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Alcoholism and Drug Abuse in Islamic Perspective

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Alcohol consumption is the world’s third largest risk factor for disease and disability; in middle-income countries, it is the greatest risk. Harmful use of alcohol results in the death of 2.5 million people annually, causes illness and injury to millions more, and increasingly affects younger generations and drinkers in developing countries.

Alcohol is a causal factor in 60 types of diseases and injuries and a component cause in 200 others. Almost 4% of all deaths worldwide are attributed to alcohol, greater than deaths caused by HIV/AIDS, violence or tuberculosis. Alcohol is also associated with many serious social issues, including violence, child neglect and abuse, and absenteeism at workplace.

Harmful alcohol consumption is risky both for the drinker and for other people. An intoxicated person can put people in the way of harm by involving them in traffic accidents or violent behaviour, or by affecting co-workers, relatives, friends or strangers.

While most of the adult population abstains altogether or drinks at low-risk levels most of the time, the broad range of alcohol consumption patterns, from daily heavy drinking to occasional hazardous drinking, creates significant public health and safety problems in nearly all countries.

The impact of alcohol consumption reaches deep into society. Alcohol consumption causes harm far beyond the physical and psychological health of the drinker. It also causes harm to the well-being and health of others.

Alcohol is the world’s third largest risk factor for disease burden; it is the leading risk factor in the Western Pacific and the Americas and the second largest in Europe.

The harmful use of alcohol is also associated with several infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). This is because alcohol consumption weakens the immune system, reduces inhibitions, effects judgment and has a negative effect on patients’ adherence to antiretroviral treatment.

Many countries recognise the serious public health problems caused by the harmful use of alcohol and have taken steps to adopt preventive policies and programmes, particularly to reduce drunk–driving and the carnage that it causes. However, it is clear that much more needs to be accomplished.

Countries like the United Kingdom, France, Russia and others have begun to work with international agencies to learn more about promising programmes and alcohol-monitoring technologies designed to deal with the “crime and carnage” associated with irresponsible alcohol consumption.

Islamic religious teachings tell the story of a pre-Islamic society where people consumed very large quantities of alcohol, leading to moral and societal dissolution. When Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be to him) declared alcoholic beverages or any substance that intoxicates Haram (prohibited), he restored order, safety and morality to society. As the consequences of drinking alcohol are portrayed in Islamic texts as so severe, and the benefits of outlawing it so great, drinking alcohol has become one of the central behavioural prohibitions for Muslims.

On the issue of alcohol, the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be to him) recited the final verses from the Qur’ān.

“Oh you who believe! Verily, without a shadow of a doubt, wine, gambling, idol worshipping, instruments used for divining, for telling the future, are all impurities and pollutants from the activities of Satan.” (5:90)

They are the production of Satan. They are manufactured by Satan. He has created them and what is his purpose?

“The soul intention of Satan, through alcohol and gambling, is to cast hatred and enmity amongst you.” (5:91)

He wants to see you fight with each other. He wants to see you being in harmful competition against each other. This is his intention and another one of his intentions is:

“and he wishes to prevent you and stop you and hinder you from the remembrance of Allah and he wants to prevent you from performing prayers.” (5:91)

The fear of God helps Muslims keep from not only alcohol but all other evils prohibited in the Qur’ān.

The word khamr (intoxicants) is commonly associated with alcohol. But in Arabic, khamr has a broader meaning to it. Khamr is what comes over the human intelligence, which means everything that intoxicates a person’s mind. In this context khamr is not only alcohol, but also every substance that clouds the mind.

Khamr, at the time of our Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be to him) meant something that is flowing and in liquid form which clearly proves the prohibition of alcohol.

The prohibition of drugs is proven in the following hadith:

Hafiz Ibnul Qayyum al-Jowzy wrote in his book that in the 13th century, at the time of the Tartars, a person came to Cairo seeking evidence regarding a substance, which was striking the people of the Muslim world and this substance was called hashish. This person was looking for evidence from the scholars regarding hashish whether or not it was forbidden in Islam.

