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What is the controversial view of Abu Hanifah about alcohol?
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I am an Islamic researcher graduated from al-Azhar University, the Faculty of Islamic Studied in Arabic. I am a master student of Hanafi Jurisprudence.
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[Translated from Arabic and co-authored by Omar Gebril, a graduate from al-Azhar University, Islamic studies department.]

In a Nutshell
Hanafi scholars unanimously agreed that intoxicants made from grape and dates are prohibited. Intoxicants made from honey, fig, wheat, barley etc. are only forbidden when the last cup leads to intoxication according to Abu Hanifah and Abu Yusuf, providing it is not  part of a wanton pastime. However the standard position of the Hanafis is the view of Muhammad al-Shaybani and that of the majority of Muslim jurists that all intoxicants are prohibited whether in small or a large quantities.

Definition of Khamr

Linguistically khamr is that which intoxicates pressed from grapes or any intoxicating thing. The general usage is more accurate because khamr was forbidden in Madinah where there was no khamr from grapes, beverages prepared from dates (or busr, full-grown but unripe dates). (Al-Fīrūzābādī, Al-Qāmūs al-Muḥīṭ, "khamr")

The Hanafis' Definition of Khamr

Hanafi scholars disagreed on the definition of khamr. Although Abu Hanifah, Abu Yusuf and Muhammad al-Shaybani (the two most prominent companions and students of Abu Hanifah and the co-founders of the Hanafi madhab) agreed that khamr refers to any intoxicant from grape juice when it grows strong.

They disagreed on the condition whether it casts forth its froth or not. Whilst Abu Hanifah alone stipulated that it should foam after it has fermented, Abu Yusuf and Muhammad maintained that khamr refers to any intoxicant obtained from grape juice when it ferments, whether it casts forth foam or not; this is preponderant position of the madhab according to al-Shirnablani. (Ibn Ābidīn, Ḥāshiyat Ibn Ābidīn: Radd al-muḥtār ʻalā al-Durr al-mukhtār, vol. 6, p. 448)

The unlawful Drinks according to the Hanafi Madhab

According to Abu Hanifah, four types of nabidh are prohibited. His view is stated in Al-Jaṣṣāṣ' Sharḥ Mukhtaṣar al-Ṭaḥāwī:

والأصل الذي يجمع مذهب أبي حنيفة في ذلك: ما رواه ابن رستم عن محمد قال: قال أبو حنيفة: الأنبذة كلها حلال إلا أربعة أشياء: الخمر، والمطبوخ إذا لم يذهب ثلثاه ويبقي ثلثه - قال أبو بكر: يعني مطبوخ العنب -، ونقيع التمر- فإنه سكر-، ونقيع الزبيب. (الجصاص، شرح مختصر الطحاوي 6/359)
The key principle of the Hanafi madhab on this issue is based on what has been reported by ibn Rustum on the authority of Muhammad (Al-Shaybani) that Abu Hanifah said: All nabidh drinks (a general term for intoxicating drinks obtained from fermented grape, barley, dates, honey, raisons etc) are lawful except for four drinks: khamr, the cooked grape juice unless two thirds of which had already been evaporated, naqi' al-tamr (the infusion of dried dates, called sakar), and naqi' al-zabib (the infusion of raisin). (Al-Jaṣṣāṣ, Sharḥ Mukhtaṣar al-Ṭaḥāwī fī al-fiqh al-Ḥanafī vol, 6, p. 359)

The different views of the madhab on defining the unlawful drinks:

  1. Liquors made from grapes, namely Khamr; drinks made from uncooked/raw grape juice fermented until it becomes strong. This is the opinion of Abu Yusuf and Muhammad, while Abu Hanifah stipulated the existence of froth; and the drinks made from raisons, which are of two types: naqi' al-zabib (the infusion of raisins) made by soaking raisons in water until water acquires their sweetness, until it grows strong, ferments and casts forth its froth according to Abu Hanifah and Abu Yusuf whilst Muhammad did not restrict the existence of froth; and nabidh made from raisins when they are cooked and ferment and grow strong.
  2. Intoxicants made from dates or ripe dates.
  3. Intoxicants, not made from grape or dates, like honey, figs, wheat, millet, barley etc. are lawful even if they have not been boiled, according to Abu Hanifah and Abu Yusuf, providing they are not drunk for enjoyment (lahw) and stimulation (tarab), as this is how the fussāq drink them. But Muhammad al-Shaybani viewed these drinks as unlawful and his position is the preponderant one of the madhab. (Al-Mausu'ah al-Fiqhiyah al-Kuwaitiyah, vol. 5: pp. 13-14)
The Preponderant View on Drinks not from Grape or Dates

The fatwā of the Hanafi madhab on this issue is the view of al-Shaybani. He took a position similar to the view of the majority of Muslim jurists. The author of al-Durr al-Muhktar stated:

وحرمها محمد أي الأشربة المتخذة من العسل والتين ونحوهما، قاله المصنف مطلقا قليلها وكثيرها، وبه يفتى، ذكره الزيلعي وغيره واختاره شارح الوهبانية وذكر أنه مروي عن الكل. (حاشية ابن عابدين 6/455)
Muhammad (Al-Shaybani) said these drinks (intoxicants not made form grape or dates e.g. made from honey, figs, wheat, millet, barley) are prohibited to drink whether in small or large quantities. The fatwā of the madhab is this view, this is mentioned by al-Zayla'i and others. The interpreter of matn al-Wahbanyia (ibn Al-Shahnah) mentioned this is reported by all. (Ibn Ābidīn, Ḥāshiyat Ibn Ābidīn: Radd al-muḥtār ʻalā al-Durr al-mukhtār, vol. 6, p. 455)

