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If alcohol is forbidden, why do we use it for medicinal purposes?

In Islam, alcoholic drinks that can cause intoxication are forbidden, but alcohol is not forbidden in and of itself. Wine has been forbidden in the Holy Quran:

O ye who believe! Wine and the game of hazard and idols and divining arrows are only an abomination of Satan’s handiwork. So shun each one of them that you may prosper.

(Surah al-Ma’idah, 5:91)

Also, consuming wine in any quantity is forbidden. The Holy Prophet sas said:

If a large amount of anything causes intoxication, a small amount of it is prohibited.

(Sunan an-Nasa’i, vol. 6, Book 51, Hadith 5,610; Sunan Abi Dawud, Book 26, Hadith 3,673;
Sunan Ibn Majah, vol. 4, Book 30, Hadith 3,393).

However, this Hadith also teaches us that if a large amount of a drink cannot cause intoxication, then there is no reason for it to be prohibited even if it does have some alcohol in it. Hadrat Khalifatul-Masih IV rta said:

Excess of any substance which may intoxicate you, even the small quantity of that substance is forbidden. As far as those food preparations are concerned where alcohol is applied and burned, there this principle of excessive use does not apply at all, because if alcohol is burned after adding to some food, even if you eat tons of that food, you can never become intoxicated. So you can become a mullah and very narrow-minded of course as you please, but, as far as the principles are concerned, they’re not applicable. That is why the Prophet sas permitted the use of nabidh. Nabidh was also a food, it was not a medicine. A drink prepared from sometimes dates, and sometimes barks of trees, mixed in water, it was permitted to be buried in the ground overnight, and if you drank it fresh after that, if you drank it in enough quantities to quench your thirst, it would quench the thirst but still would not intoxicate you. So it was not possible to use it as an alcoholic drink. But if it was permitted to stay longer than that, then the amount of alcohol which would have been found in it would exceed this limit. So the companions used to drink this drink in which elements of alcohol were definitely found.

(Question Answer Session, May 27, 1989 Part 2)

In Sahih Muslim, under the chapter on The permissibility of nabidh so long as it has not become strong and has not become intoxicating:

Ibn ‘Abbas reported that nabidh was prepared for Allah’s Messenger sas in the beginning of the night and he would drink it in the morning and the following night and the following day and the night after that up to the afternoon. If anything was left out of that he gave it to his servant, or gave orders for it to be poured out.

(Sahih Muslim, Book 36, Hadith 100)

Hadrat Khalifatul-Masih IV rta said:

That is what I am saying to those extremists who say that if a food is touched even by a very minute amount of alcohol it becomes forbidden in Islam. I say the Holy Prophet sas knew Islam better than anyone, why did he sas permit the use of this drink in which now the experiments have revealed traces of alcohol are certainly found. Because of the same principle, you generally can’t drink it enough to make you intoxica(ted). It may burst your stomachs apart, but it would not be able to intoxicate you in the quantities you can consume. So, can you eat such cakes enough, on which alcohol has been poured and burnt out, so that you become intoxicated? Even if you eat tons of such cakes, you can’t.

(Question Answer Session, May 27, 1989 Part 2)

That is why the Holy Prophet sas said:

All drinks that intoxicate are unlawful.

(Sahih al-Bukhari, Book 74, Hadith 11)

Consuming alcohol is not unlawful in and of itself. Only those drinks are unlawful that can intoxicate, but a drink that cannot intoxicate is lawful even if it does have some amount of alcohol in it. For example, a person cannot become intoxicated from drinking cough syrup because the quantity of medicine in it will kill the person before the quantity of alcohol in it can intoxicate him. The same applies to nabidh or any similar food or drink.

However, this does not mean that we should consume food or beverages that have alcohol in them. Rather, the teaching of the Holy Prophet’s sas practice shows us that it is better to abstain in our circumstances. When Muslim society was initially surrounded by idolaters in Arabia, drinking intoxicants was common, so it was important for Muslims to make extra efforts to distinguish themselves from their surroundings. In those circumstances, the Holy Prophet sas placed restrictions on consuming even permissible amounts of alcohol. However, once Muslim society had been properly established and there was a social aversion to intoxicating drinks, then there was no longer a need for such extra restrictions. That is why the Holy Prophet sas said:

I prohibited you from the use of nabidh except in dry waterskins. Now drink, but do not drink when it becomes intoxicant.

(Sahih Muslim, Book 35, Hadith 50)

A similar situation applies in our circumstances, and we live in a society where drinking intoxicants is common. In these circumstances, it is important for our society and for our offspring that we abstain from consuming foods and beverages with even permissible amounts of alcohol in them. Hadrat Khalifatul-Masih IV rta said:

But I told this lady, which I am telling you as well, I don’t eat such cakes, knowing it, because if I take one step in this direction, I know other people will start taking many steps in that direction and start misusing this license. So safe principle is something else, correct true application of a principle of jurisprudence is something else. As far as my advice, I told her, [as far as] you and your children [are] concerned, don’t take this license, because if you permit your children to start eating such cakes, you’ll have a society of wine drinkers and beer drinkers. So they will have this taboo destroyed. This inborn inhibition will be damaged. Then they will gradually be drawn into transgressing into other positively forbidden areas. So this is the safe principle.

(Question Answer Session, May 27, 1989 Part 2)

As for medicinal purposes, since it is possible for a person to abuse such a permission, the Holy Prophet sas discouraged the use of alcoholic beverages as a medicine.

A companion: asked Allah’s Apostle sas about liquor. He forbade (its use) and he expressed hatred that it should be prepared. He said: “I prepare it as a medicine,” whereupon he (the Holy Prophet) said: “It is no medicine, but an ailment.”

(Sahih Muslim, Book 36, Hadith 15)

In such situations, we should seek whatever alternatives are available as far as possible. For example, smoking crack may have some medical benefits, but there are probably far better alternatives. A person may be true in his claim to smoke crack for medicinal reasons, but when there are far better medicines for the same ailments that do not have the drawbacks as a drug like crack, to use such drugs is not an honest approach to the commandments of Islam.

A person must decide with taqwa the appropriate use of drugs that can intoxicate. It is narrated about the great-grandfather of the Promised Messiah as:

During the last illness of Mirza Gul Muhammad, a physician prescribed brandy as a medicine, but he resolutely refused it and preferred to die rather than find himself placed in a situation where he might appear to violate the Quranic injunction against alcohol. He died in about 1800 A.D. (It may be remarked here that this refusal to take brandy in the circumstances was really an example of over-cautious piety. In such an extreme case there is nothing religiously wrong in it).

(Life of Ahmad, by A. R. Dard, p. 11)

If a person uses drugs that can intoxicate for genuine medicinal purposes, no one has any right to object. Hadrat Musleh Mau‘ud ra wrote:

Opium is a great means of destruction. However, in comparison to its destruction, it has many more benefits. The Promised Messiah as used to say that according to doctors, half of medical remedies have opium in them and it is difficult to estimate just how much benefit it has. When a person is distressed and troubled, when a person loses his sleep, when a person becomes ready to commit suicide because of fatigue from pain, he is given an injection of morphine due to which he finds immediate comfort. Thus, there is no such thing in the world which is harmful in itself. The only thing that causes harm is misuse, which is as a result of the shortcomings of man.

(Tafsir-e-Kabir, vol. 7, p. 169–170)

Hadrat Musleh Mau‘ud ra wrote:

To use opium with medicine for medicinal purposes and not for intoxication is not objectionable in any way.

(Al-Fazl, July 19, 1929).
Updated on March 2, 2019

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