Why Islam's prohibition of alcohol doesn't make sense.

Muslims usually don't drink alcohol. I say usually because I know quite a lot of Muslims that do drink some alcohol and do other stuff they shouldn't do. But never question their religion!!! Might get you into trouble.

Now the prohibition can be explained quite easily using the following verse in the Quran:
“O ye who believe! Intoxicants and Gambling, (Dedication of) stones, And (divination by) arrows, Are an Abomination – Of Satan’s handiwork; Eschew such (abomination), That ye may prosper.” [Al-Qur’an 5:90]
Intoxicants is a bit vague, but we have a nice little hadeeth that tells us specifically:

“Alcohol is the mother of all evils and it is the most shameful of evils.” from Ibn-I-Majah Volume 3, Book of Intoxicants, Chapter 30 Hadith No. 3371.
OK, we have set the stage for a wonderful session of apologetics. As some people might know (or don't) you will find alcohol in quite a lot of nutritious products. Bread, apple juice, kefir, grape juice all contain "some" alcohol (around 0.1% to 0.5%). Even your own body produces alcohol.

One would think that you can't possibly be a Muslim and eat and drink at the same time. Would make all Muslims dead corpses, wouldn't it? (read on)

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Tags: islam, teaching


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Comment by Tarentola Mauritanica on January 22, 2011 at 8:04am

@AtheistExile: I think you are wrong. Just apply your reasoning to the question whether you are allowed to eat a joghurt that contains pork gelatine.

Pork is forbidden. Joghurt contains pork but is not itself "pork".

Alcohol as you stated is an intoxicant in sufficient quantities. Bread/juice/kefir contain alcohol. That alcohol is just as intoxicant as any other alcohol. The question is not if "bread" is intoxicant but rather what quantities of bread you would need to have the same amount of intoxication due to the alcohol in it.

BUT, as i already mentioned before there is a rather black and white ruling on this. Anything that is intoxicant in large quantities is forbidden even in small.


I do not doubt, nor do i dispute that more than enough Muslims have by now argued like you. Actually i stated that they did and do.

I simply claim that the ruling itself is already flawed if you need to interpret and argue your way around the original statements in order to avoid the trouble of their inconsistency.


Comment by Atheist Exile on January 21, 2011 at 9:13pm
The comparison is ridiculous.  Alcohol, in sufficient quantity, is an intoxicant.  Bread is not.  Bread contains alcohol but is not intoxicating or an intoxicant.  Period.
Comment by John Camilli on January 20, 2011 at 1:01pm

The idea of temperance and excess as measures of good and evil makes me think of the story of the Siddartha Buddha (the most recently proclaimed reincarnation of Buddha). The reason you may have seen pictures or statues of both a fat and a skinny Buddha is because Siddartha was supposed to have vascilated greatly between such extremes of experience: he experienced gluttony, greed and embellishment, and he also experienced poverty and starvation, but he did not find enlightenment in either repose. In fact, as the story goes, he sought every method he could catch wind of to attain enlightenment, but always found that what other men had to offer was only right for them, not for him.


I see a danger in trying to profess that anything is always good, or always bad. I can think of many examples for which the opposite could be said of both temperence and excess. Is not exercise a form of excess that hardens the body by first breaking it down? It certainly is not necessary for survival that a person exercise as much as some do, but could this intemperance not also be said to be improving their condition and opportunities while they are alive? On the flip side, would it not be imprudent to practice moderation in defending one's self against an intemperate attack? I could not say yes or no, myself, though some will think they have the answer.


Furthermore, I would argue that, even if something seems beneficial on the surface, it may be quite harmful underneath. Look at the practice of celebacy in Catholicism. Superficially it makes a good argument to remove temptations from one's self for the sake of focusing on greater things. As a writer, I can certainly understand that getting away from excessive stimuli is sometimes necessary for making progress in one's goals, but has not that supression of sexual urges also led to some pretty bad results for a lot of children growing up around preists for quite a while?

Comment by Tarentola Mauritanica on January 20, 2011 at 6:18am
Well i don't know how such an argument would make any sense.
If one were to argue for temperance then one would also demand a law that calls for temperance, not one that calls for prohibition.

