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Wine: Allah's Provision or Shaitan's Abomination?

Muslim: You cannot point out a single contradiction in the Qur'an.

Response: Muhammad held contradictory views regarding the benefit of wine and other alcoholic drinks.  

In the early days of his mission, Muhammad claimed the strong drink made from ‎dates or grapes was a sign of Allah's goodly provision to humanity. He said it was an ‎evident proof and a visible sign of Allah's goodness to a person who had spiritual wisdom, ‎that is, a believer knows Allah’s goodness when they consider the blessings of wine. ‎Initially, Muslims were permitted to drink the fermented beverages of dates or grapes. ‎This can be seen from the following verse from the Qur'an. ‎

And from the fruits of date-palms and grapes, you derive strong drink (this was ‎before the order of the prohibition of the alcoholic drinks) and a goodly provision. Verily, ‎therein is indeed a sign for people who have wisdom. An-Nahl 16:67 ‎ 1

The words within the parentheses were here added by the translators of the Qur'an. ‎The translator warns the reader that this verse is not to be obeyed, because it has been ‎replaced (i.e., abrogated) by another verse in the Qur’an. When there is a contradiction in ‎the Qur’an, the theory of abrogation 2 (naskh) is invoked, and the last verse on the topic ‎takes precedence over prior verses.‎ ‎ Apparently, Allah and Muhammad flip-flopped ‎quickly on the advisability of wine. ‎

Afterwards, Muhammad said that alcoholic drink had both good and bad features. ‎In the first verse, there is nothing negative written about wine. However, Muhammad ‎gradually was changing his mind about wine, so here he said that wine had some benefits ‎as well as some negative features. He seemed undecided on the issue. He told them not ‎to spend more money than they should on wine and gambling.‎

They ask you (O Muhammad SAW) concerning alcoholic drink and gambling. ‎Say: "In them is a great sin, and (some) benefit for men, but the sin of them is greater ‎than their benefit." And they ask you what they ought to spend. Say: "That which is ‎beyond your needs." Thus Allâh makes clear to you His Laws in order that you may give ‎Thought." ‎al-Baqarah 2:219.‎ 3

As time went on, he grew weary of his followers coming to prayer in a drunken ‎state. It is not too hard to imagine the frustration that Muhammad must have experienced ‎when he tried to lead his followers in prayer while his faithful companions (Sahabah) ‎were too inebriated to follow his guidance. While praying, they were babbling words, not ‎knowing what they were saying in their drunkenness. To solve the problem, Muhammad ‎claimed that his earlier revelations in the unchanging Qur'an needed to be changed and ‎that Allah had given him a new revelation, commanding his disciples to come to prayers ‎sober enough to know what they were saying. Muhammad must have wondered why ‎Allah had said wine was a ‘goodly provision’ and ‘a sign for people who have wisdom’, ‎as he listened to his drunken babblers praying without any wisdom in the mosque ‎‎(masjid).‎

O you who believe! Approach not As­Salât (the prayer) when you are in a ‎drunken state until you know (the meaning) of what you utter, nor when you are in a state ‎of Janâba, (i.e. in a state of sexual impurity and have not yet taken a bath) except when ‎travelling on the road (without enough water, or just passing through a mosque), till you ‎wash your whole body. And if you are ill, or on a journey, or one of you comes after ‎answering the call of nature, or you have been in contact with women (by sexual relations) ‎and you find no water, perform Tayammum with clean earth and rub therewith your faces ‎and hands (Tayammum). Truly, Allâh is Ever Oft­Pardoning, Oft­Forgiving. An-Nisa ‎‎4:43.‎

The last words of Muhammad on the topic banned all alcoholic drinks because ‎they are an abomination of Satan. These verses prohibited completely the drinking of any ‎alcoholic beverages. Muhammad was upset with the sight of Muslims being drunken ‎gamblers who were hating and fighting each other. In addition, drunkenness was keeping ‎them from attending prayers. Previously, Muhammad said they may come to prayers only ‎when they were sober. So, if they weren’t sober, they had a divine reason to skip the ‎regular prayers. With the prohibition of all alcohol, Muhammad took this excuse away.‎

