Alcohol in the Qur'an

Over the years, the detrimental effects of alcohol are well recorded even in the West. The highway statistics of deaths, because of the influence of alcohol, are astronomically high. The US Congress once voted for the prohibition of alcohol in 1917, when cars were rare on the streets. Organizations such as MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) sprang up in recent years to elevate social conscience about the use of alcohol.

But alcohol as a source of intoxication is poles apart from its beneficial aspects. Quite often, alcohol is needed as preservative and solvent in medicines.

Nevertheless, very frequently, sermons are heard in the mosques to avoid those medicines that contain alcohol. Islamic journals could hardly be browsed without stumbling upon an article, advising the devout Muslims to check the alcohol and other ingredients in medicines. Even tooth paste - a cleaning substance, is not spared by the 'self-appointed' Islam-defenders.

Contrary to popular belief, a Koranic verse of a very revered Sura describes the alcoholic drinks as gifted with "good nourishment", and or, "wholesome drink". Naturally, this Koranic verse may inspire a few truth-seekers to trace their memories on the Koran, and relate the journals and news coverage, on the life-enhancing marvels of selective alcoholic drinks.

In reality, the medical researchers, in recent years, have confirmed that the taking of certain red wine in a prescribed limit has been proven to be highly deterrent against heart-attack. The effectiveness of alcohol, in the prevention of infection during oral surgery - and for that matter most surgery is indisputable. Nevertheless, the mullahs, the Imams, as well as those scholars, heavily brain-washed with the corrupted Islamic value based on the Hadith, are adamant in their belief that the Koran prohibits alcohol even as a life saver.

Does the Koran really define alcohol as 'haram'? Let us examine the source - the Koran, and keep the Hadith not to intervene in this issue.

The characteristics of haram or prohibitions found in the Koran usually begin with the expression "forbidden for you." In some occasions, it gives a strong warning of hellfire. For instance, about the prohibiton of swine meat, the Koran says:

"Forbidden unto you are carrion and blood and swine-flesh.... (5. Al Ma' idah: 3).

The Koranic prohibition about murder states:

"Whosoever slayeth a believer of set purpose, his reward is hellfire for ever..." (4. An-Nisa: 93).

There are five major verses in the Koran that deal with the alcoholic drinks. Selecting by their sequential positions in the Koran, the first one contains the most interesting dogma and will be addressed at the end of this topic.

The second verse advises the followers of Islam not to engage in prayers when they are under the influence of alcohol. The Koranic text is:

"O you who believe! Draw not near unto prayer when you are drunken, till you know that which you utter,. ...." (4. An-Nisa: 43).

Obviously, the expression "forbidden for you" is not found anywhere nearby. Nor the threat of 'hellfire' is directly or indirectly traceable in the verse. Rather, the deterrence applies to praying under alcoholic influence.

The third verse defines alcoholic drinks as "an infamy of Satan's handiwork." and indicates the believer that to succeed in life, it is advisable to stay away from alcoholic drinks. The Koranic text is:

"O you who believe! Strong drink and games of chance and idols and divining arrows are only an infamy of Satan's handiwork. Leave it aside in order that ye may succeed." (5. Al Ma' idah: 90).

Strikingly, no word of forbiddance or the fear of hellfire is found here to classify alcohol as 'haram'. More to the point, the advice: "leave it aside in order that you may succeed" relates to earthy success in life. No doubt, career successes are often impaired and impeded because of the excessive influence of alcohol. Amazingly, the Koran places rightful emphasis on it.

The fourth verse relates to food in general including alcohol, and assures the believers not to be too concerned about consuming food, as long as they do 'good work'. The phrase 'good work' has been emphasized repeatedly. Here again the hellfire and words of forbiddance are missing. The verse states:

"There shall be no sin unto those who believe and do good works for what they may have consumed. So be mindful of your duty and do good works; and again: be mindful of your duty, and believe; and once again: be mindful of your duty, and do right. Allah loveth the good." (5. Al Ma' idah :93).

As stated earlier, the fifth verse relates to a significant Sura of the Koran. It describes the alcoholic drinks as gifted with "good nourishment", and or, "wholesome drink" (16.An Nahl : 67) The Koran, as translated, reads:

"And from the fruit of the palm and the grapes, you get out wholesome drink and food: behold, in this also is a sign for those who are wise (Yusuf Ali).

And of the fruits of the date-palm, and grapes, whence you derive strong drink and good nourishment. Lo! therein is indeed a portent for people who have sense. (Pickthall).

Now we come to the first verse that we skipped in the beginning for analytical discussion. Here, alcoholic drinks are qualified as having both 'detrimental' and 'beneficial' aspects for the mankind. The verse places emphasis on the 'detriment' (interpreted as sin) than on the 'benefit'. This, in reality, is the status of alcohol even today and its interface with numerous life saving usage besides medicines. Incidentally, the word 'alcohol' is derived from the Arabic word 'alkuhul' and it originates during the Golden Periods of Islam.

