Ask Ali: Why Islam forbids alcohol

The Quran warns that alcohol contains both good and evil, but that the evil is greater.

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Dear Ali: Why is alcohol forbidden in Islam? Don't you feel like sometimes wanting to try it? DO, Canada

Dear DO: Alcohol is forbidden in Islam because it is considered an intoxicant, which technically means poison. The Holy Quran in several verses forbids intoxicants because one is not meant to harm oneself in any way or form.

There are verses in the Quran that forbid Muslims to pray under the influence of any intoxicant (4:43). The Quran also says that alcohol contains some good and some evil, but that the evil is greater than the good (2:219). This is meant as a deterrent to make people turn away from its consumption. That said, the Quran clarifies that "intoxicants and games of chance" are "abominations of Satan's handiwork" (Soura 5:90-91). We interpret these verses as forbidding the use of intoxicants such as beer, wine and spirits.

Moreover, the Quranic ban is due not only to alcohol being an intoxicant, but also because it could make devoted Muslims forget their prayers and God. To us, that would be far more harmful than anything.

Also, the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) instructed his followers to avoid any intoxicating substances. For this reason, most Muslims avoid alcohol, even small amounts used in cooking. Therefore, if you are a non-Muslim and invite your Muslim friends for lunch or dinner, it would be polite to respect their religion. If any alcohol has been used to cook or prepare the dishes, warn your guests as a sign of respect.

Many people associate alcohol with "having fun" or "a good time". I respect that and I have no problem with it, but have to ask: what kind of fun is it when it could lead to losing your temper or your mind? What fun is it when it smells bad? What fun is it if you can't even drive your own car? Even those who drink moderately may still have a headache when they wake up in the morning. So again, where is the fun?

Those are some reasons why I don't drink, but the main reason is that as a believer in God and as a Muslim I'm proud to say that I follow my religion's teachings, which are good for me and my community.

Dear Ali: My friend just bought a new car and slaughtered a goat or a sheep to celebrate. What does slaughtering an animal have anything to do with that? LV, Sharjah

Dear LV: I understand your confusion. It sounds like quite a random thing to someone who doesn't know our Islamic and cultural ways.

When something good happens in our lives, Muslims usually try to show our gratitude by slaughtering livestock and giving it away to the less fortunate. It also is almost our way of trying to prevent bad omens.

You may be aware that we say phrases such as "mashallah" to guard against the evil eye, but that is not always enough. We believe the power of an envious eye can cause bad things to happen to us, and slaughtering livestock (or giving money to charity) cleanses any bad vibes to the best of our ability.

This act is somewhat similar to the practice of slaughtering livestock during Eid Al Adha, one of the biggest Islamic celebrations after the pilgrimage to Mecca. The point is to share one's blessings as an act of kindness.

Some people would choose a cow or even a camel, but for most the animal to be slaughtered is either a goat or a sheep.

Language lesson

Arabic: Khamr

English: Alcohol/fermented

While the word "khamr" means fermented, most of the time it refers to alcoholic drinks, since they are fermented. "Ana ma ashrab khamr" means "I don't drink alcohol".