Can Muslims drink alcohol? Most people will answer that question with no. Yet that issue is more nuanced than we think.
Pooyan Tamimi Arab, assistant professor of Religious Studies at Utrecht University, answers. He deals with the long tradition of wine and wine consumption in the Islamic world.
What is the meaning of wine in Islam?
Both Islamologists and wine experts have written various publications on alcohol, and in particular wine, in Islam. Almost without exception, they make a connection between wine and Sufism, a mystical movement within Islam.
The Encyclopedia of Islam even contains various chapters on this subject, including a long contribution on wine. And also in German, French, Dutch and English studies these associations are popping up. Sufis use wine in their poetry as a metaphor and a means to get closer to the Unseen. But it is also plausible that the poetic was often accompanied by the consumption of real drink.
Do Muslims make wine themselves?
Drinking traditions in various areas, for example in Morocco, Jordan, Iran and India, are moving between well-known Islamic prohibitions and historical reality. Iran in particular has one of the oldest traditions in the field of wine production, according to an article in the Journal of Wine Research .
Wine and viticulture were already a source of inspiration for the fourteenth-century Persian poet Hafez. His hometown of Shiraz, in southern Iran, had a long tradition of viticulture. Only after the Islamic revolution did that end. In writings such as the Hafez Divan, which are still very popular, wine consumption is seen as an expression of a cosmopolitan attitude to life and as a practice that challenges and criticizes religious authorities.
Drinking wine is forbidden according to the Koran?
When intoxicating liquor occurs in anthropological studies, it is usually as a violation of Islamic laws, as something that is blindly allowed, or as a local exception to the rule. An example is the Berti tribe in Sudan, where drinking beer is accepted. The Polish Tartars, too, were not strictly apprenticed. They found a total alcohol ban far too far.
Other Muslims see alcohol consumption as an act of resistance, such as Iranian youth in Tehran. The Iranian-American sociologist Asef Bayat described their behavior as a mixture of respect for the higher and acceptance of the secular, of faith and freedom, and of the divine and entertainment. But also, of course, wine consumption can count as an anti-Islamic act.
Do Western Muslims drink wine?
Alcohol consumption in Europe and North America is mainly associated with cultural and religious nationalism by anthropologists. For example, North African Muslims in France suffer from the idea that someone cannot be a good Frenchman without drinking wine.
Something similar is happening in the Netherlands. When Moroccan entrepreneur Elou Akhiat opened a wine bar in Rotterdam, the free newspaper Metro welcomed her initiative as 'integration'. Two years ago, a housing corporation in Rotterdam tried to persuade a Turkish restaurant owner to serve alcohol. These are the exceptions that make the news.
That is why the contrast with Iranian restaurants in the Netherlands is all the more striking. Their range of expensive spirits is open and exposed behind the counter, including araq sagi, which literally means 'dog sweat' . In the Islamic tradition, therefore, double unclean, because a combination of unclean drinks and dogs.
In the meantime, Dutch people view Iranian countrymen as secular and therefore integrated into society. Yet it is a mistake to reduce the meaning of drinking wine to integration, because Muslims have long and glorious traditions of wine consumption, from Marrakesh to Sarajevo to Delhi.
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