Islam and abstinence from alcohol for every Muslim.


From 622 onwards, Islamic prescriptions profoundly changed the consumption and trade of alcoholic beverages for those who converted. The Koranic precepts and the hadiths (words of the prophet) associated with them are clear, despite some controversies of interpretation.

This religious ban is pronounced at a time and in a region, Arabia and Ethiopia nearby, which consume a lot of fermented beverages in the form of wheat beer, date wine or fig wine, and mead[1]. The Muslim world experienced a dazzling expansion from the 8th and 10th centuries. Islam and Muslims come into contact with Asia, North Africa, India and Europe. How have such different cultures and peoples reacted throughout history? How has this ban been enforced?

Finally, we will evoke some present-day testimonies, survivals and acceptable tolerance for some, sin/serious impurity for others. A certain degree of fermentation brings us back to the definition of what the Koran forbids. What is a fermented beverage? What does the Arabic language call khamr  الخم , the language in which the Koran was transcribed?

Wine, in the particular and modern sense, and any alcoholic fermented beverage (beer, mead or wine) in general. This question has long occupied the thinkers and doctors of Islam. It is less simple to answer it, once the first gullible statements have been outstripped. The boundaries between what is fermented and what is not, between what is eaten and what is drunk, between what is alcoholic or simply sour, are in practice less easy to draw. The task was further complicated by the expansion of Islam. The nucleus of Arab culture and language, the cradle of the Koran, was to encounter over the centuries material cultures and civilisations completely foreign to the original Arab-Islamic world of the time of the Prophet.


[1] Threatened by the most influential Meccan clans, followers of Muhammad (Mohammed in English) were advised by the Prophet to seek refuge on the other side of the Red Sea, at the home of the king of Ethiopia, reputed to be just and wise, while he and his relatives left for Yathrib, a city which would later be named Madinet el-Nabi, the City of the Prophet, the city of Medina. This expatriation of the Prophet in the year 622 marks the beginning of the Hegira (hijra = exile).

18/06/2012  Christian Berger