What God addressed to prophet Muhammad in the Koran, can logically be understood as:

"They question you about strong drink and games of chance. Say: In both is great abuse and usefulness for mankind; but the abusive side of them is greater than their usefulness." (2. Al-Baqarah :219).

It is worth mentioning here that the word "abuse" has been replaced as "sin" by the early promoters of Islam. It is really a mind-boggling issue whether the word "sin" is an appropriate opposite of "usefulness"?

Philologists or the experts of languages tell us that they find groups of languages that have similar root words and similar ways of expressing the same idea. They, however, find in other areas of languages, an altogether different grammatical scheme. With all these linguistic characteristics, the antonyms or the opposite words of all languages are the same. For instance the opposite of 'good' is 'bad' and definitely not 'dog'. Thus, when the opposite of 'usefulness' is arbitrarily made to mean 'sin', question arises as to the credence to the interpretation and its validity.

Despite having total absence of the fear of hellfire and prohibitive connotation, it is really a thought provoking question: Why alcohol is known as a prohibited (haram) drink in Islam? Perhaps, the answer is not apparent, rather buried under the rubbles of historical antiquities.

Unlike today, access to the Koran was limited to a few people in the early days of Islam because of the absence of paper and printing press. Paper, though an ancient commodity in China, came to the Arab's hand and subsequently to the West only during the tenth century. And not until Johann Gutenberg's invention of printing press in the fifteenth century, the mass production of any book was feasible, including the Koran.

Obviously, those religious elite, possessing copies of the Koran in parchment with golden calligraphy, had no rival in challenging their marinated interpretation, with their own recipe. Over the years, the unchallenged interpretations got ingrained in the religious belief and kept passing from generations to generations.

Unfortunately, that's the way the Koranic verses have been interpreted, translated and propagated. In other words, the Koranic interpreters had to bend the linguistic rules to suit the whim of Islam's promoters during those early days, closer to 300 years after Prophet Muhammad.

History tells us that the Seljuk warlords were mostly originated in Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan. Towards the collapsing days of the Abbasid dynasty, the Seljuks captured the administration of the Abbasid kingdom. The Abbasid Sultans remained happy only with a yearly allowance and hearing their names mentioned during the "Khutba" of the Friday-prayer.

After analysing the historical sequence of the Abbasid dynasty, some historians are of the opinion that it was the Seljuk generals who chopped-off alcoholic drinks for their soldiers in the battlefield. A few years before the Seljuks, the Buyids systematically had formulated their theological and judicial ideas. And more than ever the ulemas got prominance in functioning as the interpreters of Islamic laws.

The Seljuks, previously exposed to Christianity, were the new converts to Islam. It was a juncture of the time when the dominance of Bukhari's Hadith was more prevalent than the Koran. After all, when Bukhari insisted that his Hadith was no inferior to the Koran, it was normal for the Seljuks to place more importance on the Hadith - presumed to be the updated Islamic guidance than adhering to the Quran - viewed as old and outdated. The Hadith provided the Seljuks all the ammunition to rule the country in the false pretext of Muhammad's precedents.

In fact, most Sharia Laws were developed during this Seljuk period of Islam based on the Hadith. The dreadful powers of Fatwa, apostasy, stoning to death, honour killing, Jihad with a reward of 70 virgins in the heaven and many more were enshrined in the Hadith while they were totally absent in the Koran. Obviously it doesn't leave any room for the researchers to ponder other than to conclude that the prohibition of alcohol too was a strategy of the Seljuks. It was largely the Seljuks that tossed Islam from its original orbit.

It is an irony that the alcoholic drink had been a normal beverage during the time of the prophets prior to Muhammad. Wine was a significant item when Jesus was having his last supper with his twelve disciples. Even one of his miracles involved the making of wine for the guests in a party. In fact, the use of wine could be traced in the Old Testament to all the notable prophets including Moses, David and Solomon.

The Koran tells us that wine is one of the significant attributes and rewards in the Heaven. Yet the early Imams arbitrarily made it a forbidden drink despite the fact that neither the word, 'forbidden', nor the warning of 'hellfire' relates to alcohol in the verses of the Koran.

Presumably, it is a high time for the rational Muslims to ponder and read the verses of the Koran for themselves instead of relying solely on the hearsay. After all, the Islamic God Himself has declared the Koran as

"....a lecture in Arabic containing no crookedness.... (Aa-Zumar 28).

Could the Koran then be so complicated? Have the Muslims not been assured in the very preamble of Surah Al-Baqarah that the Koran is a "guidance"?

Misrepresented by the ill-educated mullahs, misinterpreting the message of the Koran for political and military purposes, the Muslims are perceived today as backward people with nothing to offer to the rest of the world. While God allows even the forbidden swine-flesh to save life, what could be more evil than avoiding medicines because of their alcoholic contents?

Source: Translation of the Koran, by Yusuf Ali, Pickthall and Shakir; The Holly Bible, King James Version; Classical Islam, Von Grunebaum.


By Mesbahuddin Faruq (