Prohibition of any alcoholic drink is hardly something i would call temperance and I also do not see a justification for it "only" because some people excessively drink.
Why shouldn't Muslims prohibit sex then, or work, or relaxation? All of those can cause trouble when done in excess. However in all those cases the argument is made that those acts must be controlled and steered.. not too much, not too little and allays in some social context (eg. marriage for sex).
The argument against alcohol could only be made this way if you argued that there is NOTHING good about it. Which of course is a contradiction to reality as we NOW know. 1400 years ago we might have thought differently.

The argument of loudness and shamelessness is also not really a good one either for a prohibition. By that argument they themselves would have to prohibit any demonstration of Muslims against the West or cartoons or religious jokes. Quite some shouting and the demands on the signs that some hold up are pretty shameless in my view ;)
Comment by Richard Healy on January 20, 2011 at 5:35am

This issue came up in a (would you believe) science class just before Christmas, we had the Muslim apologists in the room announcing how Islam was superior because UK towns are filled with drunks who commit crimes and injure themselves are are loud and shameless.


If you could ignore the godly context , it was basically an argument for temperance vs excess is how I heard it expressed.  Would anyone like to take in down on that basis.  I'm curious to see how it could be done.

Comment by John Camilli on January 20, 2011 at 3:44am
The quantity does not have to be sufficient to intoxicate in order for the substance to be called an intoxicant, it only has to have the capacity to kill a human by means of an oversaturation of the chemicals involved. Anything that can poison you has a measure of toxicity, which is why I say even water has to be included, but that is by scientific definition. The Qu'ran and its followers certainly have a different definition, just as American law has its own definition. The specific items the the US labels as intoxicant are here
Comment by Tarentola Mauritanica on January 20, 2011 at 3:19am

@Atheist Exile: As said I understand the "quantity" argument but it doesn't fit with the other hadeeth. Just go to an Imam and ask him whether it would be OK in Islam to drink only one glass of beer per day (lets say 0.2 litres). He will tell you that the prohibition is complete. And he will tell you the hadeeth that says that small doses are prohibited if large doses are intoxicating.


@Joseph: Well in Tunisia I can tell you that quite a lot of people drink alcohol. And they do not have a problem calling themselves Muslims when challenged.

Comment by Atheist Exile on January 19, 2011 at 7:20pm

I'm all for debunking religious claims -- especially Islamic claims -- but, by definition, the quantity of alcohol involved must be intoxicating before it can be an intoxicant.  So bread and other things with trace levels of alcohol would not qualify.  That seems pretty straightforward to me.


I once lived in Kuwait for 6 months (was setting up a Novell network for engineering company).  The day I arrived happened to be the first day of Ramadan.  The airport was packed with people leaving the country: they apparently preferred the decadence of Paris and other western destinations over the rigors of fasting for a month of Ramadan.


Alcohol is illegal in Kuwait.  There are no bars or taverns.  But alcohol is routinely smuggled in (this was before 9/11) through the airport and other means.  It was also produced in home stills.  I learned that most Muslims are like everybody else; they just want to live with as little stress as possible.  My real problem with Muslims is really with Islamists: those fundamentalists who advocate, endorse or practice political Islam (sharia and jihad).  There's some debate as to whether or not you can be a "true" Muslim without being an Islamists as well but my experience in Kuwait tells me that many (most?) Muslims can be devout without being militant.

Comment by Michigan Mike on January 19, 2011 at 4:53pm
Would "Intoxicant" also include things like caffeine, nicotine, or any other mind altering drug? How potent does the drug have to be to be bad? Who draws the line? I'm surprised about the hash thing that Joe Said mentioned. I figured Intoxicant would include weed. This brings up a new need to visit Egypt though :). My motto; "Do as you wish, but cause nobody unwanted harm".
Comment by John Camilli on January 19, 2011 at 1:54pm
I'm glad you included the supporting text in there. Much appreciated, because it allows for easy counter-argument. Since the passage says intoxicant, Arabs shall have to be careful not to take too deep a breath as well, since oxygen saturation can get you high and can eventually become toxic, in high enough saturation. Hash, like pot, can't really kill you from overdose, so they could argue that it isn't an intoxicant, but there are certainly lots of things that don't fit that bill. Water can be toxic if you drink way too much of it, so no more water for the Arabs. That's gonna make the whole living in the desert thing a bit tough but, hey, it's their God not mine.

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