in category Fiqh (Jurisprudence)

What was the opinion of classical Muslim scholars regarding alcohol?

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Islamic researcher, graduated from Al-Azhar University, Islamic Studies in English.
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[Co-authored by Mohammed Talat
, a Masters student of classical jurisprudence at Al-Azhar University.]

In a Nutshell
Khamr was gradually prohibited by the Qur'an. Classical scholars unanimously agree on the prohibition of khamr but they differ on its definition and then base their view on it. Whereas the majority of Muslim scholars maintained that khamr is a comprehensive word that includes all intoxicating drinks, a minority of scholars hold that the word khamr should specifically refer to the intoxicants obtained from grape juice. They also differ on the number of lashes that the drinker of khamr should have as a punishment.

In general, scholars agree khamr was prohibited after the battle of Uḥud according to the historians
. (Ibn Hisham, al-Sira al-Nabawiyya 2:190–191; Ibn Kathir, al-Bidaya wa al-Nihaya, 3:127–128)

However, they differed about the exact time of the battle, and most of them said it was in the third year after the Hijra.

By examining the historical development of the issue of khamr in Islam, there are three stages usually cited relating to khamr: drinking it as a lawful drink, prohibition of intoxication for prayer and the total prohibition in the third year of Hijrah.

Definition of Khamr

Linguistically khamr is understood by the scholars as that which intoxicates pressed from grapes or any intoxicating thing. The general usage is more accurate because khamr was forbidden in Medinah where there was no khamr from grapes, beverages prepared from dates (or busrfully-grown but unripe dates). (Al-Firuzabadi, Al-Qamus al-Muḥiṭ, "khamr")

Technically, there are three views based on three differing definitions:

  1. The majority of scholars (al-jumhur) including the residents of Medinah and Hijaz, Malikis, the people of Hadith, Hanbalis and some Shafi'is view that khamr refers to every intoxicant whether it intoxicates when taken in a large amount or a small amount and whether it is obtained from grapes, dates, wheat or barley etc.
  2. The majority of Shafi'i jurists as well as the two prominent students of Abu Hanifah, Qadi Abu Yusuf and Muhammad al-Shaybani, and some Malikis, viewed khamr as any intoxicant obtained from grape juice when ferments, whether it casts forth its froth or not.
  3. Abu Hanifah, some Shafi'is viewed
    khamr as referring to grape juice when it fermented. Whilst Abu Hanifah alone stipulated that it should cast forth its froth after it had fermented. (Al-Mausu'ah al-Fiqhiyah al-Kuwaitiyah, Vol. 5: pp. 12-14)
Thus, according to the majority of Muslim scholars, khamr is literally used to refer to any kind intoxicating drinks. Whereas the second and third groups view khamr literally refers to grape juice in particular, but when it ferments and grows strong it becomes haram according to the second group and when froths it becomes haram according to the third group. The later groups argue khamr is only used in a figurative way (in majaz) to refer to other drinks, not in the sense of haqiqah. (Ibid, Vol. 5: p. 13)

Drinking of Khamr

The Maliki jurist Ibn Rush, in Bidayat al-Mujtahid, presents the differing views of the early scholars regarding drinking of khamr, of Iraq and Hijaz, on the issue:

وأما النبات الذي هو غذاء فكله حلال، إلا الخمر، وسائر الأنبذة المتخذة من العصارات التي تتخمر ومن العسل نفسه. أما الخمر فإنهم اتفقوا على تحريم قليلها وكثيرها، أعني: التي هي من عصير العنب. وأما الأنبذة فإنهم اختلفوا في القليل منها الذي لا يسكر، وأجمعوا على أن المسكر منها حرام فقال جمهور فقهاء الحجاز وجمهور المحدثين: قليل الأنبذة وكثيرها المسكرة حرام، وقال العراقيون: إبراهيم النخعي من التابعين وسفيان الثوري وابن أبي ليلى وشريك وابن شبرمة وأبو حنيفة وسائر فقهاء الكوفيين وأكثر علماء البصريين: إن المحرم من سائر الأنبذة المسكرة هو السكر نفسه لا العين، وسبب اختلافهم تعارض الآثار والأقيسة في هذا الباب. (ابن رشد، بداية المجتهد 3/23-24)
All vegetation that provides nutrition is permitted, except for khamr (wine) and all other intoxicating beverages derived from juices that ferment and from honey itself. With respect to khamr, they agreed about its prohibition in small or large quantities, I mean, that which is sourced from grape juice. In the case of the other intoxicating beverages, they disagrees about a small quantity that does not intoxicate. They agreed that the amount which intoxicates is prohibited. The majority of the jurists of Hijaz, as well as the majority of the traditionalists, maintained that small and large quantities of intoxicating liquor are prohibited. The Iraqis, Ibrahim al-Nakha'i from the Tabi'un, Sufyan al-Thawri, lbn Abi Layla, Shurayk, Ibn Shubrama, Abu Hanifa, and all the remaining jurists of Kufa, as well as the majority of the jurists of Basra maintained that what is prohibited in all the remaining beverages (that is, besides wine derived from grape juice) is intoxication itself and not the substance (of the beverages). The reason for their disagreement springs from the conflict of traditions and analogies on the issue. (Ibn Rush, Bidayat al-Mujtahid, Vol. 3, pp. 23-24)
So, such disagreement exists from the early centuries because of the contradicting and variant narrations that could support each view which are cited in the next section.

The second argument presented by the jumhur (the majority of scholars) is by designating all the intoxicating beverages, in their totality, by the name khamr. For this, they have two methods. The first is from the aspect of establishing names by way of derivation (ishtiqaq). Meaning, it is known to the experts of language that khamr has been called khamr because of it veils (takhmur) the mind, therefore, it follows that the term khamr be applied to everything that befuddles the intellect.

The second is by way of transmission (samaa). They maintained that even if it is not conceded to us that intoxicating beverages are designated in the language by the term khamr, yet they are called khamr in the legal sense. They argued for this on the basis of the hadith narrated by Ibn Umar (ra) that the Prophet (saw) said:

كُلُّ مُسْكِرٍ حَرَامٌ وَكُلُّ مُسْكِرٍ خَمْرٌ‏.‏ (مسلم 36/93، والنسائي 51/48)
Every intoxicant is unlawful and every intoxicant is Khamr. (Muslim, 36:93; Nisa'i 51:48)
Also, the other hadith narrated by Nu'man ibn Bashir (ra) that the Messenger of Allah (saw) said:

إِنَّ الْخَمْرَ مِنَ الْعَصِيرِ وَالزَّبِيبِ وَالتَّمْرِ وَالْحِنْطَةِ وَالشَّعِيرِ وَالذُّرَةِ وَإِنِّي أَنْهَاكُمْ عَنْ كُلِّ مُسْكِرٍ. (أبو داود 27/9)
Wine is made from grape-syrup, raisins, dried dates, wheat, barley, millet, and I forbid you from every intoxicant. (Abu Dawud 27:9)
With regard to the punishment of the drinker in this world, classical scholars unanimously agree on the punishment to be by flogging (jald) because of the report narrated by Muslim:

عَنْ أَنَسِ، بْنِ مَالِكٍ أَنَّ نَبِيَّ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم جَلَدَ فِي الْخَمْرِ بِالْجَرِيدِ وَالنِّعَالِ ثُمَّ جَلَدَ أَبُو بَكْرٍ أَرْبَعِينَ‏.‏ فَلَمَّا كَانَ عُمَرُ وَدَنَا النَّاسُ مِنَ الرِّيفِ وَالْقُرَى قَالَ مَا تَرَوْنَ فِي جَلْدِ الْخَمْرِ فَقَالَ عَبْدُ الرَّحْمَنِ بْنُ عَوْفٍ أَرَى أَنْ تَجْعَلَهَا كَأَخَفِّ الْحُدُودِ ‏.‏ قَالَ فَجَلَدَ عُمَرُ ثَمَانِينَ ‏.
Anas bin Malik reported Allah's Messenger (saw) gave a beating with palm branches and shoes and Abu Bakr applied forty lashes. When Umar (became the Commander of the Faithful) and people went to pastures and towns, he asked (the Companions), "What is your opinion about lashing for drinking?" Abd al-Rahman bin Auf then said: "My opinion is you fix it as the mildest punishment." Then Umar inflicted eighty stripes. (Muslim 29:57)
But they disagreed on the number of lashes. The majority of scholars (Hanafis, Malikis, and Hanbalis, according to their the preponderant view) are of the view that it is eighty lashes for a free man and forty for others.

