Why intoxicants are so repugnant

The state of lack of consciousness whichever intoxicants produces is diametrically opposed to the state of alertness which Islam requires of every Muslim so that he consciously feels his link with Allah at every moment, making sure that all his thoughts and actions are of the sort that pleases Allah.  By Sayyid Qutb, translated by Adil Salahi

Believers! Intoxicants, games of chance, idols and divining arrows are abominations devised by Satan. Therefore, turn away from them so that you may prosper. Satan seeks only to stir up enmity and hatred among you by means of intoxicants and games of chance, and to turn you away from the remembrance of Allah and Prayer. Will you not, then, desist?

Obey Allah, and obey the messenger and be ever on your guard, but if you turn away, then know that the duty of our messenger is only to convey (our message) clearly.

Those who believe and do righteous deeds, shall have no blame attached to them for any food they may have eaten, so long as they fear Allah and truly believe and do righteous deeds, and continue to fear Allah and believe and remain God-Fearing and persevere in doing good. Allah loves those who do good. (The Repast, Al Maidah: 5:90-93)

The state of lack of consciousness whichever intoxicants produces is diametrically opposed to the state of alertness which Islam requires of every Muslim so that he consciously feels his link with Allah at every moment, making sure that all his thoughts and actions are of the sort that pleases Allah. By being so alert and conscious, he plays a positive role of the proper development of life and in protecting it against weakness and corruption, he further protects himself, his property and honor and he helps to protect the Muslim community and its system and law against all types of aggression.

A Muslim is not abandoned so that he cares only for himself or his enjoyments. On the contrary, at every moment he has duties to fulfill which requires that he be always alert. These include, duties towards his Lord, himself, his family and the community of which he is a member and towards humanity at large, even when he enjoys the wholesome pleasures Islam permits, he must retain his full consciousness so that he is not enslaved by any type of pleasure or desire. He is in control of all his desires and he fulfills them as one who is totally in control. Drunkenness is a state which is totally opposed to that.

Moreover, seeking such unconsciousness is simply an attempt to escape from the reality of life at a particular moment in time and a preference of the sort of visions which accompany drunkenness. Islam disapproved of all this because it wants people to see the realities as they are, to look them in the face and to continue their lives on the basis of reality, not imagination. It is through facing reality that man proves his will power. To escape to the realm of the imagination is to prove one’s weakness and lack of will. Islam wants it people to have a strong will unfettered by habit or addiction. From the Islamic point of view, this is enough reason to forbid intoxicants and all drugs, all these are abomination devised by Satan and their effect is only the corruption of human life.

Scholars have different views with regard to whether intoxicants are impure in themselves like the rest of physical impurities, or whether the prohibition applies only to drinking them. The majority of the scholars are of the first view, while the second view is that of Rabiah, Al-Laith Ibn Saad, Al-Muzni of the Shafi School and a number of later scholars of Baghdad. Perhaps, this reference is adequate for our purposes.

When these verses were revealed, outlining the total prohibition of intoxicants, and describing them as abomination devised by Satan, two groups of people raised a query in the same wording, but for totally different reasons. A few of the companions of the Prophet (Pbuh) who were very scrupulous said, “What about our companions who died when intoxicants were still lawful to drink?” Some of them said, “What about those who were killed in the Battle of Uhud, with intoxicants in their bellies (before they were forbidden to drink)?”.

Another group who were keen to seize every chance to sow the seeds of doubt among the Muslim community said similar things. Their aim was to try to weaken the Muslims’ trust in the reason behind Islamic legislation. They also wanted to convey a feeling that those who died before the prohibition of intoxicants were totally lost, since they died with this abomination in their bodies. Hence, the following verse was revealed. “Those who believe and do righteous deeds shall have no blame attached to them for any food they may have eaten, so long as they fear Allah and truly believe and do righteous deeds, and continue to fear Allah and believe, and remain God-Fearing and persevere in doing good. Allah loves those who do good”.