Ibn Abidin, in his Hashiyat (Annotation) on al-Durr al-Muhktar, also stated:

والقدح الأخير المسكر هو المحرم أي على قول الإمام دون ما قبله وإن كان المفتى به قول محمد أن ما أسكر كثيره فقليله حرام. (مصدر سابق 6/455)
Only the last cup that leads to intoxication is the prohibited one according to Abu Hanifah's position. However, the fatwā of the Hanafi madhab is the view of al-Shaybani i.e., what intoxicates in large quantities, a small quantity is also unlawful. (Ibid, vol. 6, p. 455)


Abu Hanifah's Evidences

The evidences for Abu Hanifah's view are discussed in great detail in many works, including Sharh Ma'ānī al-Āthār of al-Tahāwī, Sharh Mukhtasar al-Tahāwī of al-Jassās, al-Tajrīd of al-Qudūrī and al-Mabsūt of al-Sarakhsī.

Qur'an

وَإِنَّ لَكُمْ فِي الْأَنْعَامِ لَعِبْرَةً ۖ نُّسْقِيكُم مِّمَّا فِي بُطُونِهِ مِن بَيْنِ فَرْثٍ وَدَمٍ لَّبَنًا خَالِصًا سَائِغًا لِّلشَّارِبِينَ - وَمِن ثَمَرَاتِ النَّخِيلِ وَالْأَعْنَابِ تَتَّخِذُونَ مِنْهُ سَكَرًا وَرِزْقًا حَسَنًا ۗ إِنَّ فِي ذَٰلِكَ لَآيَةً لِّقَوْمٍ يَعْقِلُونَ (سورة النحل 66-67)
And there is certainly a lesson for you in cattle: We give you to drink of what is in their bellies, from between digested food and blood: pure milk, pleasant to drink. And from the fruits of palm trees and grapevines, you derive intoxicants as well as wholesome provision. Surely in this is a sign for those who understand. (An-Nahl, 66-67)

The apparent meaning deduced from the verse is the permissibility of these drinks, but there are textual evidences that demonstrate the impermissibility of khamr, and naqi' al-tamr in particular. Therefore, they only excluded these two drinks from the general ruling implied in the verse.

وَكُلُوا وَاشْرَبُوا وَلَا تُسْرِفُوا  - سورة الأعراف 31
And eat and drink, but be not excessive. (Al-A'raf 31)

The apparent meaning of the verse implies the permissibility of all drinks.

Sunnah

By the definition given by the Prophet (saw), khamr is what is extracted specifically from grapes and dates. Abu Hurayrah narrated the Prophet (saw) said:

الْخَمْرُ مِنْ هَاتَيْنِ الشَّجَرَتَيْنِ النَّخْلَةِ وَالْعِنَبَةِ‏. (مسلم 36/16)
Wine is prepared from the (fruit) of these two trees-date-palm and vine. (Muslim 36:16)

Ibn Umar (ra) also narrated the Prophet (saw) said:

كُلُّ مُسْكِرٍ حَرَامٌ وَكُلُّ مُسْكِرٍ خَمْرٌ‏.‏ (النسائي 51/48)
Every intoxicant is unlawful and every intoxicant is Khamr. (Nasa'i 51:48)

Abu Burdah bin Niyar (ra) narrated the Prophet (saw) said:

اشْرَبُوا فِي الظُّرُوفِ وَلاَ تَسْكَرُوا‏
Drink from vessels but do not become intoxicated. (Nasa'i 51:139)

Sahabah

عَنِ ابْنِ عَبَّاسٍ رضي الله عنه، قَالَ حُرِّمَتِ الْخَمْرُ بِعَيْنِهَا قَلِيلُهَا وَكَثِيرُهَا وَالسُّكْرُ مِنْ كُلِّ شَرَابٍ ‏.‏
Ibn Abbas (ra) said: Khamr was forbidden in and of itself in small or large amounts, as was every kind of intoxicating drink. (Nasa'i, 51:146; Al-Tahawi, Sharh Ma'ānī al-Āthār, 4:214)

This statement shows that while the smallest drop of khamr is impermissible, drinking from any other intoxicant is only impermissible when it leads to intoxication.

Majority of Muslim Scholars

The preponderant view of the contemporary Hanafi madhab is consistent with the position the majority of Muslim scholars
: the people of Madinah and Hijaz, the people of Hadith, Hanbalis and some Shafi'is who viewed khamr refers to every intoxicant whether it intoxicates in a large amount, a small amount and whether it is obtained from grapes, dates, wheat or barley etc.

Conclusion

Hanafi scholars unanimously agreed that intoxicants made from grape and dates are prohibited.

In respect of intoxicants not made from grape or dates, but made from honey, fig, wheat and barley etc., the preponderant position of the Hanafi madhab is the view of Muhammad al-Shaybani, that these intoxicants are prohibited to drink whether in small or a large quantities.

References

Al-Mausu'ah Al-Fiqhiyah Al-Kuwaitiyah
Al-Jaṣṣāṣ, Sharḥ Mukhtaṣar al-Ṭaḥāwī fī al-fiqh al-Ḥanafī
Al- Ṭaḥāwī, Sharḥ Ma'ānī al-Āthār
Al-Fīrūzābādī, Al-Qāmūs al-Muḥīṭ
Ibn ʻĀbidīn, Ḥāshiyat Ibn ʻĀbidīn: Radd al-muḥtār ʻalā al-Durr al-mukhtār
 



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