global population today subscribe to.
Moving on a bit further, advancing from merely pondering on history, we contemplate on how these lessons can be applied to modern society.
First and foremost, it is a known fact that alcohol and intoxicants causes personal health problems such as alcohol addiction, chronic liver disease and alcoholic cardiomyopathies; as well as societal mishaps such as domestic violence, children abuse and death from motor vehicle accidents (i.e. drinking and driving). However, in a society drench in consumption of alcohol, immediate abstinence is almost impossible. This was exactly the situation with the society of Muslim in the early Medinan period. The wife of the Prophet, Aisha (r.a.) narrated, “If the first thing to be revealed was: ‘Do not drink alcoholic drinks.’ people would have said, ‘We will never leave alcoholic drinks,’” (Sahih al-Bukhari: 4993).
Recognizing this notion gives us hope for an alcohol- and intoxicants-free society in our day and age. However, the transformation takes time.
Prohibition of alcohol: Where does it start and end?
It is His wisdom that God started of the prohibition of alcohol for a society that drinks with implementing education. He revealed to the Muslims, firstly, that the evil of alcohol was greater than its benefit (2:219). This ayah was revealed in the early Medinan period, just after the Muslims migrated to Medina.
He did not declared that its harm (the antonym of benefit) is greater, but rather its evil (sin) was mentioned. For the believer, doing evil (sin) was their greatest fear. Harm on the other hand does not brings the connotation of the punishment of hell-fire. People might still have the inclination to engage in drinking if they understand that alcohol is just harmful but not sinful. It is implied here that the first step to alcohol-free society is education; not merely an education, but a serious and strong way of emphasizing the subject (by mentioning ‘evil / sin’ rather than merely ‘harm’). We can think of it as God answering to people’s justification on the matter (which is the ‘why’).
In addition to that, in the same ayah, God instructed the believers to spend whatever is extra from their income in the path of God, thereby reducing the chances of them spending on alcohol (and gambling as well) according to the context of that ayah. On this matter, God is educating the ‘how to’.
At this juncture, God appeals to the human rational and intellect with regards to alcohol consumption.
Subsequently, God empowers the society to abstain from drinking. This is achieved by creating an environment where it is difficult for the believers to drink. God prohibited those who are drunk from praying (4:43). Since Muslims prayed five times daily, it would be fairly difficult for them to remain sober before prayers since each prayers are just hours apart. There would be a good chance that they avoid alcohol in order to be present for their regular prayers. In essence, this is part of empowerment.
Finally, during the late Medinan period, God revealed that alcohol consumption is the work of the devil and commanded the Muslims to stop! (fa-jtanibu-hu) (5:90), a direct and explicit prohibition of the consumption of alcohol (intoxicants). This was the enforcement stage. In contrast to what Aisha (r.a.) narrated earlier, Anas (r.a.) said this time that the Muslims complied and they voluntarily discard their alcohol stockpile till the streets of Medina was flooded with the drink (Sahih al-Bukhari: 2464).
How do we apply these lessons in current society
One must remember that all three stages of prohibition of alcohol have been revealed by God. The question is not which era are we comparable with? Or whether we are a society in the early or late Medinan period, but rather, the question is how do we apply these strategies in our current society?
Perhaps we can approach this via three perspectives:
- The individual perspectives
- The societal perspectives
- The authority’s perspective
The individual is capable of self-education and self-empowerment. However we have to acknowledge that some individuals require help. This is especially for those with alcohol addiction problems. The society should not be quick judge them; but provide them support for change towards alcohol abstinence. The authority should provide structured empowerment without creating stigma towards these individuals. Example is providing treatment for alcohol withdrawal.
A community has no legal rights to enforce laws against alcohol consumption. Their role in to educated people in their society about alcohol and provide support for people with alcohol addiction. They can also create an environment where abstinent is easier and drinking is much more difficult.
The authority has the legal rights to take action against those who drinks in public. This is a form of law enforcement. However the change in society would never happen in its entirety if the education and empowerment is not done. Imagine if people are not educated on ‘the why’ alcohol is harmful and ‘the how to’ avoid drinking. Imagine if the circumstances does not empower people to stop drinking (e.g. allowing advertisement of alcohol, facilitating the opening of brewery and collecting tax from the alcohol industry) and at the same time asking people to stop drinking. Would it work? Does it make sense?
