By: Part Time Punjabi
AsSalamu Alaikum wa Rahmatullah wa Barakatuh
Alhamdulillah. You know, life is very confusing. And more confusing and twisted things make it worse! Especially when we are working on improving our deen and trying to get our questions answered. One time I was so sure about one topic related to the fiqh of clothing in Islam and then after reading a short book about it, I was completely lost. It is hard to find quick and easy answers. That is because Islam is a science. You need to do your research. A person with moderate level of knowledge in the sciences will be blind to the miracles of Islamic knowledge. However, a person who knows his or her field in depth will be astonished at what the Qur’an says about many scientific miracles.
Recently, I’ve been asked to publish one of my research “articles” to the RU-MSA blog. The original “article” was actually a response to a brother’s question regarding alcohol and more importantly, the identification of alcohol. The names in the “article” have been changed to protect their identity.
As an aspiring chemistry scholar, I knew the answer to Brother Kevin’s questions about alcohols (ROH). But instead of writing what I knew, I took Brother John’s advice to ask a scholar. And in the past month, I have been emailing a few scholars who are experts in this field. I was also able to get a hold of an Imam from NY who is a chemistry professor. Why did I pursue this and didn’t let this topic get buried in my email? I wanted to shed light on a lot of misinformation about this topic and most importantly, share this knowledge with my brothers [and sisters].
So I begin with things we already know that contains alcohol. Besides the obvious uses, alcohols are in hand sanitizers, soaps, cologne and even mouthwash. And since alcohol is haram, why would you want to wash your mouth with something that has alcohol or spray cologne all over you and then pray in those clothes?
The real answer is the origin of the alcohol. Remember, alcohol derived from dates, grapes and barley is decisively haram. Meaning it is haram to drink and use it for various applications. This type of alcohol is called Khamr (wine). This is haram, and there aren’t any disagreements with this statement with any Sunni school of thought. This is in the Qur’an and it is a Sahih Hadith:
“O you who believe! Alcohol (khamr), gambling, dedication of stones, and divination by arrows are an abomination (impure) of Shaytan’s handiwork. So abstain from such (abomination) that you may prosper.” (al-An’am, 90)
Sayyiduna Abu Hurayra (Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said: “Khamr (wine) is from these two trees, dates and grapes.” (Sahih Muslim, 1985)
So if alcohol is derived from something other than dates, grapes and barley, then there is a difference in opinion amongst the scholars. Imam Abu Hanifa and Imam Abu Yusuf (may Allah have mercy on them), from the Hanafi school of thought, view these alternatively derived alcohols permissible for medical purposes as long as it doesn’t intoxicate the individual. They base their conclusion on the following hadith:
Abu Hurayra (Allah be pleased with him) stated the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) is reported to have said: “Khamr (derived from grapes, dates and barley) is in itself unlawful (and impure), and also all the other beverages that reach the level of intoxication.” (al-Zayla’i, Nasb al-Raya, 4/306)
Conversely, the other three schools of thought (Shafi’i, Maliki, and Hanbali) and also Imam Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-Shaybani from the Hanafi school are of the view that all types of beverages are prohibited whether less or more potent, and whether consumed to the level of intoxication or otherwise. They base their argument on the following two Hadiths:
Sayyiduna Ibn Umar (Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said: “Every intoxicant is Khamr and every intoxicant is Unlawful (haram)…” (Sahih Muslim, 3671)
Sayyiduna Jabir ibn Abd Allah (Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said: “Whatever intoxicates in large quantities, then a small quantity of it is also forbidden.” (Sunan Abu Dawud 3673, Sunan al-Tirmidhi, Sunan al-Nasa’i and others)
So according to these scholars, alcoholic beverages are strictly haram. Once we have established that a given beverage is haram, it becomes unlawful to consume it or use it.
But wait, you can also get alcohol from honey, balsamic vinegar, figs, etc. And these will cause intoxication, but are they allowed? Such fitna existed for the late Hanafi scholars. So Imam Muhammad ibn al-Hasan (student of Imam Abu Hanifa) gave a fatwa that should solve this problem once and for all. He stated that every intoxicant that is made for consumption is khamr and is unlawful. Conceptually, what does this mean? Wine and liquor are haram not because they contain alcohol but because they cause intoxication.
Therefore, all alcoholic beverages are unlawful (haram). Even in small amounts. Also, any beverage that intoxicates in a large amount, a drop (undiluted) would be considered haram.
