July 10, 2005
No drinking and gambling in the Quran: Prohibition in IslamBy James Arlandson
As early as 1978, Saudi Arabia sentenced nine Britons to flogging for drinking alcohol. The webpage has a photo of how the police carry out the sentence.
In 2003 in Saudi Arabia, an Australian was sentenced to be flogged and imprisoned for smuggling alcohol.
In 2004, the Canadian Islamic Congress recommends banning alcohol from college campuses, even for the faculty.
In 2005, an Iranian judge sentenced another drinker to eighty lashes. Fortunately, the sentence was commuted to one lash with eighty twigs bound together. The man was sick, so the judge changed his sentence to this one hit instead of eighty different lashes.
In 2005 in Nigeria, a sharia court ordered that a drinker should be caned eighty strokes.
In 2005, in the Indonesian province of Aceh, fifteen men were caned in front of the mosque for gambling. This was done publicly so all could see and fear. Eleven others are scheduled to undergo the same penalty for gambling.
Why do these judges and imams impose such a severe penalty for drinking alcohol and gambling?
The answer is found in the Quran first and in the hadith second (the hadith are the reports of Muhammad's words and deeds outside of the Quran). Later legal rulings also explain the source of this punishment.
This article explores Islam's and Christianity's views on alcohol and gambling. Needless to say, Islam flogs the offenders, whereas Christianity helps them from the inside out.
Islam imposes corporal punishment on drinkers and gamblers. Is this the best policy to help them?
The translations are all done by MAS Abdel Haleem, who was educated at Al—Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, and Cambridge University, and is now professor of Islamic Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Overall, his translation is excellent, though he occasionally whitewashes some of the harsh wording found throughout his sacred book.
Sayyid Abul A'La Maududi (d. 1979) was an Indo—Pakistani who tried to establish a theocracy in Pakistan through the Jamaat—i Islami Party, but he failed. He is a highly regarded commentator on the Quran (The Meaning of the Qur'an), representing traditional Islam.
Sayyid Qutb was an Egyptian radical, prolific author, and godfather of an assortment of modern jihadist movements today. He was executed in 1966 for trying to overthrow the Egyptian government. He wrote a valued and sometimes insightful multivolume commentary on the Quran, In the Shade of the Qur'an.
We let these three highly qualified and devout Muslims speak for their own religion and the Quran in this section. We also examine the historical and literary contexts of the Quranic passages in order to get some clarity and to prevent the standard, reflexive 'out of context' defense of Muslim apologists (defenders).
First Prohibition (of sorts): yes and no
Maududi says that most of Sura 2 was revealed shortly after Muhammad's Hijrah (Emigration from Mecca to Medina) in AD 622. The following verse in Sura 2 shows that Muhammad partially or confusedly permitted or condemned drinking and gambling at that time (Maududi, vol. 1, p. 161, note 235).
In no way is this verse a clear and uncompromising edict on the two personal practices of drinking alcohol and gambling. (Islam teaches that all intoxicants are criminal; cf. Bukhari, Drinks, vol. 7, nos. 5579—5589; Muslim no. 7186.) It seems contradictory to call the two acts mostly sinful but partially beneficial. It may be argued that alcohol is sinful in its morality, but beneficial in its health for the body (e.g. helping digestion). However, Allah will later prohibit it completely, so either it is sinful morally regardless of the year on the Muslim calendar, or it is not.
Second Prohibition: only during prayer
According to the historical evidence and the content of Sura 4, Maududi says that the sura was revealed between the timeframe of AD 625 and 627, because various verses indicate different events. For example, vv. 1—28 speak of the Battle of Uhud in AD 625. Verse 102 indicates a military expedition in AD 626 during which Muhammad taught his Muslims how to pray while out on campaign. Verse 43 takes place during another military expedition in AD 627 when he taught his holy military warriors how to perform ablutions (washings) with pure dust if water was not available.
Maududi speculates that the target verse 43 came at the chronological beginning of the entire sura and therefore early in AD 625 because many Muslims showed up intoxicated for public prayers 'and made blunders in their recitations' of Quranic passages. So Muhammad had to correct the problem. However, some hadith passages (the hadith is the reports of Muhammad's words and actions outside of the Quran) say that some Muslim warriors showed up at the Battle of Uhud intoxicated and died, but this was before Allah had prohibited it, so they were not held responsible (Sura 5:93; see Bukhari, Oppressions, vol. 3, no 2463; Jihad, vol. 4, no. 2815; Commentary, vol. 6, nos. 4618, 4620).
Regardless of the exact timeframe, for our purposes all we need to know is that Sura 4 was revealed between Sura 2 (see above) and Sura 5 (see below). Thus, Allah's 'eternal' revelations on the morality of drinking intoxicants are changing according to external circumstances.
Because the Muslims showed up intoxicated for public prayer, 'they changed the timings of their drinking so as not to clash with the timings of their prayers,' says Maududi (vol. 1, p. 337, note 65). So Muhammad prohibited drunkenness only during prayers. This means that Muslims were permitted to get drunk in between the forced prayers that Islam imposes. How is this guidance? It is quite odd that in this confused state of affairs Muhammad did not completely and absolutely prohibit intoxication at this time, when the Muslim community needed it most. Quranic revelation on this matter falls short.