The scholars were having a hard time finding a Qur’ānic injunction regarding this because this substance was not in liquid form or flowing like alcohol. But at the time, Allah put into the knowledge of Hafiz Zay-nuddin Al-Iraqi, who was present at the gathering, a hadith and he said, “I have found a hadith which specifically deals with this issue.” Then he mentioned the hadith from As-Sunnan Abu Dawood, which is one of the most authentic books of hadith preached all around the world. He said, “The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be to him) prohibited people from the usage of intoxicants and narcotics. Any substance which befogs and intoxicates the mind, the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be to him) has stopped us from taking it.”

“Everything that intoxicates the mind comes into the category of khamr and everything that comes into the category of khamr is haram.” From this, we can see that drugs fall into this category because it intoxicates the mind.
Whatever substance intoxicates a person in large amounts is haram in small amounts, too. Once Caliph Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) was giving a khutbah and in his khutbah, he was talking on the issue of khamr and the definition he gave of khamr was: “Khamr is that which befogs the mind and which covers the human intelligence.”
Allama Ibn Taymiyyah, a great scholar of Islam, stated regarding this issue, that a person who takes hashish (drugs) should be given the same punishment as a person who takes alcohol – 40 or 80 lashes. In fact, he goes to the extent of saying that those people who are involved in trafficking drugs are committing an act of kufr and he further says that his remains should not be performed. He should be hanged in public.

Escapism is why people take drugs. They are creating an artificial world around them, an unreal world, a world that is more in the mind than in reality. They make a manufactured world around them to make themselves feel good, but the problem is, when the effect of that alcohol or the effect of that drug wares out and the hard realities of this world slap them in the face, then the problem they face, the depression they experience, at that moment, will all be far greater than the problem they started out with.

Islam is a religion that does not believe in escapism. Islam believes in realism, about the hard issues, about the real life. When we have problems, we confront them head on like brave courageous men, men of spirit, men of heart. We try and come with a solution for them. Then, all problems would be solved. Islam teaches its followers about courage. Those who adhere to Islam are taught patience and if they have all this in them, then they can overcome mountains with this inner strength. They can overcome the greatest problems in their lives.

Although all Muslim sects currently prohibit alcohol consumption, surveys conducted by the World Health Organisation have found that a small amount of drinking still occurs in all Muslim countries, even the ones with harsh punishments.

Malaysia, in spite of being a Muslim country, has been named by WHO as the world’s 10th largest consumer of alcohol despite its small population and size.

Statistics by the international body showed that Malaysians spent over US$500mil (RM1.5bil) on alcohol with a per capita consumption of seven litres.

Beer consumption in Malaysia is 11 litres per capita

In response to the growing global crisis, in May 2010, WHO released The Global Strategy to Reduce the Harmful Use of Alcohol, endorsed by WHO’s Member States.

The Global Strategy promotes a number of proven effective measures for reducing alcohol-related harms including:

• taxation on alcohol;

• reducing availability through allowing fewer outlets to sell alcohol;

• raising age limits for those buying;

• using effective drink-driving measures;

• promotion of screening and brief interventions (SBIRT) in healthcare settings;

• treatment of alcohol use disorders;

• regulating or banning marketing of alcoholic beverages; and

• conducting information and educational campaigns in support of effective policy measures.

Over the years, the list of intoxicating substances has come to include more modern street drugs and the like. Islam prohibits the use of narcotics noting that “every intoxicant is Haram (unlawful)”. ’Recreational’ drugs have become the social culture and despite religious prohibitions, Muslims are just as susceptible to cannabis (marijuana), hashish, and the supposedly herbal ‘hukkah’ (a tobacco smoking pipe).

Nonetheless, this drug abuse is also Haram, not to mention encouraging illegal drug trade and addiction.  One Islamic saying even states that intoxication is worse than rape and murder, because an intoxicated man will commit both of these acts.

[HATIJAH HASHIM is Research Officer, Consumers Association of Penang, Malaysia]

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