This article is the third in a series of articles that explore solutions for the problems facing European Muslims through looking into the character and biography of the Prophet Muhammad.
The problem of alcohol consumption in Europe might need more than some laws to ban its excessive use. Picture
Friday has always been a special and pleasant day for me. For every Muslim in the world, it represents the weekly festival where Muslims celebrate the special Friday prayer and express their unity and collective devotion to Almighty Allah.
Yet, since I moved to the West and especially here in Britain, Friday night has taken on a different flavour. I am shaken out of my sleep late on a Friday night normally around 1 am by the noise coming from the street.
The casualties of accidents in England involving illegal alcohol levels in 2005 are 15,400.
Through my window a familiar scene has become almost expected: a fight between some dudes who have just finished a long night of drinking in the neighbourhood pub crowning their night with a little fight for some or for no reason.
Walking Under the Influence
Friday night has also become very remarkable because hospitals expect a huge number of people injured or wounded because of alcohol related incidents. This is to say nothing of the accidents and fights in buses. For example, the casualties of accidents involving illegal alcohol levels in 2005 are 15,400.
There is no doubt that alcoholism is a dangerous and very serious problem. Despite the amount of legislation taken against it, it remains unsolved and is massively affecting the whole society.
We need more than just a sign in the supermarket.
Recently, the British government raised the age of purchasing alcohol to 21 years and you can see signs in supermarkets saying: "If you are lucky to look younger than 21, you will be required to produce a proof of age."
In many other countries, it is strictly prohibited to drive while under the influence of alcohol and a person who is caught driving while drunk is penalized. Yet, with all these attempts, the percentage of people who consume alcohol are alarmingly high and the dangers remain the same.
The impressive change of the wine-loving Arabs to an alcohol-free society.
When we compare this image with the divine call that came 1400 years ago to the community of believers stating that it is strictly prohibited to approach alcohol as its dangers are more than its benefits, and how responsive the believers were at that time to the call, we see a deep gulf between the two.
This poses an interesting question: what was the secret that changed the wine-loving Arabs at the time of the Prophet to create an alcohol-free society?
Between Work and Play
An issue that is often overlooked when discussing alcoholism is the reasons that lead to drinking. Why do people drink? Although it is quite unrealistic to answer such a question in one article, we can count the purely material life which people in Europe suffer from among other reasons.
Daily stress and worries are generally not offset by an alternative sanctuary of peace that can calm the heart and fill it with tranquillity.
Monday to Friday is hard work, and the weekend must be fully enjoyed.
High among these reasons as well is compartmental thinking. Someone who drinks may think that from Monday to Friday is wholly dedicated to hard work, and therefore, the weekend must be enjoyed to the utmost.
People needs enjoyment, no doubt. However, some people have only one way to relax: going to the pub and drinking to forget life and its troubles.
Generally, Muslims do not have this compartmental way of thinking because a believer enjoys every day and is able to achieve satisfaction and a sense of purpose with every action he or she takes.
Draining mental abilities is not fun.
In Islam, when people make an intention for every deed that they are getting the reward of Allah by helping create a better world, this gives them an enjoyment that fills any vacuum or emptiness in their hearts.
Enjoying oneself does not mean wasting time or draining mental abilities. Rather, it means that if you are sitting at home with your family, you do it for the intention of spending some quality time with them. Also if you go to the caf� to hang out with your friends, you can think of it as a way of relaxation. In this way, everything, even having fun, has a purpose in Islam.
Power of Faith vs. Power of Law
Whether we like it or not, based on our faith, we decide many things in our lives. Even those who say they have no faith do have a set of principles that govern their lives.
What keeps a sick person smiling in the death bed is the power of faith.
A merchant who closes his shop and sacrifices his gains for one hour and travels a distance to perform Friday prayer is doing so because of faith.
A student who takes a quick rest from his study time to pray is doing so because of faith, for without faith, life becomes meaningless.
It is this power of faith that enables a sick person to struggle with a malignant disease and keep on smiling till the last moment of his life.
