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By Admir Rasic
Is it permissible for Muslims to drink alcohol?
When it comes to permissibility in Islam, there are five categories actions can fall into: forbidden, discouraged, neutral, encouraged, and required. Consuming alcohol falls into the forbidden (in Arabic haram) category. In order to give a complete answer, a little historical understanding is necessary. Alcohol, especially in the form of wine, was a very important part of social life for the pre-Islamic Arabs. As my former professor of Islamic studies, Dr. Jonathan AC Brown, puts it, “Life in the desert is boring. Alcohol kept people from losing their minds from boredom.” Since alcohol was a part of everyday life in 7th century Arabia, it was forbidden in stages in Islam.
The Quran states, “They ask you [Muhammad] about wine and gambling. Say, ‘In them there is great sin and [some] benefits for mankind, but their sin is greater than their benefit” (2:219). In the early years of Islam, drinking and gambling were discouraged, but not explicitly prohibited. The next stage of prohibition was a direct order. The Quran states, “O you who believe! Approach not as-salat (the daily prayers) when you are in a drunken state until you know (the meaning) of what you utter” (4:43). At this point it was forbidden for Muslims to pray while intoxicated, although consuming alcohol in general remains discouraged. The complete ban on consuming alcohol was the final stage. The Quran reads, “O you who believe! Wine, and gambling, and idols, and divining arrows are but a means of defilement, of Satan’s doing. So avoid it, that haply you may prosper” (5:90). It is important to note that wine is understood as any intoxicants in Islam and not specific to one type of beverage. Also, the word for avoid in Arabic really means “never come even near” so it is understood as “absolutely forbidden.”
When I consider the facts, it makes sense to me that alcohol is forbidden. On average, 3.3 million people die annually from alcohol related deaths. It is the third highest preventable cause of death in the United States. Alcohol misuse costs the U.S economy over $220 billion annually. The human cost of suffering from alcoholism is immeasurable. Family members, and especially children, suffer financially, spiritually, and sometimes physically by belonging to a household that misuses alcohol. Conversely, studies show that moderate consumption of alcohol (one to two drinks per day) seems to have positive health effects, as the Quran affirms. However, the risks also outweigh the benefits. My everyday decisions affect my daughter, and I want to make sure that every decision I make comes from a place of sobriety and reason. I do not wish to have my judgment possibly clouded by intoxicants.
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