Third Prohibition: final and absolute
Maududi says that Sura 5 was revealed in the timeframe of AD 628 and 629, so it is a late sura (Muhammad dies of a fever in AD 632). It lays down rules for a growing community after the Treaty of Hudaybiyah in AD 628 in which Muslims were promised a free and unmolested pilgrimage to Mecca a year later, which took place. So it was important for Muslims to prepare themselves and to give up all intoxicants. Hence, these two verses came down from Allah:
It must be conceded that these verses have a certain common sense backing them up. A small community getting drunk and gambling in between forced prayer times would probably suffer from 'enmity' and 'hatred' against each other. This would happen in any small community whether it were Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, secular, or fill—in—the—blank. So v. 91 is an accurate description. However, a shortcoming has burrowed into the Quran because this description could not be discovered earlier in the ten years Muhammad lived in Medina (AD 622—632), especially when the Muslims showed up drunk for prayer and battle.
The best expositor and defender of the gradual revelation in the matter of drinking and gambling is Sayyid Qutb, who divides the problem up in four areas in his commentaries on Suras 2:219, 4:43, and 5:90—91, in his volumes 1, 3, and 4, respectively: the theological, the social, psychological, and historical. For each he writes a seemingly plausible explanation for the gradual revelation, but each falls short and contradicts the other.
First, as to the theological wisdom found in the Quran, Qutb says that 'in matters of faith or abstract belief, Islam gives specific and definite pronouncements' . . . (vol. 1, p. 332). He offers the example of the Islamic ruling on God's oneness, which was laid down at the outset, 'without any hesitation or room for compromise' (p. 332). This is important because he contrasts the theological with the social and psychological, which need a gradual approach if people are to change.
In reply, however, the historical reality behind the words in Sura 5:90—91 contradicts Qutb's reading of human nature. In this mid— or late Medinan sura, Allah has to remind the Muslims not to indulge in idols (Qutb's translation of v. 90). This can only mean that some Muslims were engaged in idolatrous practices when this verse was sent down. Yet according to Qutb, the oneness of Allah and the evils of polytheism must be commanded at the first without compromise. Something is wrong here. This shows that human nature is slow to obey divine commands even in abstract matters like the oneness of Allah—especially in abstract matters. Then how much more are average humans slow to obey practical commands against drinking and gambling, which are 'well—entrenched social habits' (vol. 1, p. 332)? Therefore, in the progressive revelations of Allah and his prophet and in Qutb's defense of them, they misread human nature, which needs firm commands from the outset, as Moses demonstrates, coming down from Mt. Sinai, enveloped by smoke and fire, visible for all the ancient Hebrews to see.
Qutb's second and third defense of these three progressive Quranic revelations analyzes the social and the psychological aspects. He says, for example, '. . . when it comes to matters of tradition or complex social practices, it [Islam] takes a more pragmatic and measured approach, preparing the ground for smoother adoption and implementation' (vol. 1, p. 332). He then discusses Sweden and the US, which had their troubles with alcohol. Sweden had to limit it by government takeover. The US passed an amendment to the Constitution in 1919 that prohibited alcohol completely. However, the black market sprang up overnight, so the flow of alcohol was never shut off completely. This shows that this intoxicant is deeply rooted in society and in the human mind and that American law moved too quickly, whereas Islam moves gradually as seen in the First to Third Prohibitions (vol. 3, pp. 151—52; cf. vol. 4, pp. 243—46; see Bukhari, Virtues of the Quran, vol. 6, no. 4993).
Therefore, so goes Qutb's reasoning, Islam's way is better than either the religious or the secular way in the West.
Before we analyze this dubious second and third defense, Qutb informs us that the historical results (his fourth explanation) of the Islamic way of prohibition were miraculous. 'Islam, on the other hand, was able to successfully eradicate this well—entrenched habit, deploying only a few verses of the Qur'an to do so' (vol. 2, p. 152). His words 'on the other hand' mean in opposition to Sweden and the US.
Also, when the final revelation came down in Sura 5:9—91, Qutb reports on the miraculous results in these words:
Qutb writes further: 'How did it all happen? How was this miracle, unparalleled in human history, achieved?' (vol. 3. p. 155; cf. vol. 4, pp. 247—50; see Bukhari, Sales, vol. 3, no. 2226, Oppressions, vol. 3, no. 2464; Drinks, vol. 7, nos. 5582—5583).
Thus, history demonstrates that the Quranic approach to human frailty is far better than Western (read: Christian) answers.
