Sunday, December 18, 2011

Alcohol in the Qur'an - Booze is God-given!

My latest mail to "Kevin"
In An-Nahl (The Bee) there is a series of verses listing the wondrous things God has provided for mankind (I'm sure you know it)
16:65 starts the list with the rain that brings forth life - "a sign for those who listen", 16:66 talks of milk coming from cattle - "an instructive sign", 16:68 talks of the eponymous bee, and 16:69 finishes this section with the following: Then to eat of all the produce (of the earth), and find with skill the spacious paths of its Lord: there issues from within their bodies a drink of varying colours, wherein is healing for men: verily in this is a Sign for those who give thought.
Now, do you know what we find right in the middle of this wondrous bounty that God has provided? This...
16:67: And of the fruits of the palms and the grapes-- you obtain from them intoxication and goodly provision; most surely there is a sign in this for a people who ponder. (Shakir) or And of the fruits of the date-palm, and grapes, whence ye derive strong drink and (also) good nourishment. Lo! therein is indeed a portent for people who have sense. (Pickthall) Yet strangely Yusuf Ali appears to have found a different version of the original Arabic, for any mention of strong liquor is absent: 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.

Now, I know that Muslims say that the mention of strong drink in this verse is to show that we can choose to abuse God's gifts, and the mention of "a sign to ponder" reinforces this, and I have no doubt you will say this is the case.... But as you can see, all the other verses in this section have the same ending about "signs". This is the first time I've gone back and read the whole surah which puts the verse in context. It seems clear to me (and presumably to Yusuf Ali as well, since he felt the need to redact the offending words - why else would the mention of strong drink be missed out?) that the list is designed to be read as just that, a list of the bounty provided by God: He has provided the Arabs with milk, rain, honey and the necessary to make strong drink. There is no reason to read this verse any other way, and taken together with the other verses about alcohol from the Meccan period, any other understanding requires interpretation after the fact.

This is what worries me in a nutshell about the "experts" to whom the believers turn when they have doubts as to how a certain verse should be read. That the Qur'an later states alcohol is to be avoided, and it is impossible that God should contradict himself, it follows that the only interpretation possible is the one that you have learned to accept. Read it from the point of view of someone with no preconceived notions as to what it MUST mean, however, and a very different conclusion is, I think, inevitable.

Sure your too busy, but I'd be intrigued to hear what you make of this.


  1. Secretly your someone who is continuously chatting rubbish and is willing to make up lies to satisfy your interests.

  2. The Quran tells us that there is good and bad in wine, but that the bad is greater than the good.

    The good aspects of wine *are* a bounty from the Lord, and are alluded to here.

    These good aspects of wine will continue in the wine drunk in heaven, which doesn't cause you to feel drowsy or give you a headache, or make you act like a deranged idiot as you see with so many people outside a typical pub.
    Since people are so prone to abuse it, and it causes so much harm to the intellect though, the bad aspects of wine outweigh the good, and it became necessary to forbid it.

    Things can be seen under different aspects, and nobody should say that there are no good aspects to wine. These are alluded to in this verse.

    If everyone could be trusted to drink it responsibly, it would not be necessary to forbid it wine. It is necessary to forbid it, since, given human irresponsiblity and the whisperings of the Devil, the harm it contains is greater than the good.

    It seems there is much more benefit in completely forbidding it than in allowing it. That is the Quranic position. It is more nuanced than you seem to think.

    You seem to assume that one can have only two judgments about it "Wine good!" or "Wine bad!" This is not so. What is clear is that "Wine is prohibited". And this is because the contexts in which it is used means that the harm it produces is greater than the bad.

    As a sidenote, this verse is evidence of the care with which the Quran has been preserved. If Muslims made the Quran up later on, as some skeptics would have you believe, they would not have put a positive reference to wine here.