No Penalty in Islam for drinking alcohol, eating pork: Islamic Scholar

Malaysian Syariah authorities should reconsider the law on consuming alcohol, which is described in the Quran in the mildest language of prohibition.

ON July 20, the Pahang Syariah High Court sentenced part-time model Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarnor, 32, to a RM5,000 fine and six lashes of the rotan for drinking beer.

No doubt the court has the jurisdiction to impose such a sentence as provided by the law.
Some have questioned the appropriateness of the sentence of whipping given that the court has discretion to impose a mixture of fine, imprisonment and binding Kartika over for good behaviour for a certain period, or just admonish her.
Others have questioned the appropriateness based on the legitimate argument that the Syariah holds Muslims responsible for their actions that result in negative opinions of Islam.

A news item like this certainly presents Islam and Malaysia negatively on the international stage.
But I would urge the Malaysian Syariah authorities to seriously reconsider the Syariah basis of this law on the following Syariah grounds:
Neither the Quran nor the Hadith invokes a penalty for alcohol consumption. The sin of consuming alcohol is described in the Quran in the mildest language of prohibition.

When it comes to dietary laws, the Quran commands the believers in Sura 5:3: “forbidden (hurrimat) to you is the dead animal, loose blood, and the flesh of the pig”.

The 90th verse of the same Sura cautions the believers that “wine, gambling, etc, are an impurity so avoid them (fa-jtanibuh)”.
Some legal scholars suggest that the divine command ijtinab, to avoid something, is milder language than tahrim, prohibition.
A Muslim consuming a glass of wine with a pork chop commits a more serious offence in eating pork; yet as there is no Quran or Hadith penalty for consuming pork, there is also none for alcohol consumption.
The question then is how did the penalty for alcohol consumption come about?
It occurred during the time of the second Caliph Umar b. al-Khattab. There was a companion of the Prophet (sahabi) who had fought on the Prophet’s side in his battles.
A heavy drinker, he would walk the streets of Madina drunk at night and loudly shout scandalous things about people. The inhabitants of Madina complained, and Umar formed a committee to decide what to do.

Imam Ali, based on the man having committed slander, suggested the penalty for slander, whose maximum penalty is 80 lashes.
Since that time, this has been considered the maximum penalty for alcohol consumption, based on utilising the Syariah concept of ta`zir (deterrence).

I disagree with this being the mandatory sentence for the offence of wine consumption, because it is the maximum sentence for another, separate offence – slander – albeit committed under the influence of alcohol.
Had the man just fallen on the street in a stupor and suffered a terrible hangover without having hurt anyone, no punishment would have been established.

Had cars existed then and had he run his car over some pedestrians and killed them, should we invoke ta`zir now and have a penalty for alcohol consumption equal to that of accidental manslaughter?
There are additional arguments we can marshal from the Quran and Hadith. The Quran repeatedly urges Muslims to forgive those who wrong them, even for slander and manslaughter!
When the Prophet Mohamed’s wife Aisha was wrongly accused of having committed adultery, her father Abu Bakr sought to have the penalty of libel meted against one of his employees who had slandered her.
God then revealed verse 24:22, urging the believers to pardon and forgive those who have wronged them, so that God would forgive them their own sins.
But I see no evidence that Kartika wronged anybody after drinking beer.
Verse 4:92 gives the penalty for a Muslim accidentally killing another as freeing a slave and paying compensation to the victim’s family – unless the family forgoes compensation and forgives the offender.
And if the defendant can’t afford to pay, then he should fast for two consecutive months. Accidental homicide is a much greater sin than alcohol consumption; yet the Quran suggests that the victim’s family would do well to forgive the offender, and the penalty here is not jail time or corporal punishment, but a two-month fast.

The Quranic and Prophetic teachings are about forgiveness, compassion and positive personal transformation. Sura 48:29 describes Prophet Mohamed’s companions as “firm against unbelievers and compassionate to themselves”, and this is what I urge the Malaysian authorities to exemplify: show compassion to Kartika and forgive her.

But if the Pahang Syariah court insists on establishing a penalty for the mere consumption of alcohol, why not replace the current law – a maximum penalty of a RM5,000 fine and six lashes of the rotan – with spending RM5,000 on feeding the poor and fasting for six days?
Wouldn’t that be more in keeping with the letter and spirit of the Quran and the Prophetic Sunnah?
Were this the case, I have a hunch that many Malaysians who imbibe may voluntarily mete such a “penalty” on themselves – to the benefit of the poor, to the benefit of their own spiritual progress and standing before God on Judgment Day, and to the benefit of the Malaysian Syariah Court’s, Islam’s and Malaysia’s image on the international stage.
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is the Chairman of the Cordoba Initiative, an international organisation devoted to improving West-Muslim world relations, and author of “Islam, A Sacred Law, What Every Muslim Should know about the Shariah”.



Filed under Islam

14 responses to “No Penalty in Islam for drinking alcohol, eating pork: Islamic Scholar

  1. Mustafa Shaban

    This is an interesting article. So, is there no hadith that clearly mentions a penalty specifically for drinking and eating pork? I have studied Islam, I think there is a rule for having alcohol in public, but I am not sure about pork.

  2. Cool! So each and every scholar right from the time of Sahaba were wrong in assuming that consuming Alcohol and pork were wrong?

    Just my 2 cents!

