Muslims need to educate their own about the health consequences of drinking alcohol
By Sabiha S. Basit
For some, despite the centuries-long religious and legal strictures, alcohol has been a pivotal source of enjoyment in celebrations, social settings and as a “blissful” escape from problems.
Cassio, in Shakespeare’s “Othello,” wondered, “O God, that men should put an enemy in their mouths to steal away their brains! That we should with joy, pleasance, revel, and applause transform ourselves into beasts!” (Act 2, scene 3).
Alcohol is extensively advertised on all media, showing beautiful women and expensive cars surrounding the man who buys the alcohol, thereby associating wealth and social approval with those who drink. Oftentimes, grocery stores have a significant shelf space dedicated to alcoholic drinks that one must walk by to get to the other products. Society as a whole is obsessed with alcohol consumption, so how can Muslims avoid it? Moreover, why should they?
The Quran forbids alcohol, “O ye who believe! Intoxicants and gambling, (dedication of) stones, and (divination by) arrows, are an abomination — of Satan’s handiwork; eschew such (abomination), That ye may prosper” (5:90). Furthermore, while the Quran does mention that alcohol can have some good in it, it states that “the evil is greater than the good” (2:219).
Additionally, Prophet Muhammad (salla Allahu ‘alayhi was sallam) instructed his followers to avoid all intoxicating substances and in any amount, “Every intoxicant is unlawful and whatever causes intoxication in large amounts, a small amount of it is (also) unlawful” (“Sunan Ibn Majah” 3392). Al-Harith reported that Caliph Uthman (radi Allahu ‘anh) said, “Stay away from alcohol, for it is the mother of wickedness. By God, faith and addiction to alcohol cannot be combined but that one of them will eventually expel the other” (“Sunan al-Nasa’i” 5666). From the outside, it seems that people who drink are only living in the moment, not partaking in an evil act. Can it truly be that destructive?
Drinking is commonly romanticized in the media, which portrays it as a “cool” thing to do. Many people fall into this trap, especially youth, believing it will open a new world of enjoyment and memories. However, the reality of consuming alcohol is anything but fun, as it has detrimental effects on the body and mind.
The medical and health consequences of drinking alcohol are well known. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “drinking alcohol [among adults] is associated with a risk of developing health problems such as mental and behavioral disorders, including alcohol dependence, major noncommunicable diseases such as liver cirrhosis, some cancers and cardiovascular disease.”
However, the effects of drinking among youth and adolescents are often forgotten about or ignored, despite the Center of Disease Control stating alcohol is the most used substance among young Americans. The consequences of underage drinking are arguably just as severe as drinking in adults, if not more so.
“The Effects of Alcohol on Physiological Processes and Biological Development” (The Alcohol Research and Health Journal, 2004) found that alcohol can lower the growth and sex hormones in young people. These hormones are extremely vital for sexual maturation, growth, muscle mass and bone development. Once they are inhibited, a person’s body is unable to function and develop properly. The researchers also found that adolescents can be more sensitive to alcohol’s effect on the brain. A group of adolescent rats were found to be more impaired in terms of spatial memory than adult animals.
But why should Muslims care about abstaining from alcohol? God has forbidden it, and that surely should be enough. Unfortunately, Muslim youth use and abuse alcohol, especially in college.
Although attending college offers many benefits — making friends, connections and opening career paths — parents and students often overlook one of the most negative aspects: peer pressure. Oftentimes, parents believe their children in college are adults now and are able to overcome and handle peer pressure, which is false. Merriam Webster defines peer pressure as “a feeling that one must do the same things as other people of one’s age and social group in order to be liked or respected by them.” Our peers can influence us to take part in risky activities. The transition from adolescence to adulthood often causes college students to feel vulnerable because they are alone in a new place with no parental supervision. This reality leads many of them to change their behavior in order to fit in. Since consuming alcohol is a popular activity among college students, many students are pressured to drink. And Muslims are no exception.
In 2010, an Institute of Social Policy and Understanding-conducted study on alcohol usage by Muslim American college students found that of the 10,401 individuals they surveyed, 60% “were in an environment where alcohol was easily assessable” and that 76.7% of those who consumed alcohol had been exposed to it before entering college. The study concluded that although Muslim’s students have the lowest prevalence of drinking (46.6% compared to 80.4% of non-Muslim students), that number is still considerably high for a religion that prohibits alcohol. When the researchers asked the students why Muslim students drank alcohol, the top reasons given were to have a good time with friends and to celebrate.
Instead of ignoring the fact that some Muslims consume alcohol and jeopardize their health and life, Muslims must acknowledge this reality so they can give them the help they deserve. Muslims who struggle with alcohol abuse and addiction are often deterred from seeking help because this taboo subject can make it hard for them to do so.
Muslims making business, investment and employment decisions should remember that, according to the hadith narrated on Ibn ‘Umar’s authority, the Prophet has cursed alcohol, as well as those who drink, pour, sell, buy and squeeze it (process the ingredients), as well as those for whom it is squeezed and carried [transported; served] it and to whom it is carried (“Al-Tirmidhi” 1295, “Abu Dawood” 3674 and “Ibn Majah” 3380).
A few ways to deal with this negative reality:
• Communicate with parents and close friends. As noted above, most of the Muslims who consumed alcohol in college had been exposed to it earlier. The best things parents can do is lead by example, teach their children about the dangers of alcohol and act as good role models. Parents, who have a great influence on their child, should instill strong values and morals in them while they are growing up in order to set them up for a successful life.
• Choose your friends carefully. The people we associate and surround ourselves with can significantly impact our perception and judgment. Peer pressure, which has a negative connotation to it, also has a positive aspect. This takes the form of one’s peers influencing the individual to do something positive and grow in life. Having a good support system, such as family and friends, can also reduce the chances of being addicted to alcohol and similar substances.
• Ask God for guidance. God will surely reward those who turn onto Him during trials and seek His forgiveness from sins. “And the retribution for an evil act is an evil one like it, but whoever pardons and makes reconciliation – his [or her] reward is [due] from God. Indeed, He does not like wrongdoers” (42:40).
• Seek professional help. As the common proverb states, “Trust in God, but tie your camel first.” We should have faith that God will work things out for us, but at the same time we should also do whatever we can by seeking out mental health professionals, rehab centers and medical attention.
As alcohol continues to take control of society and harm its members’ physical and mental wellbeing, we as Muslims are the lucky ones because leading an observant life will save us from the destructive properties of this prohibited substance. God forbade alcohol because of its harmful effects on the individual’s mind and body, which leads to anger, violence and misery. In reality, He has forbidden everything that harms the body and mind.
Thus, it’s important to educate ourselves, surround ourselves with good company, constantly seek God’s mercy and forgiveness and pray for those who are misguided. In addition, always remember that “if one trusts, obeys, and follows the guidance and commands of God and His Messenger, one can be assured of never ever being misled; but if one believes, obeys and follows any other guidance, other than that of God and His Messenger, one can be assured of being led astray” (https://learntrueislam.com).
Sabiha S. Basit, a biology graduate from George Mason University, was staff writer for the Fourth Estate, the school’s official student-run news outlet. She is currently working as a freelance writer and in education. She reverted to Islam with her family in 2021.
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