The reply to Qutb's utopian description is not difficult. These last three defenses (the social, psychological and historical) of the Quran's progressive revelations are contradicted by the brute facts. It may be true that some Muslims stopped drinking instantaneously after Sura 5:90—91 was sent down (though these reports seem exaggerated and counterfactual), but all of the Muslims? Indeed, the hadith and later classical legal rulings (the next two sections) demonstrate that the results were not always and exclusively positive. Muhammad had to whip alcohol drinkers, and so did the first generations of Muslims, that is, the companions of Muhammad, like Abu Bakr, Umar, and Ali. Later jurists will follow their example and decree the penalty of whipping drunkards and even light social drinkers. Thus, Islam follows the results in the US during Prohibition, after all.
Therefore, Qutb exaggerates the results with his talk of miraculous obedience once Sura 5:90—91 was announced in the mosque in Medina. More significantly, he misreads human nature. But why should we blame him too harshly if the original Muslims, including Muhammad, misread human nature as well, as we will see by their corporal or bodily punishments of alcoholics or social drinkers, in the hadith and classical legal rulings.
But Qutb's idealistic beliefs that are disconnected from hard facts are also false according to the Quran and other historical realities. Qutb's 'wise' sacred book bluntly and swiftly lays down the law in one verse about theft: a male or female thief must get his or her hand chopped off if he or she steals an object of a certain monetary amount (Sura 5:38). Where is the gradual approach in this severe punishment? If any punishment needed a measured pace of which Qutb boasts about drinking and gambling, it is this one because it is irreversible. It is true that more people drink than steal, but that only describes a social fact.
Besides the sociological, Qutb also divides the subject into the theological, psychological, and the historical. How is it that Allah knows that theft is wrong in only one revelation, whereas he seems not to know this about drinking and gambling? Indeed, at the end of Qutb's analysis of the three verses in three different volumes, he retreats into the 'mystery of Allah' on why the deity left intoxicants permissible for a while: 'God must have had a good reason for leaving it permissible for a while' (vol. 4, p. 252). Thus, Muslims must not question this or seek an answer. This retreat demonstrates confusion. Also, how does this non—gradual revelation about theft accurately read human psychology? It does not.
As to other historical oversights that Qutb engages in, he misses the fact that Islam is an expansionist religion, and history demonstrates that it marched out of Arabia with armies in the background or in the foreground. Wherever it went, it imposed sharia or Islamic law on the newly conquered territories because it allegedly expresses the best for humankind or the will of Allah.
How is this conquest and imposition of the law about drinking and gambling a measured approach for the newly conquered who converted to Islam? Dhimmis or People of the Book (Jews and Christians) who were treated as second—class citizens may have been exempt from Islamic law in this matter, depending on the region. So why do they get to drink and gamble? Regardless, surely Muslims do not believe that converts to Islam reach sinless perfection. The law against drinking and gambling is not imposed on them in stages; it is already in the Quran. In fact, the hadith and the classical legal rulings (the next two sections) indicate that Islamic societies had to deal (and have to deal) with these problems, just as western societies did (and do). The links in the introduction to this article demonstrates this. Such is human nature world over. The Quran for them is not 'sensitive' and 'gentle' towards their psyche or society, as Qutb erroneously would have us believe.
In short, Qutb overlooks too many facts, so his defense of progressive revelations by dividing the subject up into the four fields of theology, sociology, psychology, and history fails to make a sound case. The Quran and its divine inspirer misread human nature, and so does its commentator, Qutb.
Egypt was Qutb's homeland. Here is a webpage that advertises an Egyptian casino in Cairo. This page advertises one too, with a fully stocked bar. This page also tells foreigners where to go for bars and pubs. Though these places are designed for foreigners, do all Egyptian Muslims avoid these establishments? As we will see in the section 'Classical legal rulings,' below, drinking alcohol during Umar's reign (a companion of Muhammad) became 'excessive.'
To conclude this section, the Quran takes the long route in the desert to decree that intoxicants and gambling are sins. Sura 4:43 seems to imply that a Muslim is allowed to get drunk, but not during forced prayer times. Qutb argues that this shows the wisdom of his sacred book because it gradually imposes divine law on recalcitrant humans, but he fails to factor in historical reality, and he misreads human psychology and society. Theologically, this gradual, changing revelation puts the deity who inspired the Quran in a difficult position. He too misreads human nature. What does this say about Muhammad's capacity to be rightly guided? It is better to lay down the law immediately so that humans can know where they stand and obey or disobey the standard. It should not float around in the air, confusing people. However, it must be said that Sura 5:90—91 does come down strong, though belatedly, on two potential vices, and that many Christians, especially in the American South, would agree with these two verses.
But no one of a sober mind would agree with the Islamic punishments for alcoholism and one punishment for gambling, seen in the hadith and classical legal rulings.
The three most reliable hadith collectors and editors are Bukhari (d. 870), Muslim (d. 875), and Abu Dawud (d. 875). The Quran and the hadith are the foundations for later legal rulings. This section deals first with drinking and then with gambling.
Statements on intoxicants are found throughout the hadith. For example, Muhammad announced the prohibition in the mosque, presumably Sura 5:90—91, or perhaps all three Quranic passages at different times (Bukhari, Prayers, vol. 1, no. 459; Sales, vol. 3, no. 2226; Commentary, vol. 6, nos. 4541—4543).
