by Afzal Tahir

This is in connection to my reply to a post that appeared on the Facebook wall regarding to views of one of the Pakistani politicians suggesting that those who drink alcohol in Pakistan must be hanged which in my opinion is an utter ignorance-based extremists position just to exploit the sentiments of ignorant masses and to avoid socio-political and socio-economic accountability.

In my short reply, I tried to explain that alcohol is not forbidden in early Islam but at a very later stage. There are loads of evidence in early Islamic history and its related literature. The fact that after, theory of abrogating and abrogated, the argument for and against alcohol drinking was a very contesting issue forcing scholars into new theological theories. Those who were against were unable to provide any evidence from within the Qur’an and tried to look outside the field of revelation where Greek culture had played an important role in interpreting Qur’an but those in favour were relying wholly on Qur’an. The Hanafi-School which was the main school and official religion of the empire rejected the notion to forbid alcohol based on Qur’an. The reason that the alcoholic drink which was used in Mecca and Medina was made out of dates. They call it nabidh but there is no mention in Qur’an anything about nabidh or to forbid it (haram). Islam uses the term haram of which is a law maxim of its legal classification borrowed from the Greek philosophy of stoicism originated by Zeno.

I would like to draw readers' attentions toward the Qur’anic verses on this subject with English translation at least by two English translators to prove that Qur’an condemns alcohol drinking when people misuse it but it praise it when people use it wisely yet never declared it forbidden and assigned specific penalty for violation.

The following two verses of Qur’an 2:219 and 5:90 using the term khamr along with maysir (intoxication and games of chance) side by side in both verses. It is clear that when people were gambling and drinking, there are all chances of a fight, especially in old days. There were no clubs or casinos of modern standards where safety and security have to be in place before people start drinking and playing. So, these verses do have a specific context of their time and their message, and every text and law, and rules are always time and environment-specific. 

We see no penalty at all for alcohol drinking as well as gambling in Qur’an. The penalty for alcohol drinking which jurists formulated in their academic work is 80 lashes on the claim that Syedna Umar ibn al Khattab had started it, but, again there is no penalty for gambling and al-Suyūṭī give a very rich description in his work when Syedna Umar came under attack and subsequently died and I quote:

“Abu Rafi’ said: Abu Lu’lu’ah, the slave of al-Mughirah, used to make mills.  Al-Mughirah used to demand as revenue from him four dirhams a day.  He met ‘Umar and said, ‘Amir al-Mu’minin, al-Mughirah is being very heavy on me, so speak to him.’ He said, Behave well towards your master,’ – and ‘Umar’s intention was to speak to al-Mughirah about it – so he (the slave) became angry and said, ‘His justice encompasses all of the people except for me,’ and he secretly decided to kill him.  He took a dagger, sharpened it, and poisoned it.  ‘Umar used to say, ‘Straighten your ranks,’ before he pronounced the takbir.  He came and stood opposite him in the rank, stabbed him in his shoulder and side, and ‘Umar fell.  Then he stabbed thirteen other men with him, of whom six died.  ‘Umar was carried to his family.  The sun was about to rise so ‘Abd ar-Rahman ibn ‘Awf led the people in prayer with the two shortest surahs. ‘Umar was brought some nabidh (a drink made from dates left to soak in water) and he drank it and it came out of his wound, but it wasn’t yet distinct (from the blood).  So they gave him some milk to drink and it came out of his wound.” [1]

He was taken from the mosque to his house and firstly he was given nabidh. What was “nabidh”? In Mecca and Medina alcohol was known as nabidh which was made of dates rather than graphs or rice as in ancient China, but, never known as “khimar”. The word “khimar” in Qur’an was alien to the people of Medina, that is why no proper translation of it? Some are calling it the wine others translate it as a strong drink but most philologists are of the view that this word came into the new language of Qur’anic Arabic from Aramaic which was the spoken and written language of Syria at that time along with Greek. Is it possible that if alcohol was forbidden at that time then the companions and family would allow to give it to Caliph to drink? Is it possible when Caliph himself was still alive and in full conscious allow them to provide something which is haram by Qur’an and he himself had allocated penalty for it? Here is the evidence to note the falsification of later-day Jurisitic work in the name of Prophet and his companions. This was in fact a falsification along with many more in the name of Hzrt Umar by Hanbilite Jurists after 200 years.  

