They ask you concerning wine (Khamr) … 

(Quran, 2: 219) 

Muslims use the term alcohol as the name of the prohibited drink referred to in the Quran and Hadith as Khamr. In chemical terms alcohol is the name of a family of chemicals containing any number of organic groups plus any number of hydroxyl (OH) groups with similar and different properties. Chemical alcohol is produced by fermentation or synthesis. The term Khamr refers to the intoxicating compound produced when sugar in fruits, juices and grain is fermented. This is one specific chemical compound and is known as ethyl alcohol or ethanol.

In this article, we will examine the Divine guidance on alcohol, instructions from the Hadith and some of the scientific and health information concerning alcohol. For Muslims, when there is Divine guidance or Hadith on a subject, such as alcohol, that is all that matters. We include the scientific and health material for informational purposes and for the sake of argument.

In the pre-Islamic days, consumption of alcoholic beverages was common. Even many of the Sahaba consumed wine after embracing Islam. While drinking alcoholic beverages was forbidden in previous scriptures, people forgot or ignored this guidance and indulged in drink. With this backdrop, ALLAH (S) forbade the drinking of alcohol in 3 stages. First, in Surat Al-Baqara, ALLAH (S) states:

They ask you concerning wine and gambling. Say: “In them is great sin, and some profit, for men; but the sin is greater than the profit.” They ask you how much they are to spend; say: “What is beyond your needs.” Thus does Allah make clear to you His Signs: in order that you may consider. (Quran, 2: 219)

This was a notice that gambling and drinking alcohol are serious vices. While there may be some benefits in drinking, the harm is greater than the benefits. For some Muslims, this was sufficient notice to stop drinking but for others it was not a clear prohibition, so they continued to indulge in drinking.

After salat was prescribed, some Sahaba attended salat while under the influence of alcohol. Of course they could not concentrate properly in this state. One Sahabi was heard reciting Surat Al-Kafirun (Quran, 109) incorrectly. The Surat reads:

Say: O you that reject Faith!

I worship not that which you worship,

Nor will you worship that which I worship.

And I will not worship that which you have been wont to worship,

Nor will you worship that which I worship.

To you be your Way, and to me mine.

However, while under the influence of alcohol, the Sahabi incorrectly recited the Surat resulting in the meaning that he worshipped that which the Kafirun worshipped and they worshipped that which he worshipped.

Then ALLAH (S) revealed the aya in Surat An-Nisa (Quran, 4):

O you who believe! Approach not prayers with a mind befogged, until you can understand all that you say, nor in a state of ceremonial impurity (except when travelling on the road), until after washing your whole body. If you are ill, or on a journey, or one of you cometh from offices of nature, or you have been in contact with women, and you find no water, then take for yourselves clean sand or earth, and rub therewith your faces and hands. For Allah does blot out sins and forgive again and again. (Quran, 4: 43)

This prohibited salat while under the influence of alcohol. While some Sahaba may not have understood this as a total prohibition, it did limit the time available for drinking. If one plans to attend each jama’ah, and recognizing it takes 3-8 hours for the effects of alcohol to wear off and clear thinking to be restored, it is not possible to drink between the times of Thuhr and Isha. Since most people work between Fajr and Thuhr, this practically leaves the time after Isha for drinking. It was the Prophet’s (s) practice to sleep after Isha, so following this aya would leave little time to drink. Of course, the temptation was great, especially for those who were used to it, and they may have continued to drink and miss salat.

It is related that Umar (r) made a dua for a clear prohibition of alcoholic drinks and then the ayat in Surat Al Ma-ida (Quran, 5) was revealed:

O you who believe! intoxicants and gambling, (dedication of) stones, and (divination by) arrows, are an abomination of Satan’s handiwork: eschew such (abomination), that you may prosper. Satan’s plan is (but) to excite enmity and hatred between you, with intoxicants and gambling, and hinder you from the remembrance of Allah, and from prayer: will you not then abstain? (Quran, 5: 90-91)

This was the clear prohibition of alcohol and intoxicants. Now there was no loophole. In fact, ALLAH (S) did not say alcohol is haram. HE said “eschew” or turn aside from alcohol. Many scholars consider this as a stronger prohibition than just saying alcohol is haram. When these ayat were revealed and the word spread, those who had alcoholic drinks poured them out and it is said the streets of Madina flowed with alcoholic drinks. The Prophet (s) taught us in a number of Ahadith that all intoxicants are haram, all quantities large or small are haram, and any involvement with alcohol is haram. The latter lesson means it is not only haram to drink alcohol, it is also haram to buy it, sell it, transport it, manufacture it, grow the raw materials for it or in any other way be associated with it. This is what “eschew” means: HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH IT!

