Islam and Alcoholic Drinks
By: Ayatullah Sayyid Mujtaba Musavi Lari
Islam is a faith which appeals to reason and conscience. Since alcohol is injurious to reason and diminishes a man's intelligence, moral sense, logical powers and spiritual sensitiveness, any drop of it is strictly forbidden to any Muslim.
It is tragic to think of the millions of liters of spirituous liquors consumed. The sole result is that they deprive the world of a portion of that mature manliness which distinguishes the human from the animal. They can hinder mankind's attainment of that pure and acceptable destiny of perfectness which was God's plan.
Islam appeared in a society in which alcohol was rife—and not only forbade the filthy habit but was able to extirpate it with the ignorance and corruption, the selfishness, violence and resultant misery which it had caused. All this blessed benefaction to mankind was started by one inspired man, one man of God who by the strength of his faith revolted against the tyranny of addiction and called men to freedom from slavery to such petty liquids, setting them on the royal road to life.
He showed that intoxication is a sin, explained its harmful nature and destructive powers, and issued his prohibition in the light of an appeal to commonsense and to conscience. In the Sura "The Table Spread" (Maida, 5, v.9) it was revealed through him: "Intoxicants excite enmity and hatred amongst you and hinder you from the remembrance of God and from the fulfillment of His commands and statutes; and slavery to them diverts you from the sole road of happiness and leads to excess and abomination."
A group who were busy drinking at the moment when this passage was revealed and uttered, promptly under its influence went into the streets and broke the vessels containing intoxicating liquors and spilt their contents on the ground. It was related by Uns bin Malik that: "When that verse was revealed we were holding a drinking party in the house of Abu Talha when the Prophet's voice reached us, calling: 'O Muslims! Take note that intoxicants are a forbidden sin and should be poured out in the streets!' Abu Talha asked me to take all the intoxicants from his house and pour them out for him, which I did, taking them into the street where some of the bottles broke while others were washed and cleansed. So much was poured out on the streets of Medina that day that for a long time thereafter, whenever it rained, the color and smell of the wine came up from the ground."
The prohibition was obeyed with rapidity throughout all the lands under Islamic sway ; a swelling tide of character and pursuit of higher intellectual, social and industrial objectives swiftly followed.
To this very day Muslims are to be found in every corner of the world who have jealously guarded their lips and lives from the contamination of alcohol. Indeed, for many of them the mere thought of touching the stuff has never entered their minds. So profoundly endemic has the sounder habit become.
One of the defects of human laws is that the capricious changeableness of human nature affects them. For instance, when America introduced prohibition and tried to enforce it by police methods, the result was the opposite of that which was desired; and bootlegging, contraband and illegal consumption of liquor loosened respect not merely for that law, but for all law, while social behavior and morals slid downhill at avalanche speed. Islam was successful in enforcing prohibition because it came with the force of a divine command, a God-inspired statute, interpreted to men in the light of reason and commonsense.
It is true that in America many well-meaning people had undertaken a far-reaching propaganda throughout the states against spirituous liquors, with books and films and speeches, for a decade, trying to explain the injuries to the spirit, to the body, to morals and to the finances of the individual and the nation which alcohol causes. The trouble was that the American efforts had their origin in the human idealism of a majority, who voted the 18th (Prohibition) Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1918. An agonizing reappraisal was forced upon these idealists after 14 years of tragic experience: and in 1933 they were compelled to revoke Prohibition.
Their experience proved the ancient rule that lawgiving which goes too far beyond the moral level of the governed, provokes a human reaction which not only brings the particular law into disrepute, but the whole body of law with it; and a foul mob of unscrupulous gangsters rises to pander to the illicit desires which no legislation can extirpate. These mobs fight each other for control of the vast profits which come from moon shining and from bootlegging, and all the contraband that smuggles the object of unregenerate human craving.
How different is Islam's dependence on basic unalterable principles divinely dictated, germane to the inner essence of human nature in its creation, talents and destiny, and therefore those by which any sound human community must live. These are expressed in a flat, matter-of-fact pronouncement which reason comprehends and commonsense accepts as true. No propaganda —no expensive advertising—just a simple statement of a divine decree by God's Prophet (on whom be peace). No man-pleasing—no pandering to human frailty —no eye-service — no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof. It is not fear of punishment but love of God which keeps Muslims on the strait and narrow.
No human legislation can hope to track down every wrongdoer and transgressor, let alone exact from each his condign punishment. It is easy to dodge the eye of human law. But the eye of God is everywhere at all times. The Muslim's conscience knows this, and in reverence obeys in private as well as in public. The censor and the lawgiver is within him. The orderliness of God's creations is spread before his eyes, and he knows he should reflect a similar divine order in his private life and in the life of the society of which he is a part. The same Providence which supplies the commandment also supplies the spiritual power to put it into practice. For He is "King of doomsday and Master of both worlds" — this present and the next.
In such divinely inspired law, man finds the security which the mariner or the traveller over the trackless desert finds in the unmovable polestar. Such a law does not change with fashion or passion. It is outside and above the chops and changes of human caprice. It is the expression of a realistic assessment of man in the light of truth. It calls him to express that truth in his living and thinking—truth which is the sustenance of the soul, eternal, impassible, transcendent over winds of change and the transports of self-will.
Civilization boasts its safeguarding of "freedom"; and the West bases its government on "the public will" expressed in representative government. But "representative" of whom? As we said above, a "majority" of only 51% automatically means the suppression of the will of 49% of the people "represented". On the principle of "one man, one vote", if the 51% are gangsters, the nation will be represented 100% by gangsters. Is there any difference between such "majority rule" and enslavement of minorities?
Only obedience to the single sovereign authority of the transcendent divine lawgiver will lead men "to respect one another and seek the common good." Education will not do it. A thief is bad: an educated thief is worse: a thief educated to wield all the weapons of modern technology is worse still. An English leader proclaims that the West must repent in dust and ashes for the disaster which its introduction of alcohol to untutored and innocent races has caused. "Alcohol turns the cool heads of the frozen north into blockheads: but the warm hearts of sunnier lands into those of raging demons," he says.
Voltaire wrote: "Islam takes its faith seriously, and therefore puts the ban of sacrilege on habits like gambling and alcohol; and dubs them mere carnal gaming." Jules la Bourn writes: "Pre-Muslim Arabs drank to excess, gambled, took as many women to wife as they liked, and divorced whenever they felt like it. Widows were part of the patrimony of the heir, who married or sold them as he saw most profitable. Islam changed all that." Professor Edward Montay adds: "The Qur'an forbade human sacrifice and the exposure of unwanted daughters, alcohol and many other degrading practices. The consequent advance in culture is so great as to win the Prophet the title of one of the biggest benefactors of the human race known to history."