Intoxicants and Recreation in Islamic Law

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Intoxicants (الخمر al‐khamr) such as alcohol, marijuana etc.[1] and recreational games of chance, such as board games[2] (including chess),[3] card games and other forms of gambling are forbidden under Islamic law. Surprisingly, this was not always the case.

In the Beginning

Intoxicants (namely, alcohol) was permitted during the early phase of Islam. Some websites even claim that Muhammad drank intoxicating wine, though that claim is not supported by an accurate presentation of the hadith evidence.

In the Qur'an, wine is elevated and characterized as a blessing of God upon earth.

And in the earth are tracts (diverse though) neighbouring, and gardens of vines and fields sown with corn, and palm trees - growing out of single roots or otherwise: watered with the same water, yet some of them We make more excellent than others to eat. Behold, verily in these things there are signs for those who understand!

Sakr سكر or intoxicating drink is said to be a sign (or a miracle) from God

وَمِن ثَمَرَٰتِ ٱلنَّخِيلِ وَٱلْأَعْنَٰبِ تَتَّخِذُونَ مِنْهُ سَكَرًا وَرِزْقًا حَسَنًا ۗ إِنَّ فِى ذَٰلِكَ لَءَايَةً لِّقَوْمٍ يَعْقِلُونَ

And from the fruit of the date-palm and the vine, ye get out wholesome drink and food: behold, in this also is a sign for those who are wise.

It is also described as being an aspect of heaven.

(Here is) a Parable of the Garden which the righteous are promised: in it are rivers of water incorruptible; rivers of milk of which the taste never changes; rivers of wine, a joy to those who drink; and rivers of honey pure and clear. In it there are for them all kinds of fruits; and Grace from their Lord. (Can those in such Bliss) be compared to such as shall dwell for ever in the Fire, and be given, to drink, boiling water, so that it cuts up their bowels (to pieces)?

However, what we now know as the Qur'an was allegedly revealed over a period of twenty-three years.[4] As it stands, the Qur'an is arranged roughly from the longest surah (chapter) to the shortest. But if we read it in a chronological order, we can see the gradual shift in attitude towards intoxicants and such.

Verses were 'revealed' as the situation in Muhammad's life demanded. Thus, older revelations were cancelled out and replaced by newer ones. This is known as Naskh (abrogation). His followers were attending prayer at the mosque while intoxicated, so the following verse was revealed warning against such behavior.

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

Later on we find a revelation which tells us that there is some good and some bad in intoxicants and games of chance.

They ask thee 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 thee how much they are to spend; Say: "What is beyond your needs." Thus doth Allah Make clear to you His Signs: In order that ye may consider-

The hadith record that Hamza bin Abdul Muttalib, in a drunken state, mutilated two camels belonging to Ali, chopping of their humps and taking out their livers.

Narrated Ali: I got a she-camel in my share of the war booty on the day (of the battle) of Badr, and the Prophet had given me a she-camel from the Khumus. When I intended to marry Fatima, the daughter of Allah's Apostle, I had an appointment with a goldsmith from the tribe of Bani Qainuqa' to go with me to bring Idhkhir (i.e. grass of pleasant smell) and sell it to the goldsmiths and spend its price on my wedding party. I was collecting for my she-camels equipment of saddles, sacks and ropes while my two she-camels were kneeling down beside the room of an Ansari man. I returned after collecting whatever I collected, to see the humps of my two she-camels cut off and their flanks cut open and some portion of their livers was taken out. When I saw that state of my two she-camels, I could not help weeping. I asked, "Who has done this?" The people replied, "Hamza bin Abdul Muttalib who is staying with some Ansari drunks in this house." I went away till I reached the Prophet and Zaid bin Haritha was with him. The Prophet noticed on my face the effect of what I had suffered, so the Prophet asked. "What is wrong with you." I replied, "O Allah's Apostle! I have never seen such a day as today. Hamza attacked my two she-camels, cut off their humps, and ripped open their flanks, and he is sitting there in a house in the company of some drunks."...

When rebuked by Muhammad, Hamza insulted him to his face, saying "Aren't you but the slaves of my father?"

....The Prophet then asked for his covering sheet, put it on, and set out walking followed by me and Zaid bin Haritha till he came to the house where Hamza was. He asked permission to enter, and they allowed him, and they were drunk. Allah's Apostle started rebuking Hamza for what he had done, but Hamza was drunk and his eyes were red. Hamza looked at Allah's Apostle and then he raised his eyes, looking at his knees, then he raised up his eyes looking at his umbilicus, and again he raised up his eyes look in at his face. Hamza then said, "Aren't you but the slaves of my father?" Allah's Apostle realized that he was drunk, so Allah's Apostle retreated, and we went out with him.

Alcohol and Games Banned

Taking the actions of Hamza into consideration, Muhammad banned the consumption of all intoxicants.

Narrated by Jabir ibn Abdullah Allah`s Messenger (saws) said: “Every intoxicant is haraam! Verily Allah, the Exalted and Majestic, made a covenant to those who drank intoxicants to make them drink ‘Tinat al-Khabal’. The companions asked: “Allah`s Messenger, what is ‘Tinat al-Khabal?’” He (saws) said: “It is the sweat of the denizens of Hell, or the discharge of the denizens of Hell.”

