The 38th Call: The Prohibition of Intoxicants, Gambling, Stone Alters and Divining Arrows
Almighty Allah says (what can be translated as): “O you who have believed, indeed, intoxicants, gambling, [sacrificing on] stone alters [to other than Allah], and divining arrows are but defilement from the work of Satan, so avoid it that you may be successful. Satan only wants to cause between you animosity and hatred through intoxicants and gambling and to avert you from the remembrance of Allah and from prayer. So will you not desist? And obey Allah and obey the Messenger and beware. And if you turn away - then know that upon Our Messenger is only [the responsibility for] clear notification. There is not upon those who believe and do righteousness [any] blame concerning what they have eaten [in the past] if they [now] fear Allah and believe and do righteous deeds, and then fear Allah and believe, and then fear Allah and do good; and Allah loves the doers of good.” (Al-Ma’idah: 90-93)
Almighty Allah prohibits his believing servants from consumption of intoxicants (alcohol), gambling, sacrificing animals on stone alters (i.e. stones that used to surround al-Qaba’ah) to other than Allah. He also prohibits them from divining arrows (they are either three cups or arrows; they used to toss them to decide about a matter. On one of them it is written (do), the second (do not) and the third does not include any writing. If the arrow on which it is written (do) appears, the person will do the thing. If the arrow on which it is written (do not) appears, the person will not do the thing. If the arrow on which nothing is written appears, then they will repeat the process.
Almighty Allah says to his truthful believing servants that these vices such as consumption of intoxicants and gambling are evil from the work of Satan (i.e. defilement). So, avoid this defilement so that you succeed and win the satisfaction and reward of Allah.
Satan wants you to consume intoxicants and gamble so that you fight and oppose one another to hate each other and end your unity after Almighty Allah gathered your hearts with faith and combined you under the brotherhood of Islam. Satan wants to keep you busy with drunkenness and gambling to distract you from the remembrance of Allah because such remembrance is the reason for your success in this life and the afterlife. Satan wants to draw your attention away from prayers obligated by Allah on you to purify your souls and cleanse your hearts.
Intoxicants make the human lose his sanity and cautiousness that forbid him from doing ugly acts. They drive him to say outrageous and insulting things to people. If the human consume intoxicants, he would do what he would not do while he is sober. So, under the influence of intoxicants, he may abuse his friends and brothers and harm them which would lead to fighting and hatred.
Gambling causes hatred and conflicts between the players and the attendants. The gambler usually does not fulfill the rights of his parents, spouse and children. He fails them all to the point that almost all of them start to hate him.
Then, Almighty Allah commands the believers to completely stop committing these vices so that they do not give Satan the chance to fulfill his aim. Almighty Allah commands the believers to obey Him with regard to abstaining from intoxicants and gambling and all kinds of prohibitions. He directs them to follow the Messenger and apply the legislations of Allah which the Messenger conveyed to them. They have to obey the rulings of the Messenger and what He decides. Almighty Allah warns them against disobedience, opposition and stubbornness. Then, He says to them that if they give up faith and insist on disobedience, violation of the sanctities of Allah and transgression of his pure Sharia, then they are fully notified and they have no excuse. The Messenger fulfilled what the Lord commanded him to do, i.e. notification, warning and invitation. Then, they will return to Allah to hold them accountable for their deeds whether big or small.
When Almighty Allah sent down the prohibition of alcohol, some Muslims wondered about the state of those who drank alcohol before the prohibition. So, this verse was revealed: “There is not upon those who believe and do righteousness [any] blame concerning what they have eaten [in the past] if they [now] fear Allah and believe and do righteous deeds, and then fear Allah and believe, and then fear Allah and do good; and Allah loves the doers of good.” (Verse 93) Almighty Allah clarifies that there is no blame or guilt upon those who believe and do good deeds for what they have eaten or consumed alcohol in the past. They are not also blamed if they ate or drank something that was not prohibited then it became prohibited later if they fear Allah, believe in the rulings He sends down and perform the obligated acts of worship such as praying and fasting. Then, they avoided what Almighty Allah prohibited later when they became aware of such prohibition and also they believed in what was sent down regarding this prohibition or any other commands. Then, they remained in a state of watchfulness, fear of Allah and doing good deeds. They performed the religious duties the best way they can and they completed any failing or neglect in performing obligations by doing voluntarily acts of worship. Indeed, Allah loves those who do good deeds, so He does not keep in their hearts any negative effect from alcohol and gambling such as hatred and resentment.
