Doctrines >Dialogue Starting With a Question   (3)


Dialogue Starting With a Question

Muslims ask about alcohol and gambling

The people at the time of the Prophet (p.) asked about alcohol and gambling, which were deep-rooted in society. Banning them outright would have created a major social problem. The people were under the illusion that prohibition did not go hand in hand with what was in the interest of the people. That is, consumption of alcohol would lighten the weight of the soul, transporting it away from its miseries. They might have felt the need to drown their sorrows and problems in a world that, they thought, was trouble-free. They might have perceived it in the same light as sleep, which can provide a rest where the nerves cool down and the batteries are recharged.

In its response, the Holy Qur'an did not try to dismiss these perceptions, nor was it harsh in pointing out the legal injunctions in that regard. Instead, it started in delineating the negative as well as the positive aspects, leaving them ample room to weigh things up for themselves in peace. This is the right to ensure the safety of knowledge from being corrupted under the weight of custom, tradition, interest, or whim, thus:

Satan's plan is (but) to excite enmity and hatred between you, with intoxicants and gambling, and hinder you from the remembrance of God, and from prayer: will ye not then abstain? (5:91).

Thus, it confronts them with the negative impact to intoxicants and gambling on both personal and social levels, let alone their effect on the spiritual side, especially when people are in audience with God in worship. That is because alcohol affects the capacity of thinking straight, making man behave under the spur of his base instincts. In another way, acting under the influence of alcohol is symptomatic of letting loose one's anger and enmity subconsciously. Gambling contributes to stirring up, in the heart of the losing party, animosity against the winning side. Both alcoholism and compulsive gambling are instrumental in creating a breakdown in the relationship between man and God when they get distracted form remembrance and saying prayer. That is why the Qur'an has put the question in an exclamatory form, asking people to desist from dabbling in these bad habits: "will ye not then abstain?'" In this, there is a suggestion to sensible people that they should not need outside intervention to make them get rid of that which spoils their lives.

The Qur'an then attempts to compare the minuses and pluses of both alcohol and gambling in the minds of people at the outset. No sooner has this been done than it hastens to add that the minuses outweigh the pluses. What is left is for sensible people to reach a conclusion that would be on the side of prohibition. This is so, because the intellect would not accept man committing something that would harm his well being for a benefit that is much less than the harm it causes.

Should, you ask: how could this come about? The answer is that although intoxicants may provide some benefits, they are minimal compared to the incalculable problems they create. Damage to health and social problems top the list of the negatives. They come about as a result of people involved in these practices taking leave of their senses. The results manifest themselves in crime and malpractices. Society has no protection against a drunken person, as they cannot lock them up, thus preventing them from wreaking havoc on their fellow human beings, be it by causing traffic accidents or committing homicide. These are the consequences of drunkenness.

As for gambling, there may be other problems besides those mentioned in the Qur'anic verse. Dangerous social malaise is symptomatic of a trend when the compulsive gambler relies on gambling to earn his living. This would reflect badly on society, as it would lose some of its productive capacity through the loss of some of its members to gambling. On the family front, the gambler would destroy himself as well as the well being of his family.

Thus, the process of weighing the loss and profit ends up in sustaining high losses, for minimal profit. The Qur'an puts forward before the people the truth which they have overlooked, and reiterates to them that drawing the boundaries between what is licit and what is illicit does not stem from nonsensical play or getting gratification from what people perceive as constraints on their freedom and limits on their choices. Rather, the process of legislating for what is permissible and what is not emanates form man's interest, be it personal or public. There is, therefore, no prohibition, unless the disadvantage outweighs the advantages; a particular act is only sanctioned when the reverse is true. That is, regardless of whether or not people have got used to practicing something, in that the freedom in Divine lawmaking is not whimsical. It is realistic, in that the vital interest of, or detriment to, life and man is the driving force behind it.

In this light, the Holy Qur'an has not elaborated on highlighting this reality with regard to the consumption of alcohol and taking to gambling. It has not said what they should do; rather, it has left the matter to man's clear conscience to reach a conclusion about the Islamic ruling prohibiting intoxicants and gambling, decisively, thus:

They ask thee concerning wine and gambling. Sat: 'In them is great sin, and some profit, for men; but the sin in greater than the profit'. (2:219).

