Islamic understanding of Intoxicants

What does Islam Say about Substances?

The Arabic word for intoxicant mentioned in the Quran is ‘khamr’ and derives from the root word ‘khamara’ that literally means to cover, veil and hide as well as to possess, sieze or overcome. Therefore, khamr refers to any substance that covers, overcomes or befogs the mind and the intellect. Anyone who has ever found themselevs in a drunken state will understand the meaning of this definition. When intoxicated ,under the influence of alcohol, drugs or other substances it can feel as though the mind is under a cloud of fog and it can be very difficult to make rational decisions.

Therefore, substances such as alcohol, cocaine, cannabis and so on are forbidden in Islam, whether it is consumed in small or large quantities.

Jaabir  may  Allaah  be  pleased  with  him narrated that the Messenger of Allaah  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ) said: “Whatever intoxicates in a greater quantity is also unlawful in a small quantity.” [At-Tirmithi, Abu Daawood & Ibn Maajah]

A Historical Review of the Prohibition of Substances in Islam

When the Qur’an was irevealed in Mecca in Saudi Arabia, the popular culture of socializing through the drinking of alcohol existed, similar to the cultures that exist today in Western countries. In the early years of Islam, alcohol. was not prohibited at first.

The first Qur’anic verse that was revealed regarding alcohol is as follows, “…concerning alcoholic drink and gambling…In them is great sin, and some benefits for men, but the sin of them is greater than their benefit” (2:219). Through this verse Allah rbegan to reveal His dislike of alcohol and other intoxicants and gambling and although He did not forbid them at this stage, many Muslims became abstinent immediately.  Others reduced or curtailed their drinking and because they understood that Allah disliked it, they began to develop feelings of guilt and were concerned that they might be sinning (Badri, 1976). T

Here we can take a lesson, that the early Muslims preferred not to displease Allah over something He had yet to make haraam (forbidden) for them. Allah was paving the way for further Qur’anic revelations that would cause the companions to think about alcohol and gambling differently.

The second command  Allah revealed appears in Surah Baqara, “O you who believe! Do not go near prayer when you are intoxicated until you know (well) what you say…” (Qur’an, 4:43).

This verse further emphasised Allah’s dislike of substances that intoxicate, and although at this stage, it was still permissible for them to drink, many gave up at this point as they knew that anything that prevented them from prayer could not be a good thing.

Finally, the last verse concerning intoxicants was revealed and this completely outlawed the use of substances, as follows: “O you who believe! Intoxicants and gambling. . . are an abomination of Shaitaan’s handiwork, so avoid strictly all that in order that you may be successful”(Qur’an, 5:90).

Islamic scholars teach that by the time this verse was revealed, faith in – and love of – God was firmly established in the hearts of the early Muslims, which enabled them to become immediately abstinent from alcohol.Those companions who had already drunk that day, vomitted the alcohol out of their system as soon as they heard this new verse. Those who had bottles of wine, poured it into the streets.  It has been documented that the streets of Madinah were flowing with rivers of wine.

By the time the Allah prohibitted alcohol the early Muslims were more able to accept this because they had become spirituality strong and the eeman in their hearts were high. This demonstrates that Islam recognizes that becoming abstinent from intoxicants is not always easy and that building up our eeman (faith and belief in Allah) is a huge part of our journey to recovery.

Why were Substances Prohibited?

Using substances is considered to be a major sin in Islam. The verse 2:219 mentioned above recognizes that intoxicants have some purposes for humankind; yet at the same time the verse reminds the reader that the harm outweighs any benefits derived from those qualities (Ali-Northcott, 2012)

Scholars have determined some factors that contribute to the impermissibility of the substance, as follows;

  • Wasteful of wealth
  • Detrimental to the health of the user
  • Detrimental to the health of others
  • Takes one out of ones senses
  • Impairs the physical motor skills
  • Impairs rational thinking

Islam recognises the negative impact intoxicants have on society as well as the individual. As well as the medical problems associated with alcohol and drugs, intoxicants are often to blame for family breakdown, prostitution, trafficing, domestic violence and so on.  Therefore, Islam takes a preventative approach so that such problems can be avoided.

Not only does Islam completely outlaw the imbibing of intoxicants, it also forbids a person from all dealings concerned with the production, distribution and selling of them.  This is illustrated in the following saying of the Prophet Muhammad;

“God’s curse falls on ten groups of people who deal with alcohol. The one who distils it, the one for whom it has been distilled, the one who drinks it, the one who transports it, the one to who it has been brought, the one whom serves it, the one who sells it, the one who utilizes money from it, the one who buys it and the one who buys it for someone else.”  (Sunan Ibn-I-Majah Volume 3, Book of Intoxicants, Chapter 30 Hadith No. 3380).

How does Islam view the root of addiction?

Scientists have spent millions of dollars trying to identify a gene that causes addiction. They have never found it. Islam does not recognise that Allah has created certain people with this disadvantage. Rather, we recognise that every child is born sinless, upon the natural state of being (fitra) having recognised Allah has our Creator and born into the state of Islam.

“When thy Lord drew forth from the Children of Adam – from their loins – their descendants, and made them testify concerning themselves, (saying): “Am I not your Lord (who cherishes and sustains you)?”- They said: “Yea! We do testify!” (This), lest ye should say on the Day of Judgment: “Of this we were never mindful”:

(Quran, 7:172)

Once the child is born, he or she has a right to be raised with good parenting and with the intention of helping the child to acheive closeness to Allah, by worshipping Him. Although, environmental factors can be taken into account, substance misuse in Islam is seen as sinfulness resulting from a sickness of the heart.

Islamic scholars suggest that a contributing factor that causes an individual to turn to substances is a diminished sense of faith in God (see Michalak, Trocki, & Katz, 2009) and an inability to control ones desires, stemming from a sickness of the heart (Imani, 1992). T

A heart void of the remembrance of Allah is a sick heart and when our eman is weak we can find ourselves more open to committing sins. As our eman increases we become more conscious of Allah being the All Seeing and All Hearing, and we want to please Him by staying away from sins and striving towards good deeds.

The early Muslims were able to to completely turn their lives around. They gave up many bad habits. Some of the companions engaged in terrible crimes prior to Islam.  This should give us hope, by taking them as our role models we can see that by enaging in Islamic practises we too, can achieve sobriety through on The Straight Path to Recovery, inshaAllah.

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