Also, Ali, Muhammad's cousin, recounts a hadith that shows him about to marry Fatima, Muhammad's daughter by his first wife Khadija. Hamza, Muhammad's uncle, was drunk, and a singing girl egged him on to go after Ali's two fat she—camels. Hamza cut off their two humps and cut their flanks open. Ali told Muhammad, and the prophet scolded his uncle. But when Muhammad realized that 'Hamza was drunk, he retreated, walking backwards, went out and we left with him' (Bukhari, Military Expeditions, vol. 5, no. 4003). Muhammad backpedaled. Ali and Fatima were married about two years after the Hijrah, so did Muhammad decree in Sura 2:219 that intoxicants were sinful / beneficial at that time? Since he seems reluctant to enforce this verse against his uncle, it may have been revealed after this embarrassing episode. Or maybe Allah's revelation in Sura 2:219 was too unclear to interpret firmly, if it was revealed before this shameful behavior of a Muslim hero.
These and other anecdotes have an interesting character all by themselves, but we instead focus on the punishments for intoxication and gambling, though the hadith and later classical rulings do not have as much to say on gambling as they do on drunkenness.
Bukhari's hadith collection says that in beating a drunk, palm leaf stalks and shoes can be used. But Abu Bakr, a close companion of Muhammad, uses another implement, the lash.
Abu Bakr uses a lash. The words 'such a sinner' are not original in Arabic, but are supplied by the translator Muhammad Muhsin Khan and his team. But Islam wrongly punishes the alcoholic as a criminal, even a light drinker who does not get drunk (this is possible).
This poor 'criminal' was brought to Muhammad who became angry:
Thus, we see no offer of help for the alcoholic, when he is dragged before Muhammad. Later traditions say that Muhammad could perform miracles—though the Quran never mentions a miracle apart from the existence of Quran itself, a miracle, but which is a weak criterion, as this article demonstrates. Why could not a miracle transformation take place for this and other drunks? Why does he not offer rehabilitation? Why does he always seem to go immediately to corporal punishment?
Next, this passage says that Umar raised the number of lashes from forty to eighty if the drunkard becomes mischievous and disobedient. He also, along with Abu Bakr, no longer used makeshift instruments like shoes and clothing, but a lash.
Sometimes the hadith contradict each other. This one misses the fact that Abu Bakr used a lash (see no. 6776, above).
Muslim is the second hadith collector and editor.
In the section titled 'Prescribed Punishment for (Drinking) Wine,' he begins with the prophet and Abu Bakr whipping a drunkard forty times with two lashes:
It is easy to see how the traditions in Bukhari overlap somewhat with this one in Muslim. It seems Muhammad would not use only hands, shoes, or wound—up clothes, but a special lash or whip. See Muslim no. 4228, which parallels Bukhari more closely, still concluding that eighty stripes is an acceptable penalty.
Finally, Abu Dawud is the third hadith collector and editor.
He agrees with Bukhari and Muslim, so we do not need to repeat his hadith here. However, he does record the decree that if a drunkard repeats his crime four times, Allah will make him drink the '[D]ischarge of wounds flowing from the inhabitants of Hell' in the afterlife (no. 3673). He also says that if a man dies who is addicted to drink, he will not taste wine in Islamic heaven (no. 3671; cf. Bukhari, Drinks, vol. 7. no. 5575). Islamic heavenly wine does not impact the head with inebriation, so apparently the earthly drunkard is missing quite a heavenly treat. Would he be willing to give up his earthly delights for a heavenly gain? It is a lot better than drinking hellish pus.
However, Abu Dawud finds the early Muslims raising the penalty to the ultimate degree:
The translator of Abu Dawud provides a footnote that says this ultimate punishment was abrogated by Tirmidhi (d. 892), a student of Bukhari, presumably in a passage like the following:
Does this text give permission for the death penalty or not? The words say yes, but the example says no. Abu Dawud offers four passages that allow the death penalty (4467—4470); however, no. 4470 says in one clause that 'the punishment of killing (for drinking) was repealed.' As we saw in the three stages of Quranic revelations, what does this change in the hadith say about Muhammad's capacity to be rightly guided? Should a major religion even 'flirt' with the death penalty for the sin of drinking wine four times? Any sober—minded observer, whose mind has not been drunk on a lifetime of devotion to Islam, must answer no.
According to Abu Dawud's report, intoxicants are prohibited in even small amounts:
This reasoning may be accurate for an alcoholic who must not touch a single drop if he is to stay sober. But extreme cases make bad policy for the rest of humanity. If a little wine is enjoyed, for example, during a meal, and does not at all intoxicate the drinker (this is possible), then the sin of drunkenness is not committed. We will see in the next section that some Islamic jurists make the distinction between taking in a little fermented beverages and drunkenness. But generally Islam takes things to extremes, especially in punishing people. So why should we be surprised if Islam prohibits even a single drop of fermented beverages? This extreme is its own version of holiness. However, we do not need to quibble over this, when the bigger problem in Islam is how it punishes drinkers—excessively, which is never just.
