The Pyschology of Treatment (Tarbiyyah) and Punishment (Hudud) of Drinking Alcohols in Islam
By: DR. Alizi Alias (
When dealing with the issue of alcoholism, some Muslims (both those who support and those who are against hudud law) seems to focus on either the legal-punishment aspects of it or on the individual freedom of actions (which both are of concern to Islam too). But, many have missed the point on educating the people and treating the problem at its root-cause. If we understand this clearly, the issue of implementing hudud law will not arise at all. This is because, most probably, the hudud law will remain as acts yet no (or very few) punishment will be administered at all (and that’s what happened during Prophet Muhammad SAW’s time). However, the issue of hudud law and its implementation should still be addressed as early as possible too because it seems that some Muslims (both who support and are against the hudud law) cannot really capture the spiritual meaning (ruh) and objectives (maqasid) of the shari`ah law (which hudud is only a tiny part of it). This posting is inspired by Malik Badri’s book “Islam and Alcoholism” and Sayyid Sabiq’s book “Fiqh al-Sunnah” and may be partly applicable to the issue of drugs and cigarettes as well.
THE TREATMENT (TARBIYYAH) OF DRINKING ALCOHOL
Why were alcoholism so rampant during the Ancient Arabs time? And why were they able to abstain from alcohols completely when the Qur’anic verse on its prohibition was finally revealed? According to modern (secular) psychology, they can be several reasons (all of them are “partially” correct, yet “holistically” wrong): biological, unconscious, self, environmental, and cognitive factors - all of which are acceptable to Islam - to a certain degree. However, they failed to acknowledge the role of religious and spiritual factors.
Because alcoholism was rampant among Arabs for a long time, this might have provided genetic, neurological, and hormonal “potentials” for the Sahabah/Companions RAA to become alcoholics. So, it would not be a surprise if most of them were alcoholics even “after” the inception of Islam. After all, it really was an addiction and a culture. In other words, physiological factors might be one factor influencing alcoholism among the Arabs.
But since the inception of Islam, some Islamic practices might have change the physiological potential to a more positive one e.g. wudu’/ablution, salat/prayer, dhikr/utterance and remembrance of Allah, tilawah/reading the Qur’an, and sawm/fasting. Even some ‘worldly’ practices such healthy diet (semi-vegetarian), food supplements (e.g. honey and habbat al-sawda’ or black seeds), and exercises (preparation for jihad war) might also have provided positive physiological ‘potentials’ to change behaviour (i.e. abstain from alcohols). In other words, physiological factors too might have influenced the Arabs to abstain from alcohols.
Suggestion: Ensure contempory Muslims of having healthy diet, appropriate food-supplements, and enough physical exercises. But wait! Why do we still observe some Muslims who adopt those healthy practices but still consume alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes?
Unconscious Instinctual Factors
Arabs have deep-rooted unconscioius feelings of pride, insecurity, and romantic passion. This instinctual drives might have motivated them to become alcoholics. But, the coming of Islam had instilled the unconscious sense of `izzah/pride toward Islam, sense of salam/peace in Islam, and hubb/passion for Islam. These might have provided unconscious “potential” for the Sahabah/Companions RAA to change any bad behaviours, in this case, heavy drinking.
Suggestion: Have a spiritual-enhancement programme that will strengthen the unconscious feelings of `izzah/pride toward Islam, salamah/peace in Islam, and hubb/passion for Islam that provide strong defense againsts bad behaviours. But wait! Most Muslim governments do have this kind of programmes like motivational talk/camp, daily or weekly religious talks (including the Friday sermon). But why do we still observe some Muslims consuming alcohols, drugs, and cigarettes?
