One: A Muslim Walks into a Bar

Do Muslims drink? Since when?

Everyone with a modicum of familiarity with Muslims knows that Islam has a serious no-booze policy, but there are a lot of Muslims in the world who apparently have no problem with alcohol. Are they hell-bound hypocrites? Wayward modernists who have lost touch with the good old ways? Apostates? This episode asks, what can we understand about Muslims by taking a look at the history of their alcohol culture.

Here’s a list of the verses from the Qur’an I mentioned in the episode. All these translations are from the Norton Translation, edited by Jane McAuliffe, but they more or less match other common translations. I am using this translation only to keep a unity of style. The parenthetical information are mine.

  • 5:90: O you who believe! Strong drink and games of chance and idols and divining arrows (a form of gambling) are only an infamy of Satan’s handiwork. Leave it aside in order that you may succeed.
  • 2:219: They question you about strong drinks and games of chance. Say: In both is great sin, and some utility for men; but the sin of them is greater than their usefulness.
  • 16:67: And of the fruits of the date palm, and grapes, from which you derive strong drink and also good nourishment. In this is indeed a sign for people who have sense.
  • 4:43: O you who believe! Do not draw near to prayer when you are drunken, until you know what you utter, nor when you are polluted, except when journeying on the road, until you have bathed. And if you are ill, or on a journey, or one of you comes from the toilet, or you have touched women (i.e., had sex) and you do not find water, then go to high clean soil and rub your faces and your hands with it. God is benign, forgiving. 
  • 47:15: A similitude of the garden which those who keep their duty to God are promised: In it are rivers of unpolluted water, and rivers of milk of which the flavor does not change, and rivers of wine delicious to the drinkers, and rivers of clear-run honey; in it is every kind of fruit for them, with pardon from their Lord. 

Here’s the picture of the coin showing Emperor Jahangir holding a wine cup. The lower green circle shows his other hand clasping a book, probably the Qur’an.

Jahangir coin.png

Here’s a bibliography for this episode:

  • Ahmed, Shahab. What is Islam? The Importance of Being Islamic. Princeton UP, 2015. 
  • Cook, Michael. Commanding Right and Forbidding Wrong in Islamic Thought. Cambridge UP, 2001.
  • Kaikavus ibn-Eskandar. A Mirror for Princes: Qabus-Namah, translated by Reuben Levy. E.P. Dutton, 1951. (this one is only quoted in the bonus episode No.1)
  • Kennedy, Philip. Abu Nuwas: A Genius of Poetry. OneWorld, 2005.
  • Kueny, Kathryn. The Rhetoric of Sobriety: Wine in Early Islam. SUNY Press, 2001. 
  • Montague, Mary. The Letters. You can find a free online version of it here.
  • Nasir al-Din al-Tusi. The Naserian Ethics, translated by G. M. Wickens, London Allen, 1962.
  • Nizam al-Mulk. The Book of Government, or Rule for Kings, translated by Hubert Drake. Routledge, 2002. 
  • Rowell, Alex. Vintage Humour: The Islamic Wine Poetry of Abu Nuwas. C. Hurst & Co., 2017.