This applies to vanilla extract. There have been documented cases where people have become intoxicated while drinking pure vanilla extract. Other chemical species in vanilla extract, like coumarin, cause liver damage. But can you eat vanilla ice cream? If it is made from natural vanilla beans which doesn’t contain any ethanol, then it is halal. What if it says, “contains less than 2% of: vanilla extract, etc.”? Remember, whatever intoxicates you is haram and whatever intoxicates in a large quantity, then a small quantity is also haram. But how does vanilla extract becomes haram? They take pure vanilla beans, mash them up and macerate them in liquid alcohol. Yes, that’s right. They take the vanilla beans and let them soak up in the ethanol. Then they let the soaked vanilla beans release their liquid contents (which contains alcohol) and they bottle this liquid as vanilla extract. Letting the vanilla beans soak in alcohol and then letting it release its liquid is called macerating. Vanilla extract is a mixture of alcohol and vanilla. It is haram to ingest it, no matter how diluted it is in coffee, chocolate, or ice cream.
So what about perfumes, deodorants, face creams, and mouthwash? They contain synthetic alcohol. These are haram to consume but permissible for external applications (I hope no one drinks mouthwash). Imam Abu Hanifa and Imam Abu Yusuf both declared that alcohol derived from a source other than dates, grapes, and barley is allowed for external use only and never oral intake. This is because even synthetic alcohol is toxic and will cause intoxication. Ethanol and isopropanol (the two most common alcohols) made synthetically should be used for external applications like cleaning your beautiful nails (nail polish) and/or as antiseptic uses like before getting a flu shot. And by the way, methanol will make you blind!
In our day and age, it has become impossible to avoid alcohol. So remember, alcohol that is made from grapes, dates, and barley are haram but those made from chemicals, seeds, honey, petroleum, etc. are permissible for external applications. Just don’t get intoxicated. So go ahead and put on deodorant, cologne, and creams. Make sure it isn’t khamr because that’ll be just filthy.
What exactly is khamr? Here is the definition from Al-San`ani in Subul al-Salam:
“The word khamr is used literally for frothy, fermented grape juice by consensus and metaphorically for any liquid intoxicant.”
If you take any fruit (dates) or vegetable and ferment it (block access for oxygen and let yeast or fungus grow on it), you will get khamr. I’ve actually seen this done in a lab in my second year. You guys heard of cellular respiration? Glycolysis? Citric Acid Cycle? Well you know that in the absence of oxygen, in glycolysis, we produce lactic acid. And in yeast in the absence of oxygen, what do they produce? They make ethanol. This is khamr!
But you have heard of fermenting fruits and vegetables from before. Dill pickles and pickles in general (achaar) are fermented fruits and vegetables. So why is that allowed? Well for achaar and dill pickles, we don’t use yeast. We use bacteria. There are good and bad bacteria (think yogurt!) and luckily the bad bacteria dies in the presence of salt. By fermenting in salt water, there isn’t yeast or the bad bacteria. Only the good bacteria remains and the good bacteria make lactic acid (like us). This is called lacto-fermentation. Several spices later, you get achaar. Enjoy.
Yeast seems like the problem here. But it isn’t. In fact, yeast is very important to us. It makes bread dough rise. Don’t worry, bread does not contain any alcohol or have any khamr properties. When yeast breaks down sugars (glycolysis) from bread dough, ethanol and carbon dioxide are formed as byproducts. The carbon dioxide gas escapes from the dough and thus causes the rising of bread. So where does that haram ethanol (khamr) go? It evaporates when the bread is baking.
If you take spoiled (fungal) fruits and vegetables and put them in a plastic bag and shut it tight without any holes or air leaks, there will be liquid (ethanol) accumulation inside that bag. That is khamr and that, my friend, is nasty!
Interestingly, prison cells cannot contain any plastic bags. Janitors who service prisons must count and report the number of garbage bags they use. Any missing plastic bag causes a widespread search through all prison cells. Why? Prisoners use the plastic bags to keep spoiled food in them and then drink the ethanol and become intoxicated. So disgusting.
Anyways, I hope I was able to shed some light on the issues of alcohol. Anything I said correct is from Allah and everything I said wrong is from shaytaan and my desires. Please forgive me for any mistakes and errors.
Allah is al-Alim and He (swt) knows best.
P.S. I didn’t mention if Khamr is Najis. The whole alcohol being Najis issue is a madhab speculation. Imam Nawawi in his book Minhadj systemized many things that are Najis. Imam Nawawi is a major authoritative figure in the Shafi’i madhab. Therefore in the Shafi’I school of thought, spirituous drinks like wine are Najis. But that is not the case for the Hanafi school of thought. However, both schools of thought agree that spirituous drinks are haram to consume.