  3. Mustafa Shaban

    sheepo: Consuming alchohol and pork are wrong in Islam and there is punishment in the hereafter, the question is that whether Islam says that there are judicial punishments for those wrongdoings in our world.

  4. Akash

    seems like everything that can give joy and make life pleasurable is haram in Islam. It’s quite boring, to be honest, makes one sleep, listening to endless suras et al. about how to do this and how to do that. Is there any sura about pot?

  5. Hassan1657

    yeah akash… wish we could have a colorful religion with seductive guidelines.. a seperate veda for intimacy or some shastars for cheap eroticism….
    But religions across the world and throughout history have been like this.. they are for human beings …
    I HOPE i have not displayed some religious intolerance

  6. Akash

    No Hassan, you are not being intolerant. I realize that religions were made for human. It’s just that I wish they were made for human to be more human rather than some divine things. Most of us are mere mortals and once in a while, we like to enjoy a glass of wine and company of beautiful women, if we can find them.

    As for separate shastras for eroticism, etc., they were a part of ‘secular’ literature but, yeah, practice of sex as well as alcohol wasn’t so much a taboo back then. I guess, we have progressed since then, or so it seems.

  7. Hassan1657

    It is a human wish, I agree but line has to be drawn somewhere and its way too relative…your once in a while may be different than mine..

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  9. Assalam Alaikum
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  10. bonobashi


    I just want to add to Akash’ statements that one needn’t look for titillating stuff in Hindu scripture, or in Buddhist scripture, to find passages and whole opuses which are stirring and move the reader.

    Many of the Rg Vedic hymns are very good; others are not. Passages from the Upanishads make a deep and sublime impression, even upon those not inclined to religion. They are worth reading if only as literature.

  11. learnquranonline1

    learn quran online, learn quran, learning quran online
    Islam is the religion of peace and The word “Islam” itself means “Submission to Allah.” The religion of Islam is not named after a person as in the case of “Christianity” which was named after Jesus Christ, “Buddhism” after Gutama Buddha , “Marxism” after Karl Marx, and “Confucianism” after Confucius.
    Similarly, Islam is not named after a tribe like “Judaism” after the tribe of Judah and “Hinduism” after the Hindus. The Arabic word “Islam” means the submission or surrender of one’s will to the will of the only true god worthy of worship, “Allah” (known as God “the Father” in Christianity).
    And Mosks are the place where we do our prayers
    “Whoever builds a Masjid, seeking Allah’s pleasure; Allah will build for him a similar place in Paradise.” (Al-Bukhari)
    “Do you know who will go first on the Day of Resurrection to the shade of Allah? Those who when given what is right accept it, when asked for something give freely and who judge in favour of others as they do for themselves.” (Tirmidhi)

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  12. Abhijit

    Christianity is not named after one person. Christ means the anointed one. The teaching of Him is known as Christianity. Budhha is not a name, but a title bestowed to a realized soul. Most of the religions are based on the teaching of one person (a realized soul, who is termed as Son of God by the Christian, Prophet by the Muslim and Avatar by Hindus) except Hinduism. Hindu it self is not a particular community but a civilization existing in the Indus valley. Hindus were not a tribe and Hinduism is not a religion but a philosophy. To practice Hinduism, one need not to be a Hindu, a teaching given by Several Hindu Monks and Philosopher, viz., Swami Vivekananda of Ramakrishna order, Sri Sri Ravisankar. Hindu philosophy was not based on the teaching or commentary of one realized person, but several Monks (Rishi and Sadhus). Vedanta is the main Sastra (Holly book) in Hindu Philosophy, which, although has been taught by several realized souls was harmonic and non-contradictory. We are, being a believer of great Hindu Philosophy, never claimed or live upon with a dogmatic view that only the believer of this great philosophy will be renounced from this earthly life but believe that all religions practiced with pure heart will lead towards same goal. That is why only a monk from from this great philosophy can uttered the ultimate truth- Jato mat, toto path (i.e several religions are like different roads going towards the same goal). I am proud being a part of this great philosophy, which has taught us to respect other ‘s belief. That is why, even being a hindu dominated country (more than 80% of population) India is the only secular democratic country in the world. We are proud of that, we are proud of our ancient civilization, which has weathered several threats for thousand of years. Still, it remained as it is as it was earlier. At the same time, there are several vices entered in our society by mis-leading people about the true essence of Hinduism. The cast based oppression and the misuse of power by the so called high cast (though the Scripture has never given this status) people are the most dangerous vices. Whereas, we had great teachers like Vivekananda, who criticized these vices. Hinduism is all about the searching of universal truth. It deserves respect as it gives it to other faith. Please, do not consider BJP/VHP as the representative of majority Hindu. Had that been the case, BJP would have been in power as a single largest party. Which was not a case in the past, and will never be in the coming days.

  13. Tilsim

    @ Abhijit

    I agree, Hinduism has many beautiful aspects. Universal truth is not a monopoly of one religion or philosophy. We can all learn more about it from each other and through reflection of our differences and similarities. However in general bigotry and prejudice are so deeply ingrained that they hold us back from our spiritual development. Muslims are told to read (first command to the Prophet (pbuh)) – many do the opposite. I am sure the same contradictions hold true for many Hindus as regards to their co-religionists. It’s our nature as Humans with a full blown ego that has a lot to answer for.

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