Individual differences factors
Have you ever notice how different people with the same family or educational background having different personality, traits, and characters? And have you ever notice how these different characters leading them to respond differently from others? The same happened in the issue of abstaining from alcohol. `Uthman ibn al-`Affan RA, for example, never touched the alcohol even during pre-Islam period despite having the physiological and instinctual “potentials” to do so. Even after converting to Islam, not all people had the sensitivity or got the hint that alcohols are bad. `Umar ibn al-Khattab RA was already suspicious when the first verse that talk about alcohol is revealed (Qur’an 16; 67) that subtly differentiate between strong drink and good nourishment. Although the process of tahrim/prohibition of khamr/alcohols took a lengthy period and involved a few stages, individual differences showed that some of the Companions RAA had already been abstaining 100% from alcohols from the very first stage, while other Companions RAA postponed from abstaining even until the final stage of prohibition. So, individual differences and personality seem to provide “potential” for the Companions RAA to change any bad behaviours, in this case, heavy drinking.
Suggestion: Have a shakhsiyyah/character-building programme that will increase Muslims’ self-esteem, self-confidence, self-worth, and self-efficacy to develop strong personality not easily influenced by others. But wait! Aren’t we already have a lot of character-building programmes such as the National Service? But why do we still observe some Muslims consuming alcohols, drugs, and cigarettes?
I’m sure you would agree that the socio-cultural and environmental factors had influenced a lot of Arabs to become alcoholics. Alcoholics, alcohols, and alcoholic institutions are everywhere during that time. But it is the environmental factors too that might have enable the Arabs to abstain from alcohols. For example, do you know that the stages of prohibition of alcohols had some striking similarities with modern behaviour therapy called systematic desensitization (but in a larger scale)? The stages involved four sequences: (1) subtly making no association between strong drink and good nourishment (Qur’an, 16: 67), (2) directly but cautiously associating alcohols with greater sin compared to their usefulness without prohibiting it (Qur’an, 2: 219), (3) restricting alcoholic drinking by not associating it with the most important divine practice i.e. salat/prayer, forcing them to abstain from alcohol at five different time (at least) in a day (Qur’an, 4; 43), and (4) directly prohibiting and associating alcohols with filthy things and devils (Qur’an, 5: 90-91). So, environmental factors had been manipulated to provide “potential” for the Companions RAA to change any bad behaviours, in this case, heavy drinking.
Suggestion: Have a law to control substance abuse - including limiting the place where people can have social drinking and smoking. But wait! We already have a lot of laws and do’s/don’ts on alcohols, drugs, and smoking. But why do we still observe some Muslims consuming alcohols, drugs, and cigarettes?
As you can see, all the factors mentioned by secular psychology can be the potential causes of alcoholism and at the same time the potential causes for treatment/intervention. But, people may argue that the same causes do not work well nowadays. So, what’s the secret of the success of this mass and multiple psychological interventions on alcohol abstinence during Prophet Muhammad SAW’s time? I believe that the REAL reason for the success of these behavioural changes started many years before the prohibition of alcohols, specifically since the inception of Islam.
During the early stage of Islam i.e. during Makkan period, Islam first attacked the false `aqidah/belief, ignorance, and values that are based on that belief. It is this ignorance that had the root of all evil behaviours. That is why the first thirteen year of prophethood was spent focusing on establishing the new belief. Changing the souls of the Companions had changed them as persons in terms of mental processes (`aqidah) and behaviour (`ibadah and akhlaq). The behavioral intervention/therapy that came years later were only “symptomatic” treatment that witnessed this unbelievably mass-scale of behavioural changes made easier by the change of the souls years before. Treating symptoms of observable behaviours only (like what modern Muslims - both Islamist and secularists - like to do today) without looking at the deep-rooted cause would not have caused a massive behavioural change.
Suggestion: Provide the true teaching of `aqidah in its purest, simplest, logical, and scientific forms rather than using philosophical, close-minded, memory-driven, and exam-oriented forms starting from pre-school and throughout their school and university years and continuously in various programmes by government agencies and NGO’s. Teaching that focuses on ayat muhkamat (clear) rather then ayat mutashabihat (ambiguous). Teaching that is free from hadith da`if (weak) and mawdu`(forged), Teaching that is free from ta`asub (fanaticism) madhahib and free from the idea of against all madhahibs. Teaching that brings about the inner-power to perform `amal salih and da`wah. Teaching that is scientific and universally-based rather than traditionally or culturally-based. In other words, let’s change the way we educate our children now. So that whatever psychological intervention that we are introducing in future, the success rate will be very high, God-willing.
