Sunday, 16 August 2009

Can Muslims get Brahms, legally?

No, I don’t mean can they buy a kosher version of Johannes’ German Requiem.  I mean in the sense of the wonderful rhyming slang Brahms and Liszt*.  In short, is it Haram (forbidden) or Halal (legal) to drink alcohol in Islam?
Yesterday I commented on an article by Mona Eltahawy in the International Herald Tribune, “Abusing women and Islam” (15 Aug), which discussed the implementation of Sharia law in the Maldives.  Eltahawy quoted Zainah Anwar, “a Muslim Malaysian feminist who is project director of Musawah, the global movement for justice and equality in the Muslim family”, as follows:
“Neither the Koran nor the Hadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) prescribes any form of punishment for drinking alcohol.”…
Could that be, I wondered?  Why was it then that so many Islamic authorities said that alcohol was prohibited and that pious Muslims do not drink? 
So I checked and here’s the summary.
Koran on alcohol
Verse 2:219 says:  “They ask you about intoxicants and games of chance. Say: In both of them there is a great sin and means of profit for men, and their sin is greater than their profit….”. 
This is Allah speaking to Muhammad.  So, clearly drinking intoxicants is a sin, and not just a sin, but a “great sin”, aka an “enormity”.
There are three levels of sin in Islam:
1.       minor sins, which can be forgiven by prayer
2.       enormities: which are those mentioned by name in the Koran or the Hadith.  This is the case with drinking alcohol as it is mentioned by name in both.  Enormities are subject to explicit legal penalties
3.       unbelief: which puts one beyond the pale of Islam
For the specific penalty for the enormity of drinking alcohol, one must turn to the Hadith.
Hadith on alcohol
The Hadith proscribe the drinking of alcohol, repeatedly and forcefully.   For example, the whole of Volume 7 Book 69 of Bukhari’s Hadith is about “Drink”.  Drinking alcohol is “prohibited” and “unlawful” in many Hadith, for example:
7.69.485 Alcoholic drinks were prohibited (by Allah) when there was nothing of it (special kind of wine) in Medina.
7.69.491"All drinks that intoxicate are unlawful (to drink.)”
[Muhammad said]: "From among my followers there will be some people who will consider illegal sexual intercourse, the wearing of silk, the drinking of alcoholic drinks and the use of musical instruments, as lawful. And there will be some people who will stay near the side of a mountain and in the evening their shepherd will come to them with their sheep and ask them for something, but they will say to him, 'Return to us tomorrow.' Allah will destroy them during the night and will let the mountain fall on them, and He will transform the rest of them into monkeys and pigs and they will remain so till the Day of Resurrection."
Abu Huraira said, "A man who drank wine was brought to the Prophet. The Prophet said, 'Beat him!’ Abu Huraira added, ‘So some of us beat him with our hands, and some with their shoes, and some with their garments (by twisting it) like a lash…. ' "
Summary & Conclusion:
The drinking of alcohol in Islam is a sin, it is prohibited and it is unlawful.  The punishment is either “destruction” -- presumably death --  or a beating, i.e. whipping.  A whipping is in keeping with the Islamic practice of following the actions of Muhammad, who is, in Islam, infallible and a role model for all Muslims.  If he said to beat someone who drank wine, that that is what is right and proper to do; not only right and proper, but required.
Thus, the Manual of Islamic Jurisprudence Umdat al Salik (The Reliance of the Traveller) reveals the “compassion and justice in Islam” and chooses the punishment of whipping, the lesser of the punishments: 
“The penalty for drinking is to be scourged forty stripes…. It may be administered with a whip”. (o16.3)
And indeed this is precisely the punishment meted out by the Sunni clerics in the Maldives.  They are only doing what Islamic “justice” requires, clearly and forcefully in Islamic law and dogma.   That is the direction in which Ms Eltahawy should focus her “outrage”, not at the failures of the “international community”.
Two final points:
First: Note Ms Anwar’s wording carefully: “… neither the Koran nor the Hadith prescribes any form of punishment….”.    In a narrow, legalistic sense, this is (arguably) true.  The Koran says it’s a sin, but doesn’t say what the punishment should be.  The Hadith say it’s prohibited and unlawful but does not specifically say “the punishment for drinking shall be…”  That’s left to the Umdat in law.  But the impression she clearly gives is that drinking alcohol is not un-Islamic, that it’s ok because there’s no punishment.  Indeed she goes on to say that “Islamic teachings emphasize forgiveness, compassion and positive personal compassion.”   The average reader will take away the impression that drinking alcohol is quite ok according to the Koran and the Hadith, when the opposite is the case and when Islamic law has clear and harsh punishments for drinking alcohol.
Initially I wondered whether Ms Eltahawy and Ms Anwar were ignorant of these verses in the Koran and the Hadit, or if they knew of them and were being deceitful (there can be no other explanation for their statements, when you think about it; they are either, in the old saw, either knaves or fools).   It seems clear to me from Anwar’s carefully-legalistic phrasing that it’s the latter.  She is giving a deliberately deceitful reading of Islam’s teachings on the drinking of alcohol.  In so doing she is engaging in the time-honoured Islamic practice of taqiyya.  
Second: note that the reason Muhammad prohibited alcohol in his “revelation” was nothing to do with higher moral ideals.  Just that he was unable, in Medina – to which he had retreated after his failure to convert pagans and Jews in Mecca – to find any decent grapes with which to make wines!  (Bukhari 7.69.485 and 486)
 "Alcoholic drinks were prohibited at the time we could rarely find wine made from grapes in Medina, for most of our liquors were made from unripe and ripe dates.”