Before leaving this section, we should mention gambling, which the hadith does not deal with in detail, compared to intoxication. Not even the conservative scholar Maududi, who knew Islamic law well, offers us hadith passages or later legal rulings on gambling.
We should note carefully the wording in this hadith edited by Bukhari:
As we will see, a later jurist notes that a man is required to give to charity to expiate for his sins even for uttering the words, 'Come let me (or us) gamble!' What if he and his friends actually engage in gambling?
Muslim repeats Bukhari's hadith (no. 4041), and Abdul Hamid Siddiqi, the translator of Muslim, adds this footnote, in the context of a man swearing by two Arab gods Lat and Uzza and telling his friends to gamble with him. He must repent in this way:
One of the deficiencies in Islam is that a Muslim must pay for his own sins. Where does this end? How can he be assured of getting into heaven? Taking a trip to Mecca? What about all the Muslims who are unable to do this, especially before modern transportation? In Christianity, per contra, Jesus pays for the sins of his followers by his death on the cross. All they have to do is believe in him, and then they are on their way to heaven. However, it is one thing to make material restitution for one's sins, say, in the case of theft (restitution is good), but it is quite another to 'expiate' one's sins by self—effort to ensure access to heaven.
But we should not complain too loudly about this practice of giving charity for merely suggesting gambling, apart from actually doing it. Charity is a lot better than corporal punishment, being whipped forty or eighty stripes. But is the gambler totally exempt from a beating? The next section answers this question.
To sum up this section, Muhammad and his companions in the hadith punished wine drinkers with forty to eighty lashes. At first, hands, shoes, or wound—up clothes were used, but they were quickly replaced with a lash—and perhaps a lash at the same time that hands, shoes or clothes were, but lashes or canes seem to be the implement of choice today. Next, Muhammad even decreed that if the drunkard violated the Quran four times or more, he should be killed. Fortunately for wine drinkers in those days (and all of them today), this decree was repealed. The change from the death penalty for alcoholics to whipping them questions Muhammad's wisdom and capacity to be rightly guided. Finally, the hadith does not detail how to penalize gambling. It says that the gambler should expiate his sins by giving to charity, for merely suggesting that he and his friends should play games of chance, quite apart from actually playing them. How should he be punished if he actually commits this sin? Unclarity, not clarity, rules Islam on this. Consequently, the legal rulings will be sparse and unclear, as well.
Classical legal rulings
Sharia means the body of Islamic law rooted in the Quran and the hadith; fiqh means the science of interpreting and applying this law, done by qualified Islamic judges and legal scholars. Over the first two centuries after Muhammad's death in AD 632, four main Sunni schools of fiqh emerged, led by these scholars: Malik (d. 795), who lived in Medina, Arabia; Abu Hanifa (d. 767), who lived in Kufa, Iraq; Shafi (d. 820), who lived mostly in Mecca, Arabia, but who was buried in Cairo, Egypt; and Hanbal (d. 855) who lived in Baghdad, Iraq. They base their legal opinions and rulings on the Quran and the hadith. We examine the opinions of some of these schools in law books and manuals that summarize earlier opinions.
A brief law book from the Medieval Age, A Sunni Shafi Law Code (trans. Anwar Ahmed Qadri, Lahore: Sh. Muhammad Ashraf, 1984), says the following:
Thus, this ruling agrees with the hadith. It is revealing of women's rights even today that two female witnesses count for only one male witness. Can Islam reform and rewrite classical fiqh?
Another Shafi law book, Reliance of the Traveler: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law, (rev. ed., trans. Nuh Ha Mim Keller, Beltsville, Maryland: Amana, 1994), compiled in the Medieval Age, says that the following criteria must be obtained before imposing the punishment of forty to eighty stripes: (a) he drinks; (b) he has reached puberty; (c) he is sane; (d) he is a Muslim; (e) he does so voluntarily; (f) and he knows it is unlawful (p. 617, o16.0). The manual also notes that if the offender dies from forty stripes an indemnity is due for his death. If the caliph increases the penalty to eighty stripes and the offender dies, the ruler is required to pay an indemnity (p. 617 o16.0) According to this report, in Iran a teenage boy broke his Ramadan fast, so a judge sentenced him to be lashed with eighty—five stripes. He died from the punishment. This shows that lashing can be fatal.
As for gambling, this same Shafi manual says that 'every game played by two or more people that relies on luck, conjecture, and guessing is unlawful, no matter whether money is stipulated or not.' However, if the games assist in jihad, such as target practice with bows and arrows, then they are legal (p. 453, k30.0). How can anyone deny the depth of jihad in classical Islam? But the manual is unclear as to the punishment for gambling. It recalls the hadith passages that say that if a man merely suggests with words that he and his friends should gamble, he is to expiate for his sin by giving to charity. The manual in turn asks rhetorically: 'If merely saying this is a sin that calls for charity in expiation, what must one suppose about actually doing it? It is a form of consuming others' wealth through falsehood' (p. 697, p72.0). Presumably, this brings a much more severe penalty than giving to charity.