Now, are we ready to discuss about the punishment of drinking alcohol in Islam?
THE PUNISHMENT (HUDUD) OF DRINKING ALCOHOL
First of all, do you really think that Islam is brutal enough to punish every single soul caught drinking in public? Actually, there are ’psychological’ requirements needed to be identified before a person is punishable by hudud law: (1) mentally healthy, (2) physically mature (puberty), (3) have freedom of choice (to drink or not), and (4) is aware that what he/she is drinking is intoxicating and thus haram. Disagreement occurs whether non-Muslim is punishable by hudud if they drink alcohols.
I personally believe that both views (whether non-Muslims are punishable or not) are correct depends on the maqasid or psychological context. This should give freedom to contemporary `ulama to review various dalils, find the psychological maqasid, and produce a valid, contemporary fatwa/ruling. If the non-Muslims themselves are well educated scientifically and religiously that alcohols are bad for them, I believe they themselves will ask for a law banning alcohols and punishing the drinkers (either under hudud or ta`zir). Whether or not they will ask for hudud law to be implemented on non-Muslims depends on how efficient Muslim governments and Islamic NGO’s are in planning, implementing, and evaluating the hudud law for drinking alcohol.
The hudud punishment for drinking alcohol is lashes. But Islamic scholars or `ulama differ in their opinion on how many lashes are needed based on different practices of Prophet Muhammad SAW (40 lashes) and some of his Sahabahs/Companions (80 lashes). If we read carefully on the reasons of their disagreement, we will notice that the person suggesting different number of lashes always give ‘psychological’ justifications. Contemporary `ulama should perceive this as opportunity to convince the mass on the psychological justifications of the number of lashes. But they have to find out and study the justification first, of course.
Some `ulama do not classify punishment for drinking alcohols under hudud law, while some do. This is because it is based on Hadith rather than the Qur’an. Some even classify the first 40 lashes as hudud, while the additional 40 lashes as ta`zir. This is, to me, not a serious psychological or even fiqh matters. It can be settled easily among knowldgeable and sincere contemporary Islamic scholars. The most important thing is to strive to put the hudud (or ta`zir) as a “legal act.” I am more interested to know the underlying psychological reasons for those who oppose the idea of lashing to punish alcoholic drinkers just because the law is only based on hadith, not the Qur’an.
Did they mean: “Hudud still needs to be put in the Act/Enactment. But, since it is only based on hadith, judges have the choice to implement it totally, or reduce/increase the number of lashes depending on expert opinions given by medical doctors and/or psychologists”.” In other words, these are good Muslims who still believe and strive to implement the hudud but with sincere intention to ensure that implementation is in accordance to the shari`ah and its maqasid/objectives (which include biopsychosocial factors).
Or, did they mean: “I am only giving an excuse that the punishment is based on hadith so that it is not implemented at all. Actually, I don’t have any intention to help in the implementation of hudud. I prefer Western law or rather I do not prefer hudud at all. In fact, if you ask me about hudud law that is mentioned clearly in the Qur’an e.g. 100 lashes for hudud zina, I will disagree with that too. But, I will find other justification to defend myself later.” In other words, these are secular Muslims who are not in favour of any implementation of hudud and will not even facilitate its future implementation even if they have a power to do so.
I hope it is very clear that every Muslim should believe that striving for hudud to be enacted as law is wajib/ obligatory. Whatever emotional feelings (fear, sympathy, etc.) that you have right now is understandable because Muslims themselves have given a bad impression of hudud law. Please do not imagine the 40 lashes in hudud law as similar to the 6 lashes in secular criminal law. The 6 lashes in secular criminal law is very inhumane and lead to severe physical injury at the same body location, whereas the 40 lashes in hudud law is done with respect to the criminal and does not lead to injury more than stinging pain at distributed (allowable) locations of the body. It is, to me, more of a ‘psychological’ lesson than it is a ‘physical’ torture.