“Indeed, intoxicants, gambling, [sacrificing on] stone alters [to other than Allah], and divining arrows are but defilement from the work of Satan.” (Verse 90)
These are, then, foul practices and cannot be included among good and wholesome things which Allah has permitted. Moreover, they have been devised by Satan, man’s old enemy. It is sufficient for a believer to know that something is devised by Satan to make it totally repugnant to him. At this point, the prohibition is issued, but is combined with the prospect of attaining success, which itself has its profound effect on the human mind: “…so avoid it that you may be successful.” (Verse 90)
The Qur’anic verses go on to further expose Satan’s scheme behind the devising of these defilements: “Satan only wants to cause between you animosity and hatred through intoxicants and gambling and to avert you from the remembrance of Allah and from prayer.” (Verse 91)
Satan’s aim and the purpose of his scheming are thus exposed before every Muslim. Satan seeks nothing except the stirring up of enmity and hatred among believers so as to turn them away from their worship: (…to avert you from the remembrance of Allah and from prayer). What a wicked scheme!
Satan’s aims can easily be recognized in our practical life after we have accepted them as true, since Allah has stated them so. It does not take anyone with an open mind long to recognize how Satan actually stirs up enmity and hatred, utilizing for this purpose intoxicants and gambling. Intoxicants weaken one’s consciousness and self-control, heighten tempers and stir up whims and impulses. Gambling and all games of chance leave people with a sense of loss and grudges. It is natural that a losing gambler nurses a strong grudge against the winner who takes away his money from under his nose and leaves him empty handed. It is only natural that such matters stir up enmity and hatred, regardless of the impression of happiness they initially give off.
The fact that intoxicants and gambling do turn people away from their remembrance of Allah and from prayer is too clear to require elaboration. Drinking makes people forget and gambling makes them oblivious to everything else. Indeed, games of chance keep gamblers in a state of intoxication which is not dissimilar to that produced by drink. The world of a gambler is akin to that of a drunk: tables, glasses and a strike of fortune or misfortune. As this clear reference to Satan’s aim in devising these defilements produces its effect and awakens the hearts of those who believe, the question is then put which admits only the sort of answer Umar gave when he heard it for the first time: “So will you not desist?” His immediate response was: “We do desist, my Lord! We do.”
The surah goes on to put the whole matter in its proper perspective: “And obey Allah and obey the Messenger and beware. And if you turn away - then know that upon Our Messenger is only [the responsibility for] clear notification.” (Verse: 92)
This is the basic rule to which all matters are referred: obedience to Allah and His Messenger, i.e. submission which leaves no room except for absolute obedience and total compliance. There is also an implicit warning in this statement: “And if you turn away - then know that upon Our Messenger is only [the responsibility for] clear notification.”
He has certainly conveyed Allah’s message with absolute clarity. Anyone who disobeys bears full responsibility for his disobedience. This warning, implicitly as it is expressed, is indeed very strong. The believers are made aware that should they slip into disobedience they only harm themselves. Allah’s Messenger has fulfilled his trust and conveyed his message. Hence, he is no longer responsible for them. Nor will he shield them from punishment, since they have disobeyed him. Their faith is in the hands of Allah, who is able to punish those who disobey.
The Qur’anic method opens up our hearts and penetrates our depths. The lack of consciousness, whichever intoxicant produces it, 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, the Muslim plays a positive role in 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 require that he be always alert. These include duties towards his Lord, himself, his family and the Muslim 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 fulfils them as one who is totally in control. Drunkenness is the opposite state.
Moreover, seeking such unconsciousness is simply an attempt to escape from the reality of life at a particular moment in time and a preference for the sort of visions which accompany drunkenness. Islam disapproves of all this because it wants people to see the realities as they are, to look them in the face and to conduct 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 imagination is to prove one’s weakness and lack of will. Islam wants its 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 defilements 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 other physical impurities, or whether the prohibition applies only to drinking them. The majority of scholars are of the first view, while the second view is that of Rabi’ah, al-Layth ibn Sa’d, al-Muzni of the Shafi’i school and a number of later scholars of Baghdad. Perhaps this reference to scholarly views on this point is adequate for our purposes.
When these verses were revealed to totally prohibit all intoxicants, and describe them as a defilement devised by Satan, two groups of people raised a query in the same wording but for totally different reasons. A few of the Prophet’s Companions 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 killed in the Battle of Uhud, with intoxicants in their bellies?” i.e. 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 reasoning behind Islamic legislation. They also wanted to convey the feeling that those who died before the prohibition of intoxicants were totally lost, since they died with this defilement in their bodies.
Hence, the purpose behind the following verse: “There is not upon those who believe and do righteousness [any] blame concerning what they have eaten [in the past] if they [now] fear Allah and believe and do righteous deeds, and then fear Allah and believe, and then fear Allah and do good; and Allah loves the doers of good.” (Verse 93) This verse states that what has not been forbidden is lawful and that prohibition begins with its statement, not at any moment prior to this. There can be no retrospective prohibition and punishment, whether in this life or in the life to come, cannot 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 disobeyed nor drank something forbidden.