The Qur'anic verse 2:219 which was taken by Hanbilite jurists as a prescription to include alcohol in the list of "haram"  items, is only an argument of "munafa"  (profit) and "asim" (loss) which they translated as "sin" to create a space for philosophical speculation. The Qur'an verse 5:90 which was not taken as a prescription to declare alcohol as a "haram" item by early jurists but some modern theologians take its language used by Qur'an "al-Shaitan" in an extreme context because the term "shaitan"  planted in every new born child in the Muslim household is something is responsible for every evil thing but they are ignoring that the subject verse neither declaring alcohol "haram" (forbidden) nor assigning any penalty but leaving it on person's own choice. 

Most scholars (Muhammad Asad  “shun it”, Muhammad Pickthall “leave it aside”, Yusuf Ali “eschew such”, Shakir “shun it”, Wahiduddin Khan “avoid them”, Dr. Laleh Bakhtiar “avoid them”, T. B Irving “turn aside from”, Dr. Mustafa Khattab “shun them”, Safi Kaskas “avoid them”, Abdul Hye “avoid them”, The Study Qur’an “avoid it”, [The Monotheist Group] 2011 Edition “you shall avoid”, Abdul Haleem “shun them”use the phrase "avoid them" which mean the option is open to a person to choose it or leave it which mean it is an only moral aspect not legal. 

Sahih International: 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. (2:219)
Pickthall: They question thee about strong drink and games of chance. Say: In both is great sin, and (some) utility for men; but the sin of them is greater than their usefulness. And they ask thee what they ought to spend. Say: that which is superfluous. Thus Allah maketh plain to you (His) revelations, that haply ye may reflect. (2:219)

Sahih International: 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 (5:90).
Pickthall: O ye 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 (5:90).

Now, I will present two verses on the same subject, the Qur’an verses 4:43 and 16:67. Verse 4:43 which is again dealing with a specific event of its time, instructing people don’t pray if they are under the influence of alcoholic drink. The interesting aspect is that Qur'an verse 4:43 came after Qur'an verse 2:219 which was taken as a prescription to justify the reason to declare alcohol "haram" (forbidden) and Qur'an verse 5:90 which associates alcohol with evil (Al-Shaitan). There is only one exception where one of the  Pakistani scholars of modern time, Fazlur Rahman (d. 1988) was of the opposite view to the early position of Qur'an commentators that verse 4:43 came after 2:219 and 5:90. His views are based on rational speculation rather than evidence. The Qur'an uses the term in this verse 4:43 and 16:67 "sakara" rather than "khamr"  and the message reflects, is, to praising alcohol along with food rather than condemn it or to associate it with evil (al-Shaitan) or warning to believers to avoid it. 

Verse 16:67 uses the same term sakara instead of khamr and it praises the alcoholic drink for people of wisdom. This is the reason that the brilliant Muslim philosopher Abu ‘Ali al-Husayn ibn Sina (980-1037) almost an author of 450 works was of the view that alcohol is not forbidden for philosophers. He had never stopped drinking even he had lived during the time when the conservative school of Hanbilism was dominating the religion of the empire.

Those who can read Arabic can see themselves the term ‘khamr’ and ‘sakara’ in a context where the message in verse 16:67 is free of its time and environmental conditions (signs for people of wisdom) because fruits and foods are our sources of survival (nature is the most important source of knowledge), and scientific evidence suggests that early human diets were fruits rather bread or meat. Human had started eating fruits to survive and alcohol came into being by an accident (Phillips R. 2014) long before even human had learned to grow crops or had started to eat bread and rice, because, by storing fruits such as berries and graphs crushing of its own weight, the probability is squeezing the juice out of it which by catching yeast from its own skins or nearby trees making it to foment. This is how alcohol came into being.   Now read these two verses and make up your mind rather listen to a mullah where he distorts every aspect of Islam and spread ignorance:

Sahih International: 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 (4:43).
Pickthall: O ye who believe! Draw not near unto prayer when ye are drunken, till ye know that which ye utter, nor when ye are polluted, save when journeying upon the road, till ye have bathed. And if ye be ill, or on a journey, or one of you cometh from the closet, or ye have touched women, and ye find not water, then go to high clean soil and rub your faces and your hands (therewith). Lo! Allah is Benign, Forgiving (4:43).

Read this verse and see if the Qur’an declaring alcohol as a forbidden substance or diet for humans, if not then from where later day Jurists are using it as a tool to promote ignorance and to deprive people of an alternative venue for socialization to mosques. It is Certain that opposition to alcohol is linked to a self-imposed fear in the minds of the religious class of falling attendance of the mosque which naturally would reduce their political influence over society on one hand and falling of financial in-come on other. Alcohol had provided an alternative venue of socialization to church in Europe that is why in 18the century, the Church had started to re-interpreting the New Testament by suggesting that Christ didn’t drink alcohol but fruit juice, which was a clear departure from thousands of years of old belief and practices.

