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Here is the last of four articles on Islam I wrote some time ago and published to the Helium writing site (now gone). Islam is a religion of peace and it seems that the views and actions of the terrorists are the complete opposite of this. I’m an atheist, by the way. I should perhaps also add here that I’m a non-drinker …

Drinking alcohol is forbidden by Islam because of the damage it can and does cause. From the early days of Islam, Muslims have abstained from alcohol. Muhammad was opposed to alcohol and there are a number of verses in the Quran warning of the dangers. The word “alcohol” actually comes from the Arabic language. Al-kohl means fermented sugars, fruits or grains that produce an intoxicating drink. The drink itself is called khamr.

Alcohol was readily available in pre-Islamic Arabia, and khmar bars and shops were open 24 hours a day. Arabic society featured tribal fighting, tribal laws, murder, cruelty, exploitation, theft, adultery, prostitution, women treated like slaves, neglected children, and broken homes, while the menfolk were excessively proud, competitive and ruthless. These factors were associated with and often made worse by heavy drinking. Muhammad’s reforms and the Quran helped to change this situation. He told his followers to avoid intoxicating substances: “If it intoxicates in a large amount, it is forbidden even in a small amount.” He also said: “Prayer is the pillage of religion. The one who performs it has erected religion and the one who abandons it has ruined (his) religion.”

One of the early Quranic verses on alcohol said: “And from the fruit of the date-palm and the vine ye get out wholesome drink and food: behold in this also is a sign for those who are wise.” (16:67) This caused some Muslims to wonder if drinking khamr was right. Another early verse said: “They ask thee concerning wine and gambling, say: In them is great sin, and some profit, for men; but the sin is greater than the profit …” (2:219). This led to a further reduction in drinking. A third mention of alcohol said: “O ye who believe! Approach not prayers with a mind befogged, until ye can understand all that ye say …” (4:43). Muslims pray five times daily and prayers are spread throughout the day, so it became impossible to drink much alcohol and adhere to their faith.

Another verse was soon added: “The devil wants only to cast among you enmity and hatred by means of strong drink and games of chance and to turn you from remembering Allah and from prayer. Will you then desist?” (5:90-91) This verse was the turning point that resulted in total prohibition, and Muslims poured their wine into the streets. Prohibition helped turn a lawless society into a safe and caring one. Mohammad ensured that divine law overrode customary law, women and children were given rights, infanticide was outlawed, a system of law and order was put in place, religious freedoms were granted, aristocratic privilege was denounced, and family values were put in place. Alcohol was no longer needed to try and be happy or relieve stress or drown sorrows in a caring society.

Muslims continue to avoid alcohol as they know the dangers, and a fear of God helps them abstain. Alcohol lowers inhibitions, impairs judgment, alters perceptions, dulls senses, hinders coordination, and blocks memory. It causes stomach ailments, impotence, heart disease, appetite loss, blackouts, and slow reaction times. It gives false confidence, reacts adversely with 150 medications, destroys family and other relationships, and results in job losses and violence.

Alcohol affects every part of the body, every organ, since it enters the bloodstream and thereby circulates throughout the body. It is a depressant, slowing down the nervous system. It goes to the stomach, into the blood and to the liver where it turns into acetaldehyde, which is a poison that can damage the brain. A hangover is the effect of acetaldehyde poisoning. With alcohol, we get less nutrition from food as we are less able to absorb nutrients. Alcohol accelerates the aging process. It makes us look older too, with facial features deteriorating quicker.

The risk of cancer of the liver increases with alcohol. The liver processes toxic substances in our body and works overtime in heavy drinkers. Alcohol increases fatty liver and can lead to more serious conditions such as alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis of the liver. US research found that 10-35% of heavy drinkers end up with alcoholic hepatitis and 10-20% get cirrhosis of the liver. Cirrhosis can also occur in moderate drinkers. In a New York study, people drinking moderate to heavy amounts of alcohol increased their liver fat by an average of 8% in 18 days. If you’re burning alcohol, you’re not burning fat. An increase in liver fat can lead to cirrhosis. Further, alcohol can increase the chances of a cancer causing enzyme occurring in the liver by 5-10 times. Alcohol can cause others cancers, especially in the upper digestive tract.

Heavy drinking by women can cause periods to stop or become irregular, and there is a greater risk of miscarriage. A study showed that menstrual cycle problems can even be present in women who consume three drinks a day for three weeks. Another study found an 11% increase in breast cancer for women consuming just one drink a day. Alcohol can result in a loss of calcium in bones, and osteoporosis can occur, especially in women. Heavy drinking can affect an unborn baby, including physical abnormalities, slower growth and delayed development. Fetal alcohol syndrome can result in a child suffering mental retardation, poor concentration, microcephaly, poor teeth, epicanthus, heart valve lesions, and restricted joint movement.

Alcohol can affect reproductive hormones. A four week study showed that heavy drinking reduces testosterone levels after five days, and they kept falling over the four weeks. Long-term deficiency can lead to male breast enlargement. A Finnish study found that males who drank 13-25 drinks a week had a fourfold increase in likelihood of stroke. Alcohol can cause high blood pressure and heart failure. It is estimated that high blood pressure in 11% of males and in 6% of females is attributed to alcohol. Heavy drinking clogs the arteries, and the heart becomes larger as it loses its elasticity and suffers a build up of fat.

Mental health can be affected by alcohol, including psychosis, dementia, depression and anxiety. Brain shrinkage can occur and it seems to happen in that part of the brain associated with intellectual capacity. US studies show that young binge drinkers and women are particularly affected in this regard. People who drink rather than eat can suffer low vitamin B (thiamin), which can lead to a form of brain damage called Korsakoff’s syndrome with its memory loss, apathy and confusion.

The US National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism says that “alcohol is typically found in the offender, victim or both in about half of all homicides and serious assaults, as well as in a high percentage of sex-related crimes, robberies, and incidents of domestic violence, and alcohol-related problems are disproportionately found among juvenile and adult criminal offenders”. Alcohol is a major cause of road and other accidents, often causing death and injury. It directly or indirectly causes an estimated 100,000 deaths in the US a year, and over six million kids under 18 have an alcoholic parent. Alcohol abuse also contributes to absenteeism and lost production. It can lead to unsafe sex, resulting in possible disease and unwanted pregnancies.

Some wine surveys conclude that people who drink 1-2 glasses a day are healthier than those who abstain. What they don’t tell us is that the group who abstains includes people who chose not to drink because they are less robust and have less tolerance to alcohol in any case. In other words, take the alcohol out of the equation and the 1-2 glasses a day people are healthier to start with. Muslims would regard that even if 1-2 glasses is okay, the damage done by alcohol, especially in the long term, exceeds any benefit.

A US study estimated the cost of alcohol abuse to be $167 billion in 1995, which exceeded the estimated cost of illegal drug use of $110 billion. Allowing for inflation and population increase, alcohol abuse is probably now costing the US well over $200 billion a year.

It’s no wonder Islam prohibits alcohol. It is also easy to see why the prohibition movement in Western societies was quite strong in the early twentieth century. If legislators could have their time again, alcohol might never have been legalized, but perhaps grouped with other illegal drugs.