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Alcohol ban

forbiddance of alcohol (GB)
prohibition of alcohol (GB)

In Islam, drinking alcohol is a capital crime alongside adultery, fornication, slander, grand theft and murder, and this may even apply to the taking of medicines dissolved in alcohol substances. Among the 20 greatest sins in Islam, the consumption of alcohol ranks thirteenth. The prohibition for believing Muslims is inseparably linked to Mohammed (570-632), the founder of Islam. Wine or alcoholic beverages were thus banished forever from almost all countries that adopted the new religion. Drinking wine (schurb al-chamr) is one of the Hadd punishments in Islamic criminal law. These are punishments imposed to protect property, public safety and public morals, and are considered "God's legal claims". Depending on the school of law, the consumption of alcohol can be punished with 40 to 80 lashes or, as in Iran, even with death if repeated.

 Alkoholverbot -  Hafis vor der Schenke (A. Feuerbach) - Hafis/Goethe Denkmal in Weimar mit Ghasel

However, the ban has only been enforced in the course of time, because in the early Islamic period wine was highly valued in some Arab countries. Until the 19th century, the Persian city of Schiras was considered the centre of the highest wine culture and poets such as the famous Hafis (1324-1388) sang the praises of wine. The right picture shows one of Hafis' poems (Ghasel) on the Goethe-Hafis-Monument in Weimar. Jews and Christians (not Muslims) were allowed to trade in wine at times by individual caliphs because it brought tax revenue. The ban was then reinforced by the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the 20th century. After the seizure of power by the followers of Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran in 1979, all alcohol that had been offered publicly in shops up to that time was emptied onto the streets of Tehran.

Origin of the ban on alcohol in Islam

But what is the reason for the prohibition and how is it justified in the Koran, to which the legal scholars of Islam refer? The Qur'an explicitly names the vine as God's creation, as it is written in Sura 16, verse 11: "It is he who makes water come down from the clouds. With this he makes the grain grow, and the olive trees, date palms and vines". The Islamic paradise is described as a garden irrigated by fountains and clear streams with many fruits. The orthodox believers who enter it rest on divans and are cared for by beautiful black-eyed Huris (dazzling whites) who serve them a ginger-spiced wine mixed with the water of the Tasnim spring from full tubes sealed with musk. In Sura 47, verse 16, the believers are promised "streams of water, milk, wine and honey". Koran commentators, however, emphasize that the wine of paradise will not intoxicate.

Also within Islam there is a discussion about what the Prophet meant by the prohibition of alcohol and whether there are not exceptions. Mohammed himself was not an absolute teetotaller either, but is said to have enjoyed Nabidh, a wine-like drink made from dates. After all, Muhammad grew up in a culture in which wine and other alcoholic drinks made from wheat, barley, millet and honey were valued as a gift from God since ancient times. Wine taverns were visited with pleasure and indulged in the lucky charm. Wine has always been part of everyday life here, which is often documented in the Bible. Aisha (Ayesha), Mohammed's favorite wife, told about the Prophet's drinking habits: "We used to prepare nabidh (date wine) by putting a handful of dates or raisins in a tube and pouring water on them. This was then enjoyed by him in the evening when we prepared it in the morning or in the morning when we did it in the evening".

Various interpretations

So the ban on alcohol was not so strict after all? Maybe it only prohibited wine made from grapes (but not wine made from dates) or maybe it only prohibited the excessive consumption of alcohol, i.e. intoxication (drunkenness)? This was justified by liberal representatives with the following verse from the Qur'an: "Those who hold fast to their faith and do good shall not be blamed for any food they may have enjoyed as long as they believe in Allah and do good. His widow Aisha also saw (after Mohammed's death) in this way: "You may drink, but you may not get drunk. However, most Islamic jurists consider these discussions to be subtle and hair-splitting and believe that all drinks that can intoxicate are forbidden in principle for a Muslim and therefore different interpretations are not possible.

The Koran (Arab. Kur-ân), so to speak the Bible of Islam, is of the highest poetry and wisdom. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) also acknowledged this and wrote: "The Koran attracts us again and again, fills us with admiration and finally forces us to worship it". This work, written in Arabic in rhyme prose, was written between 610 and 632 and represents the revelations communicated to the Prophet of Allah and binding for all believers (Muslims). Originally, the Qur'an was written without intention on collected written records, but only for memory and memorization, and was compared annually by Muhammad and the angel Gabriel with the original text in heaven. It has been written gradually over the course of 23 years and consists of 114 chapters, the suras (sura = the sublime that overwhelms man) with a total of 6666 verses.