If we still think that hudud punishment (mild lashes) for drinking alcohol is still ’severe’, please note that punishments are only administered to those who drink alcohol openly in front of others. As Muslims who profess the shahadah (accept Allah as the only God, and Muhammad as His messenger), it is an insult and very arrogant to perform such act that is so well-known to be haram/forbidden in Islamic shari`ah in public places. That is why they deserve to be punished under hudud law (which is still mild compared to secular criminal law version of lashes). Even `Umar al-Khattab cancelled his intention to punish a person who drank liquor within the confinement of his own home and instead asked him to perform tawbah/ repentance only.
I believe any sane human being agrees that alcohol has more harm than benefits and it is psychologically difficult to control ourselves to limit to social drinking only and avoid becoming drunk (esp. when we are facing psychological problems and alcohols are easily available not only in pubs and restaurants but also convenience stores). But, we have a long way to go before we can educate Muslims on that - what more the non-Muslims.
That brings us to the discussion of those who like to prematurely promoting the idea of hudud without understanding the whole concept of hudud and its operationalisation, giving the image that Muslims people like to punish and torture people i.e. sadistic. I believe this doesn’t help in promoting Islam as a peaceful religion esp. at a time when general Muslims have been portrayed (by the West) as terrorists and moderate Islamists have been portrayed (by secular Muslims) as extremists.
Implementing hudud is not as easy as choosing from whichever fatwa mentioned in various medieval books by Islamic scholars and put them in legal acts. This is like implementing Islam or shari`ah NOT in its totality (shumuliyyah). Imagine if you’re a teacher asking students to write a contemporary essay and what they did is just copy and paste from various credible but old sources without analysis the various ideas and synthesizing them as a complete whole essay. Would you, as a teacher, give an excellent mark to the essay? The same thing here. Copying and pasting from to implement Islamic Criminal Law will not bring about the excellent beauty of Islam.
In any attempt to put established fatwa/ruling from the past into legal acts, various psychological aspects should be considered and/or taken care of first (as what Prophet Muhammad did in Makkan period and early Medinan period). Various psychological context or maqasid have to be studied before choosing any particular fatwa in hudud law (as described in various madhhab fiqh). And when they have been successfully put into legal acts, various psychological reasons (`illah) have to be identified to understand: when hudud should be implemented, postponed, cancelled, or downgraded to ta`zir punishment. All these should be considered when hudud is already established as legal acts. In other words, we have to strive to put hudud as legal acts, but that doesn’t mean hudud will be implemented at all if there is no need to do so. There are always ta`zir as an option/alternative to hudud if the judge see that hudud punishment should not be implemented. Refer to my posting on Islam, Psychology, and Forensic/Law/Crime.
Do you see how complicated it is? On one hand, some people are confused that some Muslims are promoting hudud but and these people have doubt that it will be implemented fairly. On the other hand, other people are confused because hudud are not implemented but our current ‘education’ failed to curb the rising statistics of crime. Are we serious in our intention to implement hudud? And are we serious in ensuring that the implementation of hudud (after it has been enacted as law) will be fair (note that fairness is very important maqasid in Islam).
I would like to suggest three things that we should be focusing on that indicate how serious we are in implementing hudud law of drinking:
1. Educate the mass (Muslims and non-Muslims) on religious and scientific evidences on the harm and evil of alcohols so that they themselves hate to drink.
2. Control various biological, psychological, socio-cultural, and spiritual factors that increase the likelihood of drinking.
3. Conduct religious and scientific research on the best way to implement (instead of the best way to avoid) the hudud law in contemporary society esp. the operationalisation of hudud.
We should not be in either one of two extremes: either promoting hudud without ijtihad tarjihi (analysis) and/or ijtihad insha’i (synthesis), plus without scientific studies on various psychological variables; or criticizing hudud without showing effort the to educate the people about hudud and prepare the foundation before hudud can be enacted as law and implemented. If non-Muslims (or even Muslims) are not convinced right now with the benefits of hudud law, I suggest we stop talking/shouting and start performing ‘real’ da`wah and tarbiyyah so that one day, the non-Muslims (and the majority of Muslims) themselves ask for hudud to be implemented, willingly, because of the beauty of Islamic system.
The question is: Are we ourselves well-versed on the issue of pre, during, and post implementation of hudud punishment, conceptually and operationally?