He even went so far as to refer to alcohol (something which is found in heaven) as an "abomination" and "Satan's handwork".

O ye who believe! Intoxicants and gambling, (dedication of) stones, and (divination by) arrows, are an abomination,- of Satan's handwork: eschew such (abomination), that ye may prosper.
Qur'an 5:90-91

Games of chance were also banned.

Yahya related to me from Malik from Musa ibn Maysara from Said ibn Abi Hind from Abu Musa al-Ashari that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, "Whoever plays games of dice has disobeyed Allah and His Messenger.

And commenting on playing chess, he compared it with dying ones hand with the flesh and blood of swine.

Buraida reported on the authority of his father that Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) said: He who played chess is like one who dyed his hand with the flesh and blood of swine.

After the revelation of verse 5:90, Muhammad ordered beatings for anyone who violated his rules regarding these substances.

Narrated' Uqba bin Al-Harith: An-Nu'man or the son of An-Nu'man was brought to the Prophet in a state of intoxication. The Prophet felt it hard (was angry) and ordered all those who were present in the house, to beat him. And they beat him, using palm-leaf stalks and shoes, and I was among those who beat him.

He, and his successors, also ordered floggings.

Anas b. Malik reported that a person who had drink wine was brought to Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him). He gave him forty stripes with two lashes. Abu Bakr also did that,...

Repeat offenders were ordered by him to be put to death.

Narrated AbuHurayrah: The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: If he is intoxicated, flog him; again if he is intoxicated, flog him; again if he is intoxicated, flog him if he does it again a fourth time, kill him.

AbuDawud said: And there is a similar tradition of Umar ibn AbuSalamah, from his father, on the authority of AbuHurayrah, from the Prophet (peace be upon him): If he drinks wine, flog him if he does it so again, a fourth time, kill him.

Later, Umar (the second Rightly Guided Caliph) clarified that al-khamr refers to all intoxicants.

As for Al-Khamr, `Umar bin Khattab, the Leader of the faithful, used to say, "It includes all what intoxicates the mind."

And he would order eighty stripes as the mildest form of punishment.

...When Umar (became the Commander of the Faithful) and the people went near to pastures and towns, he said (to the Companions of the Holy Prophet). What is your opinion about lashing for drinking? Thereupon Abd al-Rahman b. Auf said: My opinion is that you fix it as the mildest punishment. Then 'Umar inflicted eighty stripes.

In The Modern World

In modern times, these laws still stand. There are out-right bans or severe restrictions put on the sale, purchase, and drinking of alcohol by adults in many Islamic majority countries, including: Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Brunei, Iran, Kuwait, Libya, Malaysia,[5] the Maldives, Morocco, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates.[6] Punishments vary according to country, but many are consistent with the Sunnah of Muhammad. They range from weeks to months of imprisonment, public flogging, and (in the case of Iran) the death penalty.

This prohibition, in many cases, does not exclude the non-Muslim. For example; in June 2009, Catholic chef Sapon D Costa was jailed in Dhaka, Bangladesh, for possession of alcohol.[7]

Despite these harsh laws and the negative views held by Muslims against alcohol, statistics provided by research group Euromonitor International reported in 2011 that alcohol use in predominantly Muslim regions of the world increased by 25 percent in 5 years.[8] Additionally, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported in the same year that Malaysia, a country with a Muslim majority, is the world's tenth largest consumer of alcohol.[9]

See Also

  • Alcohol - A hub page that leads to other articles related to Alcohol

External Links


  1. "....The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) replied: "Every intoxicant is khamr, and every khamr is haram."....“Khamr is what befogs the mind.” These are the words spoken by 'Umar ibn al-Khattab from the pulpit of the Prophet (PBUH),....Drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, opium, and the like are definitely included in the prohibited category of khamr. It is well known that the use of such drugs affects the sensory perceptions, making what is near seem distant and what is distant seem near; that their use produces illusions and hallucinations, so that the real seems to disappear and what is imaginary appears to be real; and that drug usage in general impairs the faculty of reasoning and decision-making...." - [Alcohol and Intoxicants in Islam] - Muslim Bridges
  2. "....the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, "Whoever plays games of dice has disobeyed Allah and His Messenger."...." - Al-Muwatta 52:6, See also Al-Muwatta 52:7
  3. "....Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) said: He who played chess is like one who dyed his hand with the flesh and blood of swine...." - Sahih Muslim 28:5612, See also Al-Muwatta 52:7
  4. Living Religions: An Encyclopaedia of the World's Faiths, Mary Pat Fisher, 1997, page 338, I.B. Tauris Publishers,
  5. Malaysian model seeks public flogging for drinking - The Associated Press, August 20, 2009
  6. Prohibition
  7. Catholic chef has a “really rough time in Dhaka’s central jail” - Asia News, June 11, 2009
  8. Islam: Survey, Alcohol Use In Mideast-Africa +25% In 5 Years - ANSAmed, February 23, 2011
  9. Tanya Thomas - Despite Its Muslim Majority, WHO Names Malaysia as World's 10th Largest Alcohol Consumer - Medindia Health Network, May 24, 2011