They quoted as evidence the hadith of Anas (ra) quoted above, in which Umar (ra) consulted the people and Abd al-Rahman said, the minimum punishment is eighty, so that is what Umar commanded. The Companions agreed with Umar (ra) and did not differ.

However, Shafi'is and some Hanbalis are of the view that it is forty lashes and they think that giving more than forty lashes is left to the discretion of the Muslim leader. So, if he thinks that there is a need to give more than forty lashes, as happened at the time of Umar, then he may make it eighty. Also, they adduce the hadith reported by Muslim on the authority of Ali (ra) concerning the story of al-Walid bin Uqbah that:

جَلَدَ اَلنَّبِيُّ ‏- صلى الله عليه وسلم ‏-أَرْبَعِينَ، وَأَبُو بَكْرٍ أَرْبَعِينَ، وَعُمَرُ ثَمَانِينَ، وَكُلٌّ سُنَّةٌ، وَهَذَا أَحَبُّ إِلَىَّ. (مسلم 29/60)
The Messenger of Allah inflicted forty lashes, Abu Bakr (ra) forty lashes and Umar (ra) eighty. All of them are in accordance with the Sunnah of the Prophet (saw) but this one (the eighty lashes) is preferable to me. (Muslim 29:60)


Classical scholars of Hijaz and the jumhur accumulated a number of authentic hadith and traditions reported from the companions of the Prophet (saw) laid down on the issue. There are some ahadith that could support this view:

عن عَائِشَةَ ـ رضى الله عنها ـ قَالَتْ سُئِلَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم عَنِ الْبِتْعِ وَهْوَ نَبِيذُ الْعَسَلِ، وَكَانَ أَهْلُ الْيَمَنِ يَشْرَبُونَهُ، فَقَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم:‏ "‏ كُلُّ شَرَابٍ أَسْكَرَ فَهْوَ حَرَامٌ ‏"‏‏.‏ (البخاري 74/12، والنسائي 51/56)
A'isha (ra) narrated Allah's Messenger (saw) was asked about al-Bit, which is a liquor prepared from honey the Yemenites used to drink. Allah's Messenger (saw) said, "All drinks that intoxicate are unlawful (to drink)." (Bukhari 74:12; Nisa'i 51:56)
عَنِ ابْنِ عُمَرَ، عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ:‏ كُلُّ مُسْكِرٍ حَرَامٌ وَكُلُّ مُسْكِرٍ خَمْرٌ‏.‏ (مسلم 36/93، والنسائي 51/48)
Ibn Umar (ra) narrated that the Prophet (saw) said: Every intoxicant is unlawful and every intoxicant is khamr. (Muslim, 36:93; Nisa'i 51:48)
وَعَنْ جَابِرٍ ‏- رضى الله عنه ‏- أَنَّ رَسُولَ اَللَّهِ ‏- صلى الله عليه وسلم ‏-قَالَ: مَا أَسْكَرَ كَثِيرُهُ، فَقَلِيلُهُ حَرَامٌ.
Jabir (ra) narrated the Messenger of Allah (saw) said: If a large quantity of any beverage intoxicates, then a small amount of it is prohibited. (Ahmed 3:343; Abu Dawud 27:13; Nisa'i 51:69; Ibn Majah 30:3518; ibn Hibban 5358)
عن النُّعْمَانَ بْنَ بَشِيرٍ، رضي الله عنه قَالَ سَمِعْتُ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَقُولُ: إِنَّ الْخَمْرَ مِنَ الْعَصِيرِ وَالزَّبِيبِ وَالتَّمْرِ وَالْحِنْطَةِ وَالشَّعِيرِ وَالذُّرَةِ وَإِنِّي أَنْهَاكُمْ عَنْ كُلِّ مُسْكِرٍ. (أبو داود 27/9)
Nu'man ibn Bashir (ra) narrated: I heard the Messenger of Allah (saw) say: Wine is made from grape-syrup, raisins, dried dates, wheat, barley, millet, and I forbid you from every intoxicant. (Abu Dawud 27:9)
عَنْ عَائِشَةَ، رضى الله عنها قَالَتْ سَمِعْتُ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَقُولُ: ‏كُلُّ مُسْكِرٍ حَرَامٌ وَمَا أَسْكَرَ مِنْهُ الْفَرْقُ فَمِلْءُ الْكَفِّ مِنْهُ حَرَامٌ ‏.‏ (أبو داود 27/19، والترمذي 26/6)
A'isha (ra) narrated: I heard the Messenger of Allah (saw) say: Every intoxicant is forbidden; if a faraq of anything causes intoxication, a handful of it is forbidden. (Abu Dawud 27:19; Tirmidhi 26:6)
There are a number of fatwas from the companions giving this ruling:

عَنِ ابْنِ عُمَرَ، قَالَ سَمِعْتُ عُمَرَ، رضى الله عنه يَخْطُبُ عَلَى مِنْبَرِ الْمَدِينَةِ فَقَالَ أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ أَلاَ إِنَّهُ نَزَلَ تَحْرِيمُ الْخَمْرِ يَوْمَ نَزَلَ وَهِيَ مِنْ خَمْسَةٍ مِنَ الْعِنَبِ وَالتَّمْرِ وَالْعَسَلِ وَالْحِنْطَةِ وَالشَّعِيرِ وَالْخَمْرُ مَا خَامَرَ الْعَقْلَ‏. (البخاري 74/7، ومسلم 56/36، والنسائي 51/40)
Ibn Umar (ra) said: I heard Umar (ra) delivering a khutbah on the minbar of Medinah and he said: "O people, on the day that the prohibition of khamr was revealed, it was made from five things: From grapes, dates, honey, wheat and barley. Khamr is that which overcomes the mind." (Bukhari 74:7: Muslim 56:36; Nisa'i 51:40)
عَنْ أَنَسِ بْنِ مَالِكٍ ـ رضى الله عنه ـ قَالَ كُنْتُ أَسْقِي أَبَا عُبَيْدَةَ وَأَبَا طَلْحَةَ وَأُبَىَّ بْنَ كَعْبٍ مِنْ فَضِيخِ زَهْوٍ وَتَمْرٍ فَجَاءَهُمْ آتٍ فَقَالَ إِنَّ الْخَمْرَ قَدْ حُرِّمَتْ‏.‏ فَقَالَ أَبُو طَلْحَةَ قُمْ يَا أَنَسُ فَأَهْرِقْهَا‏.‏ فَأَهْرَقْتُهَا‏. (البخاري 74/8)
Anas ibn Malik (ra) narrated: I was serving Abu Ubayda, Abu Talha and Ubay bin Ka'b with a drink prepared from ripe and unripe dates. Then somebody came to them and said, "Alcoholic drinks have been prohibited." (On hearing that) Abu Talha said, "Get up. O Anas, and pour (throw) it out! So, I poured (threw) it out. (Bukhari 74:8)


Through a number of authentic traditions and linguistic arguments about the general usage of the word khamr in the Arabic language, the jumhur, unlike scholars such as Abu Hanifah, concluded khamr refers to any intoxicant, whether it is obtained from grapes, dates, wheat or barley or others, and it is unlawful and punishable, whether taken in a large or small quantity.


Al-Mausu'ah Al-Fiqhiyah Al-Kuwaitiyah
Al-Fīrūzābādī, Al-Qāmūs al-Muḥīṭ
Ibn Rush, Bidāyat al-Mujtahid
Al-Razi, al-Tafsir al-Kabir
Ibn Hishām, al-Sīra al-Nabawīya
Ibn Kathīr, al-Bidāya wa-al-nihāya

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