It is well known that the drinking of intoxicating beverages is forbidden. The Arabic word for wine, khamr, denotes – according to Ibn Fāris – the root meaning “to cover”, and the scholars explain that the prohibition of wine is based on this quality of it “covering”, or incapacitating, the intellect. The scholars have also, by way of this analogy, been able to determine that the prohibition against wine also applies to other drinks or substances that have the same effect on the intellect. As the hadith reported by both Bukhari and Muslim states, “All that intoxicates is forbidden”.

It is not only alcoholic beverages that lay themselves like a cover over the intellect. A person can also be intoxicated by overpowering emotions such as anger, love or other desires. The Prophet – peace and blessings be upon him – says in a hadith: لا طلاق في إغلاق (Abū Dāwūd & Ibn Mājah). The word إغلاق  here has been interpreted in different ways, but some of the scholars hold that it refers to extreme anger and therefore that the meaning of the hadith is, “A divorce is not valid if given in extreme anger”. The divorce is not valid because the person is not conscious of what he is saying. In another hadith, the Prophet – peace and blessings be upon him – mentions that God’s pleasure when one of his servants repents unto Him is greater than the pleasure felt by a man who finds himself in a barren and desolate place with his camel carrying his food and drink. The man falls asleep and when he wakes, finds that his camel has left. After searching for it he becomes thirsty and says to himself: “I shall return to where I was earlier and lie there until death take me”. Then he lies down, resting his head upon his arm, awaiting his death, only to wake and find that his camel has returned. In a sudden rush of ecstasy, he exclaims: “God, You are my slave and I am Your Lord!” (Muslim) In his confused state, the jubilant man muddles his words.

The Qur’an states:

يَا أَ يُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا تَقْرَبُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَأَنتُمْ سُكَارَىٰ حَتَّىٰ تَعْلَمُوا مَا تَقُولُونَ

O ye who believe! Draw not near unto prayer when ye are drunken, till ye know that which ye utter (Qur’an 4:43; Pickthall’s translation)


Imam Ghazāli, may God be pleased with him, says this verse also refers to those who, drunk in their love for this life, come to the prayer without knowing what they are saying. (Iḥyā’ ʿulūm al-dīn)

The above examples show that man tends to lose control when intoxicated, whether by way of alcoholic beverages, anger, love, or other strong emotions. We find another example in the Qur’anic account of the people of Lot, peace be upon him. God describes them in the following terms:

لَعَمْرُكَ إِنَّهُمْ لَفِي سَكْرَتِهِمْ يَعْمَهُون

By your life, [O Muhammad], indeed they were, in their intoxication, wandering blindly. (Q. 15:72)

God says that they are intoxicated and wandering blindly, i.e. their intellects have been incapacitated and they follow their whims, without any intellect present to restrain them or guide them. It is the word سَكْرَة  which is translated as intoxicated, and the verb sakara has the meaning “to dam up” or block a water-flow, i.e. stop it from flowing freely. Like a dam, unchecked desires block the intellect and prevent it from working as it should.

In another passage, the people of Lot are described thus:

وَجَاءَهُ قَوْمُهُ يُهْرَعُونَ إِلَيْهِ وَمِن قَبْلُ كَانُوا يَعْمَلُونَ السَّـيِّـئَاتِ 

And his people came unto him, running towards him – and before then they had used to commit abominations (Q. 11:78)

The verb يُهْرَعُونَ  which Pickthal, may God be grant him mercy, translates as “running” has the fuller connotation of hurrying along, and was originally used to describe the way in which jailers would force a captive to hasten onward (Ibn ʿĀshūr, Tafsīr al-taḥrīr wal-tanwīr). The captive does not go on of his own free will, but is forced forward by another force, and the same is true of Lot’s folk. The verb is given in the passive, meaning they did not hurry themselves along. Rather, it was their desires that drove them on in the same way that a jailer drives a captive forward.

That they had become used to committing abominations, evil deeds, is also significant. In the usual case, order is upheld in a society through social control. A person who is prone to anger may not be able to control it when he or she is at home, but in a public place he or she is forced to stifle the anger. In the case of the people of Lot, the intoxication meant that the inner restraints were broken, while the habitually with which evil deeds were committed in their society meant that the outer restraints had also been undermined. Thus, both inner and outer control was lost.

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