O you who believe! Intoxicants (all kinds of alcoholic drinks), gambling, ‎Al­Ansâb, and Al­Azlâm (arrows for seeking luck or decision) are an abomination of ‎Shaitân's (Satan) handiwork. So avoid (strictly all) that (abomination) in order that you ‎may be successful. Shaitân (Satan) wants only to excite enmity and hatred between you ‎with intoxicants (alcoholic drinks) and gambling, and hinder you from the remembrance ‎of Allâh and from As-Salât (the prayer). So, will you not then abstain? Al-Ma'idah 5:90-‎‎91‎

In conclusion, at first the Qur'an claims that alcoholic drinks are a goodly ‎provision and a sign of Allah's beneficence to all humankind. However, in the end, the ‎Qur'an claims that alcoholic drinks are an abomination of Satan. So, there is a clear ‎contradiction between the claim that alcoholic drinks are a sign of Allah's bountifulness; ‎and, when he later claimed, alcoholic drinks are an abomination of Shaitan.‎

Yet, Muhammad promised his faithful followers that they will enjoy rivers of ‎pure sealed wine in Paradise. These rivers of wine were, and they still are, a powerful ‎motivation to murder in the Cause of Allah (i.e., Jihad). This suggests too that, in the ‎beginning of Muhammad's military career in Medina, he may have found that, when his ‎soldiers were under the influence of alcohol, they were more ruthless soldiers who were ‎more willing to slaughter their innocent victims than when they were sober. ‎

Verily, Al-Abrâr (the pious who fear Allâh and avoid evil) will be in delight ‎‎(Paradise). On thrones, looking (at all things). You will recognise in their faces the ‎brightness of delight. They will be given to drink pure sealed wine. The last thereof (that ‎wine) will be the smell of musk, and for this let (all) those strive who want to strive (i.e. ‎hasten earnestly to the obedience of Allâh). It (that wine) will be mixed with Tasnîm. A ‎spring whereof drink those nearest to Allâh. Al-Mutaffifîn 83:22-28.‎

It is commonly known that alcohol reduces a person's moral conscience and ‎inhibition to do evil deeds. So, it is quite possible that in his early militant days ‎Muhammad found that wine diminished the ability of his soldiers to take moral ‎responsibility for their evil deeds. Perhaps, alcohol numbed their natural human feelings ‎towards their innocent victims who pleaded for mercy from their swords. These cries for ‎mercy fell heedlessly upon the dulled conscience of Muhammad's soldiers who had been ‎taught that the bloody sword serves in Allah's Cause. ‎

However, later, when Muhammad's power was established, and he had the ‎responsibility of governing the nascent Muslim nation and of guiding its religious ritual, ‎it was disadvantageous to have Muslims in a drunken state (see An-Nisa 4:43). So, in the ‎end, Muhammad banned all alcohol, claiming it was an abomination of Shaitan. However, ‎he was not brave enough to ban wine for all time. He promised Muslims that paradise ‎flowed with rivers of wonderful sweet-smelling wine and those who strived in Allah’s ‎cause will enjoy its refreshing delights in the future. ‎

In conclusion, the Qur'an states that wine is a sign of blessing from Allah and then ‎states that it is an abomination of Shaitan. This is a contradiction for rational thinkers. ‎However, Muslims apply doctrine of abrogation to gloss over the internal inconsistencies ‎of the Qur'an. If Allah were the Unchanging One, then why did Allah have to abrogate ‎portions of His own Qur'an so frequently?‎

Last edited 07/21/2002
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1 All Qur'anic quotations taken from the translation by Al-Hilali, Muhammad and Muhammad M. Khan, Interpretation of the Meanings of The Noble Qur'an: A summarized Version of Al-Tabari, Al-Qurtubi, and Ibn Kathir with comments from Sahih Al-Bukhari, Summarized in One Volume, Darussalam Publishers, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 1996.
2 Abrogation is only invoked for the most egregious contradictions. Generally, contradictions are explained ‎away by claiming the verse is limited to a specific time and place and those particular conditions no longer ‎exist today.‎
3 (V. 2:219) The provision of this Verse concerning alcoholic drinks and gambling has been abrogated by the Verse 5:90. [footnote in Yusuf Ali's translation]