The Prophet (s) taught us much about alcohol and its evils. Among the teachings of the Prophet (s) are: 

  • that every intoxicant is forbidden 
  • that anything which intoxicates in large quantities is also forbidden in small quantities 
  • that we should not drink alcohol for it is the key to all evil 
  • that the salat of one who drinks will not be accepted for 40 days 
  • that alcohol is a disease, not a cure

As stated earlier, for Muslims, the Divine guidance and the Hadith we have discussed is all the evidence needed to avoid alcohol. There is no need for health or scientific information. We provide that information to demonstrate some of the known evils of disobeying the Divine guidance and consuming alcohol. 


Health Effects

We all know that ALLAH (S) is All-Knowing, so HE knows what turmoil will result from consuming alcohol. As we look at the scientific evidence and the statistics related to alcohol consumption, we find many evidences of the Divine guidance. Again, as stated earlier, Muslims do not require scientific evidence or statistics. It is clear to Muslims that when ALLAH (S) says something is not good for you, then it is not good for you. It may take many centuries to discover some of the reasons why it is not good. In fact, some things may never be discovered, or at least, not within our lifetimes. Some of the known effects of alcohol on the human body are:

  • Alcohol affects the nervous system reducing reaction times and feeling. Heavy drinking can permanently impair brain and nerve function. 
  • Alcohol affects the skin and causes facial flushing. Heavy drinking can lead to permanent facial flushing. 
  • Alcohol affects the circulatory system and heavy drinking causes coronary heart disease, hypertension, heart failure and strokes.
  • Alcohol affects the digestive system and causes gastritis and ulcers.
  • Alcohol affects the urinary system and causes increased urine output. Heavy drinking causes renal failure.
  • Alcohol affects the liver and causes reduced liver function. Heavy drinking causes cirrhosis of the liver and permanent liver damage.
  • Alcohol affects the reproductive system and causes increased sexual confidence. Heavy drinking can cause impotence.

Many individuals can not handle alcohol but still want to drink. Many companies in order not to loose these customers have developed light and non-alcoholic drinks such as ‘light beers. and so-called ‘nonalcoholic. beers. The light beers contain only a small reduction in the alcohol content, down to 4% or so. The so-called non-alcoholic beers may contain up to 0.5% alcohol, the limit set by the regulating bodies for reporting of alcohol content. Any beer with less than 0.5% alcohol may be labeled as non-alcoholic beer. In general, these products are prepared in much the same way as regular beer and then the alcohol is distilled out to reduce the content to below the 0.5% limit. As Muslims, we should not be tempted by these products on the basis of their labeling and we should not be enticed to taste alcoholic beverages, nor imitations or lookalikes. There are many wholesome beverages that may be consumed. We can be thankful that ALLAH (S) has favored us with HIS mercy and guidance and saved us from the humiliation and self-destruction that alcohol causes. We ask ALLAH (S) to give us the wisdom to distinguish right from wrong and the strength to choose, that which is right. 


What Is Alcohol?

In general, alcohol is a colorless, volatile, flammable liquid with a distinct odor and a burning taste. Alcohol has some unique and important properties that are utilized by the food industry to produce products and flavors of consistent quality. If you ever tried mixing water and oil, you know they do not mix very well. Alcohol is a chemical that combines the characteristics of organic compounds and water. Alcohol has an organic part and a hydroxyl (OH) part, which makes them soluble in both organic liquids and water. This property makes alcohols useful because oils alcohol and water can be mixed together. Most flavors are oils. For example, orange flavor is oil derived from orange skins. Orange flavor would not dissolve in water but will dissolve in alcohol. The mixture of alcohol and orange flavor will then dissolve in water. So to produce an orange flavored carbonated drink, like Sunkist Orange, alcohol is used to make sure the orange flavor is fully mixed and dissolved in the carbonated water and remains dissolved over the expected shelf life of the product.

Are there many types of alcohol? Are they all intoxicating and prohibited? Yes, there are many similar chemical molecules chemically named as alcohols, such as methanol, propanol, ethylene glycol, propylene glycol, etc. The only form of intoxicating alcohol (Khamr) is known as ethanol, ethyl alcohol, common alcohol or simply called alcohol.

The simplest alcohol is methyl alcohol or methanol. Methanol is composed of one methyl group (CH3) and one hydroxyl group (OH). Methanol is toxic and cannot be consumed directly or indirectly, so it is not used in food processing. Methanol is used in gasoline as an antifreeze agent to absorb water and lower the freezing point. Next member of the group is ethyl alcohol or ethanol, which is non-toxic and has excellent solvent properties. It is widely used in the food industry, particularly in flavorings. This is the substance that has been prohibited. It is not toxic but intoxicating.