This verse states that what has not been forbidden is lawful and that prohibition begins with its statement, not at any earlier moment. There can be no retrospective prohibition and no punishment, whether in this life or in the life to come, may be inflicted without a clear statement of ruling. Those who died before the prohibition of intoxicants had nothing to fear; because they did not drink any forbidden thing and did not commit any act of disobedience. They feared Allah and did righteous deeds, knowing that He was totally aware of their intentions and actions. Such a person neither disobeys nor drinks something forbidden.

We have no intention of taking part in the controversy raised by the group known as Al Mu’tazillah concerning the ruling that intoxicants are abomination. They raised the question whether this is a result of its prohibition or an inherent quality of intoxicants. They also pose the question whether what is forbidden is ruled so, for its inherent qualities, or that this quality is attached to it as a result of its prohibition. In my view, all this controversy is futile and alien to the Islamic approach. When Allah forbids something, He knows why He forbids it, whether He states that reason or not. Whether the prohibition is based on the quality of what is prohibited, or on something that relates to the individual partaking of it personally or to the interest of the whole community, it is Allah who knows the whole truth.

Obeying His orders is an undeniable duty. Any subsequent controversy addresses no real need. Realism is an essential aspect of the Divine method. No one may say if prohibition of intoxicants is the result of an inherent quality in the thing prohibited, how could it be permitted in the period leading to its prohibition? Allah must have had a good reason for leaving it for a while un-prohibited. After all, this is indeed an essential quality of Godhood. Whether man considers something to be good or bad is not the determining factor because man may consider something to be the determining reason for prohibition when it is not. The appropriate attitude is to accept Allah’s legislation and to carry it out whether we know the reasons behind them or not. Allah knows everything and we know little.

The implementation of Allah’s law must be based in the first instance on submission to Him. This is indeed the very meaning of Islam. When man has shown his obedience, he may use his mind to identify as much as he can, Allah’s purpose behind his commandment or prohibition, whether this purpose is stated by Allah or not, understood by human intellect or not. It must be remembered however, that Allah, not man, is the final arbiter on whether something should be included in His Law. When Allah has issued His decree, all arguments must stop. His decree must be implemented. If decision is left to human intellect, people become the final arbiter on Allah’s legislation. How could this fit in with the Godhood of Allah or the submission of man?

Let us now consider the phraseology of this verse: “Those who believe and do righteous deeds shall have no blame attached to them for any food they may have eaten so long as they fear Allah and truly believe and do righteous deeds and continue to fear Allah and believe, and remain God-Fearing and persevere in doing good. Allah loves those who do good.”

I admit that I have not found anything stated by commentators on the Qur’an to be totally satisfactory in explaining the way this Qur’anic verse is phrased, and why the fear of Allah is mentioned once in combination with both faith and righteous deeds, and repeated once more in combination with faith and a third time in combination with doing good. Nor do I consider now as satisfactory my own comments on this repetition. The best that I have read, although not totally satisfactory to me, is that written by At-Tabari: “The first reference to fearing Allah makes God-fearing represented by total acceptance of Allah’s commandment and submission to it and acting on it. The second reference represents it with unshakable acceptance of faith while the third reference represents God-fearing with being always ready to do a voluntary good work.”

I will quote here what I have written on this particular point in the first edition of my book In the Shade of the Qur’an : “This is a method statement with a detailed one. The first reference is a general, comprehensive one which includes God-fearing, strong faith and righteous deeds. The aspect of God-fearing is then repeated once in combination with faith and another with doing good, righteous deeds, in order to emphasize this sense and to highlight the important rule that actions are judged by the inner feelings that accompany them. God-fearing is the best expression of a fine sensitivity towards Allah’s commandments and a constant relationship with Him that combines belief in Him with acceptance of His orders. Righteous deeds are the practical translation of inner faith. It is interaction between deeds and beliefs that is the criterion for judgment. Appearances provide no such criterion. ”

At this moment in time, I do not find my own words satisfactory, but I cannot come up with anything better. I seek Allah’s help.

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