One Glass Too Many....The Islamic View on The Prohibition of Alcohol


Sahib Mustaqim Bleher


Everybody would admit that there are problems with alcohol. Drink driving for example. Or violent crimes, in which alcohol abuse plays a part. Yet most argue that the moderate consumption of alcohol as is customary in our society does not do much harm. Let's take a hard look at the facts:

Alcohol is a bigger problem than we tend to admit, costing us dearly. According to the UK government's national statistics for England, published in 2013, a quarter of adults aged 16 and over in England were classified as "hazardous drinkers", hazardous drinking being defined as "a pattern of drinking which brings about the risk of physical or psychological harm". 1.6 million are considered to be problem drinkers. In 2011 there were a total of 6923 deaths directly related to alcohol consumption, and alcohol misuse costs the NHS 3.5 billion a year or 120 per tax payer. The trends are similar for the rest of the UK, and the problem starts early. According to Drinkaware, 38% percent of children aged 11-15, for whom alcohol remains illegal, have had a drink. In addition to health problems from drinking, there are social costs, from drink driving to domestic violence (including child battering), serious vandalism and grievous bodily harm. According to Alcohol Concern, the annual cost of alcohol related crime in England is 11 billion. In 2012 there were 9930 casualties of drink driving accidents, 230 of whom were killed. The Institute of Alcohol Studies figures of March 2014 estimate the cost of lost productivity in the workplace due to alcohol at 7.3 billion a year. Their survey data indicate that a third of employees admitted having attended work with a hangover and 15% of having been drunk at work. The Faculty of Public Health estimates that 70% of peak time admissions at hospital accident and emergency units are alcohol related and that alcohol consumption is a direct cause of a thousand suicides every year. Every Christmas there is a nation-wide campaign against drink-driving, but overall governments spend very little on prevention, possibly because there is a great deal of tax revenue in the sale of alcoholic beverages, totalling 14.6 billion in 2010, and although the total cost of alcohol misuse to the economy is almost twice as much, only a small proportion of that is paid directly from the public purse, the remainder having to be borne by private enterprise and individuals.

Overall, because of cultural habits, Western society belittles the problems related to alcohol consumption. Islam takes a different view. It values the moral and spiritual health of a nation as much as its physical well-being. It considers anything that interferes with the normal working of the mind, numbs our senses, thereby reducing our level of shame or responsibility, or clouds our perception as harmful (this includes alcohol as well as other drugs altering the mind). And recognising that different people react quite differently to the same stimulant, it does not leave the judgment, as to how much is acceptable to them. Too many people thought they had control over their drinking habit, yet ended up having "one glass too many". Islam categorically states that if a substance can destroy the clarity of the mind in large quantities, it is harmful even in minute quantities. Islam, therefore, advocates a total prohibition of narcotic drugs, including alcohol. It forbids the use, not just the abuse of these substances.

Many would by now point to the prohibition period in America and how it utterly failed by driving the habit underground. As God is aware of human nature, Islam acknowledges how entrenched such habits can be in people and that they cannot be changes overnight. The gradual prohibition of alcohol has to go hand in hand with an educational campaign to build a moral awareness and spiritual identity in our society. When Islam was first established over fourteen centuries ago in Arabia, continuing the Judeo-Christian tradition of prophets from Abraham over Moses, Jesus to Muhammad - peace be upon them all -, the harm that alcohol caused was well recognised, but it was not immediately eradicated. In a first revelation, the Qur'an, the Holy Book for Muslims, acknowledged the benefits of alcohol (for example its medical applications), but pointed out that its harms out-weighed those benefits by far. Next, it forbade believers from praying whilst under the influence of alcohol, thus making it clear that spirituality and drunkenness don't mix. Finally, many years later, was altogether prohibited as the handiwork of the devil. By then the early Muslims who had lived through the spiritual and moral teachings of the prophet Muhammad - peace be upon him - had realised the harms of the drug as well as the benefits of the Islamic system of values as the foundation of a strong and caring society. They happily spilled whatever alcoholic beverage was left in their possession, and the streets of Medinah were reported as having been awash with the stuff.

Modern society has come a long way since those days. We pride ourselves of great technical achievements. Yet we have also fallen back into the evils of drunkenness and the harm it does to so many people, because we have lost our moral conscience and sense of direction. We forgot that there is more to human civilisation than material advancement. Drained of true humanity, many seek escape and consolation in drink and drugs. However, this situation is not irreversible. Whilst the hypocritical approach of the American prohibition, where law enforcement agencies collided with gangster syndicates, was bound to fail, Islam shows the way how a pure and content society can be build which need not be ashamed of its darker side and need not numb its senses in guilt and desperation. Next time, before you tend to drown your worries in another glass, to be followed by another, and yet another, put it down and find out about the Islamic alternative.