Next in the line are propyl alcohol, and its cousin isopropyl alcohol. lsopropyl alcohol is used in the health care industry to prepare the skin for injections and as rubbing alcohol. lsopropyl arid propyl alcohols, although non-toxic and non-intoxicating have unpleasant taste and are poor solvents hence not used in the food industry.

There are other even larger alcohol molecules used in this family, containing more alkyl groups and one hydroxyl group (OH). The larger compounds are not common in the food industry.

Then there are alcohols with two hydroxyl groups (OH). The smallest of these is ethylene glycol. Ethylene glycol is toxic and not used in the food industry. It is used as automotive antifreeze agent.

Next is propylene glycol. Propylene glycol is nontoxic and has many uses in the food and drug industry. It is commonly used as a solvent for flavors, an emulsifier, and as a mold and fermentation inhibitor. Although not as good a solvent as ethanol, it is the most common substitute for ethanol.

The most common alcohol in foods and drinks is ethyl alcohol. Alcoholic beverages are liquids containing 0.5 to 80% ethyl alcohol by volume. Since the federal government taxes alcohol, it has set standards for alcoholic beverages. The government does not tax medicines, even though they may contain more alcohol than some of the alcoholic beverages.

There are 3 major classes of alcoholic beverages:

  1. Fermented beverages, which are made from agricultural products, including grains and fruits: The normal alcohol content of these products is 3 to 16% and includes beer, wine, ale, stout, and sake.
  2. Distilled or spirit beverages, which are made by distillation of fermented beverages. The alcohol content of these products can be as high as 80% and includes whisky, vodka, rum, gin, brandy, liqueur, tequila and other spirits.
  3. Compound or fortified beverages, which are made by combining fermented or spirit beverages with flavoring substances. The alcohol content of these products can also be as high as 80%. They include port and vermouth.

In the restaurants alcohol is sometimes used in cooking to enhance the flavor or taste of the food. The USDA has prepared a table listing the amount of alcohol retained in a food that is cooked with alcohol. The amount retained depends upon the cooking method. The percentage of added alcohol remaining in the food after various cooking methods is as follows:

Added to boiling liquid and removed from heat 85% 
Cooked over a flame 75% 
Added without heat and stored overnight 70% 
Baked for 25 minutes without stirring 45% 
Stirred into a mixture and baked or simmered for 15 minutes 40% 
Stirred into a mixture and baked or simmered for 30 minutes 35% 
Stirred into a mixture and baked or simmered for 1 hour 25% 
Stirred into a mixture and baked or simmered for 2 hours 10% 
Stirred into a mixture and baked or simmered for 2½ hours 5% 

It is almost impossible to evaporate the alcohol from food by normal cooking methods. Wine is the most common alcoholic product used in cooking. By law, wine contains between 7 and 24% alcohol by volume. Any wine containing no added alcohol may be designated as ‘natural.’ Most people consider foods cooked with wine as a delicacy; hence the use of alcohol by chefs in recipes is quite common.

Under food labeling laws, alcohol is considered GRAS (generally recognized as safe). The USDA supervises all meat and poultry items and requires products cooked in wine to say, “this meat cooked with wine” on the label. The FDA supervises all other food items containing less than 7% alcohol by volume. (Foods with more than 7% alcohol are supervised by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the ATF. The ATF also supervises all alcoholic beverages.) If the alcohol in the food is part of the ingredients, it must be listed in the ingredient list. However, if the alcohol is part of one of the ingredients, such as a flavor, it does not have to be listed separately. When the alcohol content of a product or ingredient is less than 0.5%, it does not have to be listed in the ingredient list.

Many perfumes contain S.D. alcohol. This is denatured ethyl alcohol. Denaturing involves adding substances to the alcohol to render it harmful for consumption. The denaturing substances are very difficult to remove from the mixture, so denatured alcohol cannot be used in food or drink. Denatured alcohol is used in products intended for external use, such as perfumes.

Human beings were granted the ability to discern right from wrong and to be in control of their desires. Drinking alcoholic beverages affects the nervous system and brain function and interferes with the ability to control desire and distinguish right from wrong. It reduces the normal inhibitions that are inherent in man and lead to the corruption of society. Even occasional drinks, or social drinking is prohibited. Unfortunately, in society today, many people take drinking as an escape from the pressures of life. People may drink to “unwind”, to escape the pressures of life or to relax their inhibitions. Relaxing the inhibitions is precisely what ALLAH (S) does not want people to do. ALLAH (S) created humans and HE prohibited drinking to save our honor and our dignity. [RMO & MNR]