Imam Malik composed a law book that is also considered a collection of reliable hadith: Al—Muwatta of Imam Malik ibn Anas: The First Formation of Islamic Law (rev. trans. Aisha Bewley, Inverness, Scotland: Madina Press, 1989, 2001). He reviews the hadith (see previous section) and concludes that forty to eighty lashes should be administered. Malik cites a hadith that says that when a drunk talks confusedly, he tells lies. So Umar, Muhammad's close companion, imposed eighty lashes on the analogy that a slanderer got eighty lashes. Someone receives the punishment for drinking 'whether or not he becomes drunk' (p. 355, 42.1).
Malik prescribes a beating for games of dice: Yahya related to me . . . from Abdullah ibn Umar that when he found one of his family members playing dice, he beat him and destroyed the dice' (p. 402, 52.2.7). This punishment here is imposed within a family, but apparently it can also be imposed on the general populace, as this article in the introduction demonstrates.
For the other schools of law, we use the compendium of Ibn Rushd, known in the West as Averro�s (d. 1198). By far he is the most thorough compiler and editor of legal opinions. He was a judge, medical doctor, and scientist, but he pursued his career mostly as a judge in Spain, where Islam ruled from the eighth century to the fifteenth. He was buried in Cordova. His two—volume work, The Distinguished Jurist's Primer, (trans. Imran Ahsan Khan Nyazee, Center for Muslim Contribution to Civilization, Reading, UK: Garnet, 1994—1996), took over twenty years to write. Bringing together the first three schools of law and an assortment of other legal opinions, Ibn Rushd provides a foundation in Islamic law for judges and legal scholars throughout the Islamic world, where it is still used today.
Ibn Rushd follows the hadith closely in his summary of jurists, so we do not need to repeat them here. But he notes two interesting tidbits. First, the jurists of Iraq (the schools of Hanifa and of Hanbal) say that in the case of other intoxicants (fermented beverages) besides wine 'only the act of intoxication is prohibited' . . . (vol. 2, pp. 534—35). Though this disagrees with a hadith that says even a little intoxicants are prohibited, this permission is reasonable and implies that at least a few jurists make a distinction between drinking moderately and drunkenness. This is exactly how the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, come down on the issue of alcohol—making a distinction between moderate drinking by which a person may still retain all of his faculties, and drunkenness. Second, Ibn Rushd says that the majority of jurists cites the rulership of Umar during which 'the drinking of khamr [wine] in his times became excessive' (vol. 2, p. 535), so eighty stripes were imposed. This rejects Sayyid Qutb's ridiculous claim that Islam enjoyed a miracle of prohibition as soon as the third decree in Sura 5:90—91 was read from the mosque. This also denies the unsupportable belief that Islamic societies are pure and holy in the matter of intoxication. It is simply impossible to absolutely stop human vices by outside force, ultimately. See 'Supplemental material,' below.
To summarize this section, the classical jurists followed the hadith closely for intoxication. One school distinguishes between drinking moderately and drunkenness. This is a reasonable distinction because if someone drinks only a little drop of fermented beverage, he will not become inebriated, so the sin does not take place. However, this reasonable ruling disagrees with an excessive and irrational hadith that says that even a little wine is a sin, whether or not it causes drunkenness, so it elicits forty stripes at least. Gambling was not dealt with thoroughly and clearly, except that an uncertain amount of charity expiates an offender's sins, even if he suggests only verbally that he and his friends should gamble. Malik says that a member of a family was beaten in early Islam. So maybe this is the punishment for going beyond suggesting to actually doing it.
Before moving on to the Biblical view on alcohol and gambling, we should take stock of the last three sections. The Quran goes through confusing stages before it reaches the conclusion that the two practices are sinful. First it says that alcohol is sinful and beneficial (Sura 2:219). Then it allows drunkenness, but not during forced prayer times (Sura 4:43). Finally it prohibits drinking and gambling (Sura 5:90—91). However, it is one thing for a religion to prohibit these two practices—that is a religion's prerogative. But it is quite another if it punishes sinners with whippings. Islam seems always to go for physical punishments in order to transform society, but Islamic societies are still not pure and pristine. Why does it not offer help for the sinner in its origins?
Jesus offers to freely help all those who ask him. He does not flog sinners or the needy. Not even the Old Testament, which can impose harsh laws, commands physical punishment for drunkenness.
The Old Testament
The Old Testament on alcohol is clear. It allows people to drink, but only in moderation. It condemns drunkenness. Gambling will be analyzed in the section 'Application,' below.
The New International Version of the Bible is used in the next two sections.