The suras were collected only after Mohammed's death by order of Abu Bekr (father of Aisha and later first caliph). Four suras deal with wine (Arabic Khamr). Sura 16 "Al-Nahl" (The Bees) in verse 68 says quite positively: "And from the fruit of the palm trees and the grapes you receive intoxicating drinks and also good food". But the Sura two "Al-Bakarah" (The cow) in verse 220 gives the warning advice: "They will also question you about wine and play (meant is the arrow game Meisar, which was about a camel). Tell them that in both of them lies the danger of sin, but also the benefit for men; but the disadvantage outweighs the benefit. And likewise the Surah warns four "Al-Nisa" (The Women) in verse 44 as follows: "O believers, do not pray in drunkenness, but only until you know again what you are saying".

But these statements in the two suras are not yet understood even by Islamic jurists as a complete ban on wine. The passage in the Koran on which the ban on alcohol or wine is based was written after an incident in Medina. After a meal and a drinking session, one of Mohammed's followers from Mecca, under the influence of alcohol, began to recite mocking verses about the people of Medina, whereupon a Medina-born follower struck a bone over his skull (he was not dead, but had a gaping head wound). Mohammed asked Allah how he could keep order among his disciples. Allah's answer can be read in the fifth surah "Al-Maida" (The Table) in verse 92.

This is also significant because, according to research, this Sura was written as one of the last, if not the last at all, in terms of time (and can therefore be considered "final"): O believers, the wine, the game, the images and the throwing away (a popular game of chance) are despicable and a work of Satan. Avoid them, that it may be well with you. Satan wishes only to cast enmity and hatred between you through wine and play, and to turn you away from the thought of Allah and from prayer. Will ye not therefore turn away from it? Obey Allah, and obey the messengers, and be on your guard. Again, although the word "forbidden" (Haram in Arabic) does not appear here, the general opinion has been established in Islam over the course of time that wine and, beyond that, all intoxicating substances (including drugs) are forbidden.

Penalties for alcohol consumption

This answer prompted Muhammad to order all the wine in Medina to be poured into the streets. But surely it was not only the dispute that was decisive, but probably also the effects that heavy wine had on the people of the desert with their innate hot temper. Muhammad decreed an absolute ban on wine and, as a punishment, ordered 40 lashes for the transgression. A successor even increased the punishment to 80, which can already lead to death depending on the intensity. However, this punishment was rarely used. In the early days of Islam, however, many questions remained open, not only regarding the consumption of alcohol, which could not always be clearly interpreted even from the Koran. After Mohammed's death, therefore, two writings were written that, together with the Qur'an, are regarded as documents that determine faith and rights.

These are firstly the Hadith (narrative) with messages about Mohammed's sayings and deeds, and secondly the Sunna (habit) with reports about Mohammed's exemplary behaviour. It tells that the angel Gabriel offered Mohammed two drinking vessels during his ascension, one containing milk and the other alcohol. Mohammed chose the milk and Gabriel said, "If you had taken the alcohol, your church would have gone astray. According to a saying of Muhammad, on the Day of Resurrection, alcohol drinkers are counted among the unbelievers. The Iranian theologian Al-Ghazali (1059-1111) emphasizes that no one may marry his daughter to a wine drinker and thereby expose himself to the wrath of God Almighty.

Alcohol ban in Islam today

However, a strict ban on alcohol has never really been established in the Islamic world. Particularly in the Ottoman Empire (1299 to 1922), phases of rigorous interpretation and pragmatic view alternated. The writer Ahmed Rasim (1826-1897) writes that the urban youth of Istanbul only adhered to the ban on alcohol during the months of Ramadan and Muharram. A distinction was often made between the "pleasure drinker" and the "habitual drinker", and they were concerned with the "right measure", i.e. the acceptable daily amount. Only in a few Islamic countries today there is a strict ban, so that alcoholic beverages can only be purchased illegally. These are Iran, Kuwait, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia and Sudan. In contrast, wine is produced and consumed in Egypt, Algeria, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia and Turkey, among others. A ban on alcohol is not limited to Islam, however, but has also been and still is in place in Western cultures. The best known example is the prohibition in the USA from 1920 to 1933.

Alkoholverbot - Prohibition USA 1920-1933 - Vernichtung Bierfässer und Slogan „bleib nüchtern“

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