Muslims ask about fighting during the Sacred Month

The people asked Prophet Mohammad (p.) whether they could go to war during the sacred month. The question was precipitated by an incident where some Muslims and idolaters were involved in a fight. The Muslims killed an idolater and took two prisoners. Quraish exploited the incident to speak ill of the Prophet(p.) . The Muslims who were involved in that incident were distressed because they thought that they had done a vile deed (in violating the sanctity of the sacred month), especially as they noticed that the Prophet(p.) was averse to this; and the rest of their fellow Muslims criticized them for it. Thus, a controversy was in the making. So, they were left with no alternative but to put the case to the Prophet(p.) to adjudicate. And this was the Qur'anic answer:

They ask thee concerning fighting in the Prohibited Month. Say: "Fighting therein is a grave (offence); but graver is it in the sight of God to prevent access to the path of God, to deny Him, to prevent access to the Sacred Mosque, and drive out its members". Tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter. (2:217).

It seems that the matter baffled the believers, in the wake of that incident, thinking that Islam did not recognize the principle of the sanctity of the sacred months, in that it rejected the ban on fighting during these months. Thus, they were under the impression that Islam was going to license fighting therein, especially as the Prophet(p.) did not apprehend or punish those Muslims who killed the and took two of his companions as prisoners. Their question was to know the right ruling in the matter, so that they could confront the smear campaign waged against Islam firm in knowledge and sincerity.

The answer came unequivocally, in that it upheld the ban on fighting during the Month, viewing it as denying "access to the path of God" and His worship. However, it hastened to add that what Quraish had done was even worse, in that they drove out the people of the Sacred Mosque, not for anything but for bearing witness to the word of belief, in an attempt to cause them to turn their back to their faith. Then, it laid the solid foundation for the principle, which treats luring people away from religion and forestalling its progress as much worse than killing. This is because killing is an individual act whose consequences are limited, in the main, whereas enticing the adherents of religion to leave it in droves would prove detrimental to the whole group.

Seditious acts are concerned, directly or indirectly, with defending the crooked path of atheism and idol worship against the straight path of faith and monotheism, and with undermining the truth. For this reason, the Muslims who were involved in that incident were not considered as acting outside the remit of the faith, because their aim was to dismantle the stumbling blocks that were installed in the way of Islam to prevent it from forging ahead. Thus, the consequences of their action were far greater than the act of killing itself, i.e. violating the sanctity of the sacred month.

It can be inferred from the Holy Qur'anic verse that it is not trying to say that Muslims were to blame. Contrary to what some Qur'anic commentators have deduced, we believe that it is trying to put the act of those Muslims in its legal framework, i.e. rooting out unbelief. It reiterates sticking to this way and lending it legitimacy, as is evident from the last part of the verse:

Nor will they cease fighting you until they turn you back from your faith if they can. And if any of you turn back from their faith and die in unbelief, their works will bear no fruit in this life and in the Hereafter, they will Companions of the Fire and will abide therein. Those who believed and those who suffered exile and fought (and strove and struggled) in the path of God, they have the hope of the Mercy of God: And God is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. (2:217-18).

It is noticeable that the verse is comparing the practices of both camps, i.e. those of unbelief and belief. The former confronts the Word of God with rebellion and aggression, whereas the latter receives it with humility, fleeing to Him and waging jihad in His cause. Thus, it can be construed that the verse is in the business or rewarding those Muslims for what they did, especially their breaking the ban on entering the Sacred Mosque. On the other hand, it is reprimanding those unbelievers for the crimes they had committed and for their dishonest practices. However, it should not be understood that the phrase "worse than slaughter" indicates that there is some kind of equality in apportioning blame between the two parties, and giving more of it to the unbeliever. Rather, it is mimicking their claim in putting the responsibility for violating the sacred month squarely on the shoulders of the Prophet (p.) and Muslim in general. One should not read in the phrase "they have the hope of the Mercy of God" evidence of admitting responsibility, because hoping for God's mercy is not confined to looking for mercy when the worshipper commits a vile deed. It is the kind of supplication that is engaged into in seeking His favor, grace, and reward. We aspire for God's mercy to forgive us our trespasses, as much as we look forward to His reward after a commended act of worship. This is so that He may elevate our stations. Describing the believers as fleeing to God and waging jihad in His cause is indicative of our reading of the verse. Yet God knows best. The importance of this answer is that it is in response to enquiries by the believers, including those that may suggest rejection. It has handled them with the expected calmness of the Message, it realism, and its faith in the power of knowledge that permeates all aspects of the Law. This is worthy of turning the Muslim activists into ones who can understand the narrative, principles, and teachings they try to propagate. They are not parrots, which mince words and pay them lip service.