First, the Torah demonstrates that drunkenness leads to all sorts of troubles, so one should not do it. Genesis recounts two stories of Biblical patriarchs who got drunk—no, these passages have not been corrupted, as so many Muslims assert because they misguidedly believe that a prophet has to be sinlessly perfect. Biblical passages that reveal sin and weakness in even a Bible hero teach us that when we sin, we too can be forgiven and still serve God. They comfort us. Be that as it may, Noah got drunk after the Flood, and this causes family troubles (Genesis 9:18—29). The inference is clear: do not get drunk, and the family will experience a lot less heartache. Drunkenness in another family causes troubles. Lot's daughters got their father drunk and committed sexual sins with him (Genesis 19:30—38. This passage teaches society that inebriation is wrong, and the verses also illustrate by means of a story that the sin of incest is wrong, as the Torah commands elsewhere (Leviticus 18:1—30). The third example from the Torah concerns family troubles as well. When a son becomes rebellious, the parents are to take him before the elders and tell them about their son's lifestyle, which includes drunkenness: 'This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a profligate and a drunkard' (Deuteronomy 21:20). It must be emphasized that son is not being punished for drinking, but for rebellion. The fourth example is seen when the ancient Hebrews deviated from Moses and the Ten Commandments and bowed down to the golden calf. After sacrificing to it, 'they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry' (Exodus 32:6).
The Torah is therefore clear: drunkenness is wrong.
Perhaps the most picturesque passage that condemns inebriation comes from Proverbs. Who has woes? Who has sorrow? Who has strife and complaints? Who has needless bruises and bloodshot eyes? Proverbs asks and answers these questions in Chapter 23:
This drunkard is far gone. He lingers over wine, so he is past moderation and into excess, which is never right.
If the reader would like to see these and other passages on the sin of drunkenness, go to this website and type in the following: 1 Samuel 1:13—14; 25:36; 2 Samuel 11:13; 1 Kings 16:9, 20:16; Psalm 69:12; Ecclesiastes 10:17; Isaiah 19:14, 24:20, 28:1—3; Jeremiah 13:13, 25:27; Ezekiel 23:33; Joel 1:5.
But the Hebrew Bible also says that alcohol in moderation without drunkenness is allowed. In fact, in one ceremonial offering in the Torah wine is commanded—the drink offering of a quarter of a hin [four quarts or four liters] of wine. 'With the first lamb offer . . . a quarter of a hin of wine as a drink offering' (Exodus 29:40; cf. Leviticus 23:13; Numbers 15:5—10, 28:7). Numbers 28:7 clarifies that the drink offering is fermented, so it is not merely grape juice. Here the Old Testament also allows wine in moderation. Ecclesiastes says: 'Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do" (9:7). Wine is not intrinsically sinful, but its misuse is.
To sum up this section, the Hebrew Bible has a grownup outlook on alcohol. It may be enjoyed in moderation and is commanded even in a religious ceremony, but as soon as someone lurches over into drunkenness, then it becomes wrong. This is a realistic approach to human nature. Many humans can control themselves, so they should not be penalized because of the few who cannot. These latter ones must be curtailed. They must be told that drunkenness is wrong, but the Old Testament, which can mete out the death penalty for crimes other than first degree murder, does not say that the drunkard should even be whipped, not to mention be executed.
But what kind of help does the Bible offer the needy? We answer this question in the 'Application' section, below.
The New Testament
The New Testament is in complete agreement with the older sacred text. It denounces drunkenness, but permits moderate drinking.
Jesus himself says that drunkenness is wrong. In the context of a parable on watchfulness while the master is away, he describes the opposite of a vigilant person who says to himself: 'My master is taking a long time in coming.' Then the unwatchful man began to abuse those under his authority 'and to eat and drink and get drunk' (Luke 12:45). The words 'eating and drinking and drunkenness' are another way of saying in this context 'throwing parties' and 'carousing' to the neglect of duties. This is excessive, so it is wrong. Next, in the context of Jesus' teachings on the Last Days, he warns his disciples: 'Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness, and the anxieties of life' (Luke 21:34). The Greek word translated as 'dissipation' means not only drunkenness but also carousing, which agrees with Luke 12:45. This too is excessive and therefore wrong.
But Jesus shows us that wine per se is not wrong if it is used in moderation. For example, he elevated the bread and the wine (called the 'fruit of the vine') during the Last Supper, which at the very least symbolizes his body and blood, which he sacrificed on the cross for the sins of the world (Matt. 26:26—30; Luke 22:14—23). So during this holy moment, wine was drunk moderately. Next, Jesus attended a wedding in Cana in Galilee. The party ran out of wine, so he turned the water in six large stone jars into wine, apparently of high quality, which the master of the ceremonies noted to the bridegroom (John 2:1—11). Going to this party agrees with his practice of spending time and even befriending 'tax collectors and sinners' and those who drank fermented beverages; in fact he was falsely accused of being 'a glutton and drunkard,' as opposed to John the Baptist, who as a Nazirite (see Numbers 6:2) was therefore placed under special restrictions to stay away from alcohol and other things (Luke 7:31—35; Matt. 11:16—19). So Jesus does not whip drinkers of alcohol (as Muhammad did); instead he seeks to convert them.