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 interests of the whole community, it is Allah who knows the whole truth. Obeying His orders is an undeniable duty of every Muslim. Any subsequent controversy addresses no real need. Realism is an essential aspect of the Divine method. No one can say: “If prohibition is the result of an inherent quality in the thing prohibited, how can it be permitted in the period leading up to its prohibition?” Allah must have had a good reason for leaving it permissible for a while. After all, this is always determined by Allah alone. This is, indeed, an essential quality of Godhead. Whether man considers something to be good or bad is not the determining factor because man can consider something to be the determining reason for prohibition when in actual fact 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 can use his mind to identify, as much as he is able to, 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 a decision is left to human intellect, people become the final arbiter on Allah’s legislation. How then can this fit in with Allah’s position as the ultimate authority, or with man’s submission to Him?
Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet (Peace Be upon Him) said, "An adulterer, at the time he is committing illegal sexual intercourse is not a believer; and a person, at the time of drinking an alcoholic drink is not a believer; and a thief, at the time of stealing, is not a believer." Ibn Shihab said: Abdul Malik ibn Abi Bakr ibn Abdul Rahman ibn Al-Harith ibn Hisham told me that Abu Bakr used to narrate that narration to him on the authority of Abu Huraira. He used to add that Abu Bakr used to mention, besides the above cases, "And he who robs (takes illegally something by force) while the people are looking at him, is not a believer at the time he is robbing (taking)."
Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet (PBUH) said, "The one who commits an illegal sexual intercourse is not a believer at the time of committing illegal sexual intercourse and a thief is not a believer at the time of committing theft and a drinker of alcoholic drink is not a believer at the time of drinking. Yet, (the gate of) repentance is open thereafter."
Narrated Hisham from Ma’mar as below. Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet (Peace Be upon Him) said, "I met Moses on the night of my Ascension to heaven." The Prophet (PBUH) then described him saying, as I think, "He was a tall slim person with lank hair as if he belonged to the people of the tribe of Shanu's." The Prophet further said, "I met Jesus." The Prophet described him saying, "He was one of moderate height and was red-faced as if he had just come out of a bathroom. I saw Abraham whom I resembled more than any of his children did." The Prophet further said, "(That night) I was given two cups; one full of milk and the other full of wine. I was asked to take either of them which I liked, and I took the milk and drank it. On that it was said to me, 'You have taken the right path (religion). If you had taken the wine, your (Muslim) nation would have gone astray. "
Abu Sa'id al-Khudri (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: I heard Allah's Messenger (Peace Be upon Him) addressing in Medina. He said: O people, Allah is giving an indication (of the prohibition) of wine and He is probably soon going to give an order about it. So he who has anything of it with him should sell that, and derive benefit out of it. He (the narrator) said: We waited for some time that Allah's Messenger (PBUH) said: Verily Allah, the Exalted, has forbidden wine. So who hears this verse and he has anything of it with him, he should neither drink it nor sell it. He (the narrator) said: The people then brought whatever they had of it with them on the streets of Medina and spilt that.
Jabir ibn Abdullah (May Allah be pleased with both of them) reported Allah's Messenger (Peace Be upon Him) as saying in the Year of Victory while he was in Mecca: Verily Allah and His Messenger have forbidden the sale of wine, carcass, swine and idols, It was said: Allah's Messenger, you see that the fat of the carcass is used for coating the boats and varnishing the hides and people use it for lighting purposes, whereupon he said: No, it is forbidden. Then Allah's Messenger (Peace Be upon Him) said: May Allah the Exalted and Majestic destroy the Jews; when Allah forbade the use of fat of the carcass for them, they melted it, and then sold it and made use of the price (received from it).
Narrated Anas ibn Malik (May Allah be pleased with him): "The Messenger of Allah (Peace Be upon Him) cursed ten involved in wine: The one who presses it, the one who has it pressed, its drinker, its carrier, and the one it is carried to, its server, its seller, the consumption of its price, the one who purchases it and the one it was purchased for." [Abu 'Eisa said:] This Hadith is Gharib (a hadith conveyed by only one narrator) as a narration of Anas. Similar to this has been reported from Ibn Abbas, Ibn Mas'ud, and Ibn Umar, from the Prophet (PBUH).
Anas b. Malik reported that Allah's Apostle (Peace Be upon Him) gave a beating with palm branches and shoes, and that Abu Bakr gave forty lashes. When Umar (became the Commander of the Faithful) and the people went near to pastures and towns, he said (to the Companions of the Prophet). What is your opinion about lashing for drinking? Thereupon Abdul Rahman ibn Auf said: My opinion is that you fix it as the mildest punishment. Then Umar inflicted eighty stripes as punishment.