In essence, all three levels or group of people need to work with each other to provide education, empowerment while allowing the authority enforce laws in order to create an alcohol- or intoxicant-free society.
An alcohol or intoxicant-free society can be achieved through education, empowerment and law enforcement. In our day and age, these stages can be implemented simultaneously. However different individuals and society may start at different stages.
All levels (individuals, society and authority) have different capabilities and responsibilities. In addition to that it is important that they understood each other’s strengths and limitations; in order to complement each other’s role. Their understanding of each other’s perspectives will also determine their attitude and response towards one another. The interactions between these three levels / group of people determine the formation of an alcohol free society.
Finally, one question for ourselves and others,
“who is up for a change?”
Sources from the Quran
Click the ayah number (e.g. 2:219) for more information
|2:219||They ask you about wine and gambling. Say, “In them is great sin and [yet, some] benefit for people. But their sin is greater than their benefit.” And they ask you what they should spend. Say, “The excess [beyond needs].” Thus Allah makes clear to you the verses [of revelation] that you might give thought.|
|4:43||O you who have believed, do not approach prayer while you are intoxicated until you know what you are saying or in a state of janabah, except those passing through [a place of prayer], until you have washed [your whole body]. And if you are ill or on a journey or one of you comes from the place of relieving himself or you have contacted women and find no water, then seek clean earth and wipe over your faces and your hands [with it]. Indeed, Allah is ever Pardoning and Forgiving.|
|5:90||O you who have believed, indeed, intoxicants, gambling, [sacrificing on] stone alters [to other than Allah], and divining arrows are but defilement from the work of Satan, so avoid it that you may be successful.|
Source from the Sunnah
Click on the hadith no (e.g. Sahih al-Bukhari: 4993) for more information
|Sahih al-Bukhari: 4993||While I was with Aisha, the mother of the Believers, a person from Iraq came and asked, “What type of shroud is the best?” `Aisha said, “May Allah be merciful to you! What does it matter?” He said, “O mother of the Believers! Show me (the copy of) your Qur’an,” She said, “Why?” He said, “In order to compile and arrange the Qur’an according to it, for people recite it with its Suras not in proper order.” `Aisha said, “What does it matter which part of it you read first? (Be informed) that the first thing that was revealed thereof was a Sura from Al-Mufassal, and in it was mentioned Paradise and the Fire. When the people embraced Islam, the Verses regarding legal and illegal things were revealed. If the first thing to be revealed was: ‘Do not drink alcoholic drinks.’ people would have said, ‘We will never leave alcoholic drinks,’ and if there had been revealed, ‘Do not commit illegal sexual intercourse, ‘they would have said, ‘We will never give up illegal sexual intercourse.’ While I was a young girl of playing age, the following Verse was revealed in Mecca to Muhammad: ‘Nay! But the Hour is their appointed time (for their full recompense), and the Hour will be more grievous and more bitter.’ (54.46) Sura Al-Baqara (The Cow) and Surat An-Nisa (The Women) were revealed while I was with him.” Then `Aisha took out the copy of the Qur’an for the man and dictated to him the Verses of the Suras (in their proper order) .|
|Sahih al-Bukhari: 2464||I was the butler of the people in the house of Abu Talha, and in those days drinks were prepared from dates. Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) ordered somebody to announce that alcoholic drinks had been prohibited. Abu Talha ordered me to go out and spill the wine. I went out and spilled it, and it flowed in the streets of Medina. Some people said, “Some people were killed and wine was still in their stomachs.” On that the Divine revelation came:– “On those who believe And do good deeds There is no blame For what they ate (in the past).”|
 Medinan period is the period after the Prophet migrate (Hijra) from Makkah to Medina. Scholars named the period before migration as the Makkan period of the Prophet’s mission.
 Compare this from the nationwide constitutional ban on the production, importation, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages in the United States from 1920 to 1933. How do they comply with the ban and was there illegal brewery during the time period?
 Translation of the ayah of the Quran is taken from Sahih International accessed through www.quran.com