The lingering Islamisation milieu put together by the Ziaul Haq dictatorship got a beating recently. In May this year, in an unprecedented move, the Federal Shariat Court declared that the consumption of alcohol in Islam was a (comparatively) lesser crime. The court duly overturned the punishment of applying 80 lashes to the seller and consumer of alcohol (with a whip) and replaced it with light ’strokes from a stick made from a palm tree leave.’
In her book, Islam, Its Laws & Society, Islamic law expert Jamila Hussain states that though the Quran ‘advises’ Muslims to stay away from wine (khamr), it does not outright forbid it like it does carrion meat, blood, pork, and idolatry. She also states that neither does the Holy Book prescribe any punishment for consuming alcohol.
In ‘Alcohol and Temperance in Modern History’, author Jack S. Blocker informs that the punishment of flogging for drunkenness was derived from the writings of ulema who constructed the four leading schools of jurisprudence in Sunni Islam - Hanafi, Shafi, Maliki and Hanabali - in the eighth and ninth centuries. The source of this punishment is not the Quran, but an hadith attributed to the first caliph of Islam, Abu Baker.
There are five verses in the Quran dealing with the subject of intoxicants:
Verse 67 of Surah 16 (The Bee) states: ‘And of the fruits of the date-palm, and grapes, from which you derive strong drink and good nourishment. Lo! therein is indeed a portent for people who have sense.’ (Marmaduke Pickthall translation). In this verse, the Quran recognises man’s custom of deriving intoxicating drinks from grapes and dates.
Verse 43 of Surah 4 (Women) states: ‘O ye who believe! Approach not prayers with a mind befogged (intoxicated)…’ (Yousuf Ali translation). In this Surah, the Quran asks Muslims not to arrive at the mosque when intoxicated.
Verse 219 of Surah 2 (The Cow) states: ‘They ask thee concerning wine and gambling. Say: In them is great sin, and some profit, for men; but the sin is greater than the profit.’ (Ahmad Ali translation). God then advises his subjects to avoid drinking and gambling, because even though there are benefits in both, the harms are more in number.
However, it is the fourth and fifth intoxicant-related verses that have created the biggest debates between conservative and liberal Islamic scholars.
Verse 90 of Surah 5 (The Table) states: ‘O believers, this wine and gambling, these idols, and these arrows you use for divination, are all acts of Satan; so keep away from them.’ Verse 91 of the same Surah adds: ‘Satan only wishes to create among you enmity and hatred through wine and gambling, and to divert you from the remembrance of God and prayer. Will you therefore not desist?’ (Ahmad Ali)
These are the verses most conservative scholars use to proclaim drinking as an ‘unpardonable sin’ (gunnah-e-kabeera), and justify the punishment of 40-to-80 lashes for its sale and usage, even though, clearly, there is no such punishment proscribed in these verses.
Most liberal Hanifi and secular Islamic scholars suggest that though the Quran has explicitly ‘advised’ Muslims to avoid drinking alcohol, its consumption is in not a ‘gunnah-e-kabeera’.
They use the following verse to press their point (5:3): ‘Forbidden to you is carrion and blood, and the flesh of the swine, and whatsoever has been killed in the name of some other than God, and whatever has been strangled, or killed by a blow or a fall, or by goring, or that which has been mauled by wild beasts unless slaughtered while still alive; and that which has been slaughtered at altars is forbidden, and also dividing the meat by casting lots with arrows. All this is sinful.’ (Ahmad Ali).
These scholars maintain that this verse visibly states the items that fall into the bracket of what is strictly forbidden (as food and drink) in Islam and that alcohol is not part of this list.
This is why most regions that follow the Hanifi school of jurisprudence (Pakistan, Bangladesh, Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Bosnia, Albania), have traditionally been somewhat reluctant to prescribe the lashing punishment for drinking.
However, ironically, it was the secular government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (under pressure from fundamentalist opposition), that banned the sale of alcohol in Pakistan in 1977. Its consumption was then turned into a crime by Zia, punishable under his controversial Hudood Ordinances (80 lashes).
Zia’s move in this context gave birth to a thriving bootlegging mafia, also triggering the widespread usage of easily available addictive drugs such as heroin as an alternative. For example, till 1979, Pakistan literally had just a single reported case of heroin addiction, but by 1985, it had the second-largest population of heroin addicts!
Many scholars had accused Zia of corrupting Pakistan’s Hanifi tradition by adulterating it with chunks of ultra-conservative fiqh that was never part of the subcontinental Muslims’ religious landscape.
Though no Pakistani has been flogged for the offence of consuming alcohol since 1981, the Shariat Court’s verdict must have come as a serious blow to the architectural remnants of Zia’s skewed Islamisation process, and its convoluted notions of an Islamic state and pious citizens.
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.(Al-Maidah,90)