Islam realized the importance of this power and the vital role it plays in shaping the choices a human being makes, and therefore utilized the faith of its followers when it wanted to prohibit alcohol.
This address was obvious in the way Almighty Allah spoke to Muslims all the time using the phrase: "O you who believe". The message was: "O you who have faith and will never let the power of desire defeat the power of that faith".
Building a Community Through Faith
The message was direct and effective, because Prophet Muhammad had already managed to instil faith in the heart of his followers.
For 13 long years in Makkah, the Prophet's main target was to build a spiritual structure and strengthen the power of faith in the Muslim heart so that Muslims would become self-vigilant and hold themselves responsible for their actions before Allah before thinking of society's rules.
This secured validity and applicability for Islamic teachings in the private sphere before they were applied in public.
If you are not "caught in the act", you are innocent!
Because of such an intensive way of upbringing, the power of faith was so strong that Muslims did not question any Divine commandment whenever they were addressed with one.
The normal reply to any commandment was: "we hear and obey", and the simple reason was "we know that Allah cares for us more than we care for our own selves".
I believe that the power of faith is much needed in the context of alcoholism. If people can be evasive when it comes to the application of the law, they cannot be evasive when it comes to an internal faith. In the case of law and society's rules, if you are not "caught in the act", you are innocent, but in the case of faith, your own internal conscience and belief is constantly with you.
The Nature of Gradualism
Many times we fail to achieve our goals because we prefer quick fixes, rather than the slower but much steadier paths.
Abrupt banning of alcohol is not the answer.
If in a society where almost everyone loves alcohol and treats it as part and parcel of their day-to-day life, a law was issued to adamantly ban the consumption of alcohol, the compliance with such a law will inevitably be very low if not null.
The ultimate failure of the prohibition in the United States, Canada, Sweden, and Finland in the early twentieth century is one of the best examples of this.
Because human beings need gradualism, Islam taught that the best of actions are those that may be small but are continuous. For the same reason, the Prophet recommended gradualism in everything, and said that people have to execute this strategy in all aspects of their lives.
Whenever he talked to people about Islam, the first issue he would address is the core of the Islamic faith: belief in the One True God.
This gradualism was also applied in the case of alcohol. Alcohol represented a major source of money for Arabs in those days. The alcohol industry was vital; perhaps even more vital than in Western society today.
Instilling faith in the hearts and then gradual banning is the key factor.
For Islam to abruptly ban alcohol, it would be like igniting a revolution and causing a large portion of the economy to collapse.
Therefore, the Qur'an started by raising a question regarding trading in alcohol and the answer given by the Almighty was giving an indirect message that a sincere believer should distance himself from such a field since it entails a lot of sins and evils.
Later on, limited prohibition of alcohol was issued when believers were not allowed to perform their Prayers while drunk. By then, the emerging Muslim community was ready to receive the final instruction prohibiting alcohol consumption.
The final instruction was strong and decisive, and the response was unequivocal due to the fact that people were already prepared for it.
Learning From History
Distributing some leaflets at medical centres won't help much.
The Companions of the Prophet did not need a law to be enforced upon them in order to comply with the divine order that banned alcohol because their faith was strong enough. Their hearts were already tuned to be receptive to the words of Allah.
The countries where alcohol represents a real problem and challenge cannot deal with the problem only by some strict laws passed overnight or some leaflets distributed at medical centres. Overcoming the problem of alcohol requires more than this. It requires a strategy that was carried out 1400 years ago and proved to be successful.
Statistics on Alcohol:. Department For Transport. Annual Report-2005. Road Casualties Great Britain. England 2007. Accessed 30 November 2007.
**Currently the Imam of North London Central Mosque (formerly known as Finsbury Park Mosque).He studied Religious Pluralism at the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2005. He is also a member of the American Academy of Religion. He is the former imam of the Muslim Community of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He holds a BA in Islamic Studies (English) from Al-Azhar University. He is currently working on his MA thesis on the Sunni-Shi`ah dialogue. He holds Ijazahs in Qur'an and Hadith and Islamic texts from scholars in Egypt, Jordan and UK.