The early church after the Resurrection of Jesus followed his example, for the New Testament authors permit some alcohol, but condemn drunkenness. Paul says that drunkards will not inherit the kingdom of God, but when they repent, they are gladly welcomed into it. They receive the Holy Spirit sent from Jesus so that they have the power to stay sober (1 Corinthians 6:9—11). Next, Paul tells his disciple Timothy that he should 'stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses' (1 Timothy 5:23), but he also says to the Romans that they should walk in the light and not get drunk and commit other sins (Romans 13:13). Finally, Paul says that Christians should 'not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery [carousing]. Instead, be filled with the Spirit' (Ephesians 5:18). The connection between wine and the Spirit is similar to what happened on the Day of Pentecost when Jesus sent his Spirit to his disciples. They were so deeply filled with the Spirit that they appeared as if they were drunk on wine (Acts 2:1—15). In these examples, drunkenness is denounced, but wine in moderation is allowed, and this agrees not only with Jesus, but also with the Torah.
The connection between wine and the Spirit is a sound one, because Christianity offers the unbeliever or the confused believer something better than natural chemicals: the Holy Spirit. And this is what is precisely missing in Islam, which has reduced the Holy Spirit to the archangel Gabriel, according to traditional Muslim theology. Thus, Muslims do not receive the Spirit to help them with their problems and change them from the inside out. Instead, Islam offers people a diluted old—new law and harsh punishments for stepping out of line and for 'curing' their problems.
One of the core differences between Christianity and Islam in ethical matters is that Christianity offers a spiritual transformation from the inside out, whereas Islam offers an old—new law and punishes people with whips and stones. After publishing these harsh rules for the general populace, it scares people into obedience once the sentence is handed down to punish drinkers and gamblers.
The difference can be seen most clearly in this recovery program organized by Willow Creek Church near Chicago, Illinois. This church is one of the largest in the US. Only three steps out of the twelve are listed here that help alcoholics recover from their addiction.
STEP ONE is about recognizing our brokenness. We admitted we were powerless over the effects of our separation from God — that our lives had become unmanageable.
STEP THREE involves a decision to let God be in charge of our lives. [We] made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
STEP EIGHT involves examining our relationships and preparing ourselves to make amends. [We] made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
From these three out of twelve steps, the two inferences can be drawn. First, Christianity does not prescribe physical punishments for sin, unlike Islam. Second, the Biblical verses demonstrate an inner transformation by fellowship, love and the Spirit. These two points stand in stark contrast to Islam, which flogs the alcoholic and does not offer the Spirit.
Finally, the Bible guides the church today on dealing with gambling. The early church needed guidance on specific issue that came up as the churches spread out over the Greco—Roman world and even beyond. This is seen in the New Testament's clarity on alcohol. There was a problem, so the leaders addressed it. But the New Testament authors did not have to deal with gambling as such, so they do not go into detail as to how to deal with it. (This is different from Muhammad's case, who had to deal with it, but he does so confusedly or sparsely.) However, Biblical principles can be gleaned from the sacred text to decide on gambling. This webpage has at least three principles that a believer must consider, as follows.
First, 'God is the ultimate owner of all earthly possessions. The psalmist observed that the Lord owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10). The Apostle James wrote that every good and perfect gift comes from God (James 1:17).' This means that God controls our finances. He gives us the physical strength and intelligence to earn our money. So gambling away his gifts is suspect. Second, Jesus said we should be good stewards or managers of the resources he has entrusted to us (Luke 12:42; 16:10—11). Is gambling the best way to be responsible with God's money? Third, many great charities need our help. In 2 Corinthians 8—9, Paul speaks of an offering for the poor Christians in the Jerusalem church. He compliments the Corinthian church for excelling in their 'faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness, and in [their] love for [Paul and his team]—see that you excel in this grace of giving' (2 Corinthians 8:7). If the Corinthians had wasted their money on gambling, how would they have enough to give to the needy?
This superb article has a nuanced discussion on gambling. It defines compulsive gambling and asks twenty questions to find out if anyone is suffers in this way. It also answers the question: is gambling a sin? It lays out criteria that a believer should ask himself and then answers questions without being judgmental.
Many devout Christians, especially in the American South, believe that drinking and gambling are sins, regardless of the context or the amount. This is their prerogative. However, no Christian can claim Biblical support for whipping and beating drinkers and gamblers. Instead, these Christians seek to help the needy.
This is the core problem with the example of Muhammad in the hadith and often in the Quran itself, the eternal word of Allah. He and his deity seem always to turn to physical punishments to transform society, like chopping off a hand of a male and female thief or cutting off a hand and a foot of a highway robber or flogging someone who even swallows a small amount of alcohol or flogging fornicators and stoning adulterers. It is difficult to find passages that demonstrate Muhammad healing and restoring the sinner without chopping off his hand or bruising his back.
This is not the case with Jesus. In his life he showed his followers how to help the sinner from the inside out. He sends the Spirit into his life to help and restore him. He also provides many Biblical principles in his inspired Word to show his followers how to help someone, not drag him before a court to see him flogged.
But does this mean that society should have no laws governing inebriated persons in public? Of course not. Laws should punish drunk drivers—but not with flogging. They should pay off their debt to society, for example, by working alongside the freeway picking up trash, getting their driver's license revoked, or spending time in rehabilitation program