Monday, 3 November 2014

To Drink or Not to Drink: That is the Question

Minority rights in Pakistan are in the news as of late, at least as far as English-language publications are concerned. Today's blog post deals with a couple of news stories on recent attempts to change legislation pertaining to the consumption of alcohol in Pakistan and its legal ramifications. 

(You can find the stories here, here, and here)

The first story talks about a petition filed by the Federal Shariat Court, or simply FSC (the body responsible for ensuring that all legislation done in Pakistan is in compliance with Islamic law), in the Supreme Court to revise the punishment for drinking alcohol. 

The interesting thing to note is that 'Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan observed that there was no absolute prohibition of drinking in the Qur'an as it was only restraint.'  

Such statements have been made previously by religious scholars. Examples include the late Fazlur Rehman Malik, who stated on national TV that 'drinking alcohol was a not a major sin in Islam and that alcoholic beverages with less than 5 per cent alcoholic content should not be considered unlawful'. 

Of course, most Muslims will disagree. However, it is true that there are some verses in the Holy Qur'an which give the notion that drinking alcohol is allowed under specific conditions.


'O you who believe! Approach not As-Salat (the prayer) when you are in a drunken state until you know (the meaning) of what you utter....' Sura 4:43

 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." 2:219
As you can see, these verse do not forbid the use of alcohol even though the substance itself is criticized. However, Muslims scholars say that these verses were abrogated by 5:90, which reads:
O ye who believe! Intoxicants and gambling, (dedication of) stones, and (divination by) arrows, are an abomination, - of Satan's handwork: eschew such (abomination), that ye may prosper.

The rationale presented here is that the Holy Qur'an increased the force with which alcohol was condemned gradually so that people can naturally give up the habit. Fair enough, but the problem is that the holy book of Islam is not arranged chronologically. So, it needs to be proven beyond the shadow of doubt which chapter was 'revealed' when in order to subscribe to the popular argument of abrogation.

Now let's move on to the other two stories, which are inter-related. Apparently, Christian and Hindu MPAs are trying to pass a bill in the Parliament that bans alcohol for non-Muslims. 

You see, alcohol is banned in Pakistan, but it can be imported and manufactured locally for non-Muslims. 

The politicians pressing for the ban are right in stating that by banning alcohol for Muslims while making it's distribution open for non-Muslims creates a constitutional bias against religious minorities. And more than that, Christians and Hindus are often mocked as drunkards by the majority. 

The bill also says that the ruling on alcohol has often lead to corrupt police officials creating 'fake, false, frivolous cases against minorities'. This is true, however, the bill ignores the fact that whether alcohol is banned or not, minorities will continue to be harassed and persecuted.

But why ban the drink altogether? The Bible- just like the Holy Qur'an and other religious texts-talks about the side-effects of alcohol consumption (which any good doctor can also tell you). However, the Bible also calls gluttony and adultery sins worthy of eternal punishments. But does that does not mean we outlaw food and sex. 

I am not aware of what Hinduism teaches in this respect. I have yet to open the translation of the Bhagvad Gita that I enthusiastically purchased a few months back. 

So in conclusion I would say that not only is there a need for a more open and in-depth discussion of what each religion teaches about alcohol consumption, but any legislation shouldn't ignore the fact that drinking is a social reality. 

What do you think? Please state your religion as well when you comment.