Sahih International: And from the fruits of the palm trees and grapevines you take intoxicant and good provision. Indeed in that is a sign for a people who reason (16:67).
Pickthall: And of the fruits of the date-palm, and grapes, whence ye derive strong drink and (also) good nourishment. Lo! therein is indeed a portent for people who have sense (16:67).

Here is the verse which tells us what is "haram" (forbidden) and what is not as per Qur’an leave no room for linguistic or philosophical speculation.  The Qur’an in verse 5:3 clearly mentioning the items which are forbidden (haram). Even a layperson can read and make up his or her mind, if, alcohol is included in the list of "haram" (forbidden) items, if, not then from where the term "haram" (forbidden), which is a law maxim in the classification of Islamic jurisprudence, came in to declare alcohol as haram (forbidden) for people of the Islamic faith? This is called the extra Qur’an or out of revelation field approach. The Qur’an verse 5:3 which use very clear and direct language "haram to alaikum" (forbidden to you) is as follows:

Sahih International: Prohibited to you are dead animals, blood, the flesh of swine, and that which has been dedicated to other than Allah , and [those animals] killed by strangling or by a violent blow or by a head-long fall or by the goring of horns, and those from which a wild animal has eaten, except what you [are able to] slaughter [before its death], and those which are sacrificed on stone altars, and [prohibited is] that you seek decision through divining arrows. That is grave disobedience. This day those who disbelieve have despaired of [defeating] your religion; so fear them not, but fear Me. This day I have perfected for you your religion and completed Myfavor upon you and have approved for you Islam as religion. But whoever is forced by severe hunger with no inclination to sin - then indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful (5:3).
Pickthall: Forbidden unto you (for food) are carrion and blood and swineflesh, and that which hath been dedicated unto any other than Allah, and the strangled, and the dead through beating, and the dead through falling from a height, and that which hath been killed by (the goring of) horns, and the devoured of wild beasts, saving that which ye make lawful (by the death-stroke), and that which hath been immolated unto idols. And (forbidden is it) that ye swear by the divining arrows. This is an abomination. This day are those who disbelieve in despair of (ever harming) your religion; so fear them not, fear Me! This day have I perfected your religion for you and completed My favour unto you, and have chosen for you as religion al-Islam. Whoso is forced by hunger, not by will, to sin: (for him) lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful (5:3).

The set principle that “everything is allowed until it is clearly forbidden by the Qur’an” as it appears in Qur’an 5:3.

The verse Qur’an 2:219 was taken by Hanbilite Jurists as the basis to forbid alcohol not directly because it doesn’t say so, but, through analogy. The word “asim kabir” translated as the “great sin” but they are ignoring the basic linguistic tool which is in modern time known as the theory of relativity. “Asim Kabir” (a great sin) used in relation to “Munafa” (profit) by bringing in the principle of proximity which is an option for everyone to make a judgment, not in absolute terms which is “haram” (forbidden) a law maximum. Moreover, if the question had settled during the time of Hazrat Umar, then, is it possible for a continuing debate till the time of Imam Abu Yousuf when the debate between Imama Shafi'i and Imam Abu Yousuf on the question of alcohol to be declared as "haram" (forbidden) or not? Though Shafi'i's position was an academic of law Abu Yousuf was not only academic of law but Chief Justice of the Empire of the time. 

They had translated “asim” as sin and then borrowed the Greek Principle of syllogism “all men are mortal, Ansar is a man, therefore Ansar is mortal”. All sins are forbidden, alcohol is a sin because (Qur’an 2:219) say so, therefore alcohol is forbidden. The problem is that Qur’an 2:219 doesn’t say so, but, it is using the word “asim kabir” in relation to “munafah” and the closest translation is a loss rather sin.  I, myself, had checked the wording of Qur’an 2: 219 in the surviving Qur'anic text of Ibn Masood which doesn’t mention “asim kabir” but “asim kaseer”. Kabir (big in size) and Kaseer (more in quantity) are totally different in terms of their meaning subject to identify an object or substance.

In view of the above, the major internal revolt against prophetic Islam from the tribal code of ethics was led by Caliph Mutwakil and Hanbalite jurists are always overlooked by scholars.

[1] The History of the Khalifahs (3rd Revised edition) a translation of the Chapters on al-Khulafa’ ar-Rashidun by Jalal ad-Din as-Suyuti translated by Abdassamad Clarke 1415/1995, p. 138, Ta-Ha Publishers Ltd. Unit 4, Windsor Grove London SE27 9NT UK.

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