The Impact of Alcohol on Society

A brief look into problems caused by alcoholism and Islamic teachings on the subject.

60 The Review of Religions – January 2004 Alcohol (ethanol) is widely used in the world as a beverage. It has well known potent pharma- cological effects, some of which can be easily observed even by a person not medically trained. It has important effects on the brain, heart, liver, stomach, lungs, peripheral nerves, blood and blood vessels. In fact there is hardly any organ in the body that may not be affected by it to a greater or lesser degree. The action on the brain is especially n o t e w o r t h y. Alcohol depresses its functions. This initially causes a loss of inhibition and a feeling of pleasure but progresses on to drowsiness, sleep, loss of consciousness and even death with the increasing levels of alcohol in the blood. Ethyl alcohol has few medicinal uses when given systemically, but is of great medical importance because of its damaging physical and psychological effects when used as a beverage. It is estimated that about 5% of the adult population in Western Europe and North America may have alcohol dependence. The impact of the consumption of alcohol on human society can be visualised by two examples: one old and the other in the modern world as outlined below. The Impact of Alcohol on Society by Dr. Latif A Qureshi – Edinburgh The effects of alcohol are being witnessed more and more on the streets of the developed world through anti-social behaviour and poor health. The United Kingdom is starting to count the costs of the effects of this drug upon its society. Given that Islam banned alcoholic beverages some 1400 years ago, the author takes a broader look at the effects of alcohol and alcoholism upon society, and whether there are lessons to be learned from the Islamic stance. 61The Review of Religions – January 2004 The Impact of Alcohol on Society The Present Day Scenario: On the 19th September 2003 in Britain, the British Prime M i n i s t e r’s Strategy Unit on alcohol harm reduction produced an interim report on the situation as it exists in the United Kingdom. It points out that 40% of men’s drinking sessions now technically qualify as binge drinking. It is responsible for a range of alcohol-related prob- lems. It is linked to up to 22,000 premature deaths each year and is costing the country up to £20 billion a year. An increasing number of young persons, some below the age of 16 years are drinking well above the safe limits. Up to 1.3 million children in the UK are aff e c t e d by parental alcohol problems. This is bringing with it health risks and a range of other social problems. Not least of these problems is the nuisance and disorder that is all too often a feature of the UK town and city centres (especially in the evenings or weekends). Pre Islamic Arab Civilisation: About fourteen centuries ago, the Arabian Peninsula was inhabited by a race that was removed from the civilisation of the time because of the terrain and desert of its land. Hence they lived a free, fierce and nomadic life style. They were illiterate and barbarian and worshipped many gods and idols. They had no moral values. They gambled and had fun of all sorts in their carnivals and feasts. Drinking alcohol was an important part of their daily routine. Their binge drinking habits were well established and are documented in history. This led to many fights among the drinking factions, sometimes leading to wars and loss of life between different tribes. Alcohol consumption played a pivotal role in their social life. It is stated that Arabs started drinking in the mornings and had some more around lunchtime as a top up. They then rested for a while during the midday heat and had another top up drink before 62 The Review of Religions – January 2004 The Impact of Alcohol on Society sunset. Further drinking con- tinued after sunset and during the night. It appears that they must have remained continually intoxicated and this would have led to a lot of ill health and disease. The Qur’anic Teachings: More than fourteen centuries ago the Qur’an, the Muslim scripture, was revealed to Prophet Muhammad(sa) in Arabia over a period of twenty-three years. He lived in Makkah during the first thirteen of these years of his ministry and in Madinah during the last ten years. The Islamic teachings were, therefore, revealed bit by bit over this period of time. The Qur’an contains detailed guidance not only about spiritual matters relating to human life but also regarding physical and moral values. The guidance regarding the consumption of alcohol is contained in two different verses of the Qur’an both of which were revealed after the Prophet’s migration to Madinah and are quoted as follows: They ask thee concerning wine and the game of hazard. Say: ‘In both there is great sin and also some advantages for men; but their sin is greater than their advantage.’ (Ch.2: v.220) O ye who believe! Intoxicants and the games of chance and idols and divining arrows are only an abomination of Satan’s handiwork. So shun each one of them that you may prosper. (Ch.5: v.91) The Revolution: The Arab Muslims were part of the same society and before these verses were revealed consumed alcohol like their other non- believing counterparts. It is stated that when this message about inhibition was conveyed, a drinking party was in progress in a street of Madinah. On hearing the news, the companions of the Holy Prophet(sa) i m m e d i a t e l y destroyed all of the liquor even before confirming the reported 63The Review of Religions – January 2004 prohibition and stopped drinking and became teetotalless from then on. All practising Muslims hence- forth consider the drinking of alcohol a sin. All the areas of the world where such people live are dry areas and thirst for liquid refreshment is hightened. This indeed is an amazing revolution. Discussion: If we ponder carefully on these events, we can get to the bottom of this change. Alcohol is a habit- forming drug that causes dependence and its withdrawal may be associated with dan- gerous side effects. So the question is what brought about this sudden change in the Muslim society. It appears that the strong moral qualities, firm determination and a strong faith in the truth of the Qur’anic message brought about this change very abruptly in the first place and continues now to this day among those who follow these teachings. There are a lot of benefits that follow as a result. Conclusion: Is there a lesson to be learnt from this example? Is there a message that can be conveyed to the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit and to the public at large in the UK and further afield? This is worth a thought especially at a time when the festive season around Christmas and the New Year, well known for alcohol abuse, has just had its latest chapter. Bibliography: 1. A Textbook of Clinical Pharmacology. Ritter J.M., Lewis L.D.& Mant T.G.K. 3rd Edition 1995. Arnold. 2. P h a r m a c o l o g y. Rang H.P., Dale M.M., Ritter J.M. & Moore P.K.. 5th Edition 2003. Churchill Livingston. 3. The Holy Qur’ a n, English Translation by Maulawi Sher Ali. 1997 Islam International Publications Ltd. 4. h t t p : / / w w w. c a b i n e t – o ff i c e . g o v. u k / news/ 2003/ 030919_alcoholsu.asp The Impact of Alcohol on Society We hope you have enjoyed reading this edition of the magazine. The Review of Religions will continue to provide discussion on a wide range of subjects and welcomes any comments or suggestions from its readers. To ensure that you regularly receive this monthly publication, please fill in your details below and we will put you on our mailing list. The cost of one year’s subscription is £15 Sterling or US $30 for overseas readers (Please do not send cash). Payments by US residents should be by check payable to “AMI” (US dollars 30) and sent direct to ‘The Review of Religions’, Baitul Zafar, 86-71 PALO ALTO ST, HOLLISWOOD. NY 11423-1203 (USA). 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