In the year 988 CE, Prince Vladimir, sovereign leader of Kievan Russia, opted for Orthodox Christianity as his state religion. Legend says his ambassadors were much more impressed with the gold and grandeur of Byzantine’s cathedrals, especially Constantinople’s Church of Santa Sophia (now Istanbul’s Mosque of Haya Sofiya) than they were with the simple and austere décor of the Islamic houses of worship (i.e. the mosques) in nearby Volga Bulgaria. But another, more telling reason for the Russian Prince’s favoring Christianity over Islam was, so the chroniclers tell us, the Russians’ love of alcohol. The Muslims’ absolute abstention from liquor was a sacrifice too far for Vladimir’s countrymen to make. Alas, it would appear that their insatiable thirst for a “good” drink, particularly vodka, has plagued the Russian nation ever since.
According to a report published in the year 2000, a staggering two thirds of Russian men die drunk and more than half of that number die in extreme stages of alcoholic intoxication. At 57.4 years, Russian men have the lowest life expectancy in Europe. Although heart disease, accidents and suicides account for nearly 75% of male deaths, they are seldom sober when they die. Wrote the daily Kommersant newspaper in commentary of a three-year study of men aged between 20 and 55 in Moscow and Udmurita:
“Everyone is drunk: murderers and their victims, drowning victims, suicides, drivers and pedestrians killed in traffic accidents, victims of heart attacks and ulcers.”
Though they make for bleak reading, these statistics should not and do not suggest that alcoholism be taken as an ethnic marker for the Russian, nor indeed for any other tribe from the children of Adam. As Mr. Cherniyenko, vice chairman of the National Organization of Russian Muslims, remarks:
“One can say that drinking vodka or wine is a significant aspect of Russian culture, yet I can be a good Russian while not drinking alcohol... Most of the social problems in Russia are caused by alcohol consumption. If we can introduce some Islamic social values to Russia, society and the country will become stronger.”
Looking much further west across the Atlantic (or east across the Bearing Straits) towards Russia’s great rival during the Cold War, the United States, we find that the American nation does not fair much better when it comes to drink-related death and injury. According to a 1988 study by the American Medical Association, some 100,000 deaths and $85.8 billion are linked to the abuse of alcohol, with 25 to 40 percent of hospital beds being occupied by people being treated for alcohol-induced complications. Alcohol is also the US’s leading cause of traffic accidents, with 17,126 people killed in alcohol-related crashes in 1996 alone, according to government statistics. Alcohol is also the principle cause of family breakdown in the US. And in another report published in 2006 by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, test results from suicide victims in 13 states showed that 33.3 per cent – one in three! - had alcohol in their blood. But again, statistics aside, there is nothing intrinsic in the American physiology that consigns it to an alcoholic abyss. Take the bottle away from the American, as happened in one particular Islamic setting, and a rather different result is recorded.
“Our sick call rate went down, our accident and injury rate went down, our incidents of indiscipline went down, and health of the force went up. So there were some very therapeutic outcomes from the fact that no alcohol was available whatsoever in the kingdom (of Saudi Arabia).” (Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of allied forces in the Persian Gulf War, explaining to the US Congress how a scarcity of alcohol made for a better American soldier. June 13, 1991)
Even the unborn are not safe from the dangers of alcohol. Fetal alcohol syndrome is a rather nasty disease caused by exposure to alcohol in the womb. The disease strikes one to two babies in every 1,000 births worldwide and results in chronic physical and neurological damage. According to a 10-year German study, symptoms include long-lasting brain damage and temporary physical deformities including a smallness of the head and stunted growth. To avoid fetal alcohol syndrome, not only are mothers recommended to completely avoid alcoholic drink during pregnancy, but doctors also recommend that men practice abstinence for several months prior to conception.
“…Will you then not abstain?” (Quran 5:91)
Suicide, homicide, domestic violence, grievous bodily harm, vandalism, self abuse and unborn-child abuse! – all evil consequences of alcohol consumption. And yet, the disease of alcohol is easily and roundly avoided by the adherents to the religion of Islam, or by those who find themselves in areas where Islamic writ is observed. For if alcohol is indeed a disease, no less the Devil’s deadly disease, then it is one from which the pious Muslim is immune, even though it be the only disease which
· is sold in bottles;
· is advertised in newspapers, magazines, radios and television;
· is contracted by the will of man;
· has licensed outlets to spread it;
· produces revenue for the government;
· brings violent deaths on the highways;
· has no germs or viral cause;
· propels one's health to self-destruction;
· destroys family life and increases crime.
“O you who believe! Intoxicants (all kinds of alcoholic drinks), gambling, idolatory and the divining of arrows are an abomination of Satan's handiwork. So avoid (strictly all) that (abomination) in order that you may be successful. Satan seeks only to cast amongst you enmity and hatred by means of strong drink and gambling, and hinder you from the remembrance of God and from his worship. Will you then not abstain?” (Quran 5:90-91)
O God, that men should put an enemy in their mouths to steal away their brains! That we should with joy, pleasance, revel, and applause transform ourselves into beasts!” (Cassio, in William Shakespeare’s Othello, act 2, scene 3)
One day, as he came out from his mosque, the Prophet Muhammad, may God send praises upon him, noticed his cousin and son-in-law, Ali b. Abi Talib, visibly upset. When the concerned Prophet asked Ali what was troubling him, Ali simply pointed to the bloody carcass of his dearly cherished camel - no ordinary camel, but the war-weathered camel that Ali would mount in his valiant defense of the Prophet and Islam on the battlefield. Ali told the Prophet that one of their uncles had been responsible for the unsanctioned slaughter of his animal, and so the Prophet went to ascertain his (i.e. the uncle’s) side of the story.
Entering in the presence of his uncle, the Prophet found him drunk with wine. Upon seeing the displeasure in his nephew’s face, the uncle knew at once, despite his intoxication, that the Prophet had come to question him about Ali’s beast of war. With nothing good to say in his defense, the guilt-ridden, drunken uncle blurted out to his nephew: “You and your father are my slaves!” The Prophet’s only response to the blasphemous outburst was to exclaim: “Truly, alcohol is the mother of every evil!”
And so, from the biography of the Prophet Muhammad we learn a weighty lesson as regards the colossal and evil consequences of alcoholic drink. Any one of the alcohol-inspired acts in this short episode from the blessed Prophet’s life would suffice the reader as an admonition: whether it be the culling of Ali’s camel, the drunken state of an uncle of a Prophet of God – let alone His last and final messenger to mankind - or the wicked insult he spewed out against him and his own deceased brother, who was no less than the father of the Prophet of God. How much worse then when we consider all these crimes together? Not to mention the many evils indirectly resulting from the uncle’s consumption of the alcohol, such as the loss to the Muslim community of one its battle-hardened steeds of war, or the pain, anguish and, perhaps, embarrassment that Muhammad must have felt at this tragic family affair. No doubt, it was precisely because the Prophet recognized that it was the alcohol that gave birth to and nurtured all these foul sins that he denounced it as: “the mother of every evil!”
Hence, we find Islam completely forbidding the consumption of alcohol, whether in large or small amounts. The Prophet Muhammad said:
“If a large amount of anything causes intoxication, a small amount of it is also prohibited.”
In this one hadeeth narration, we see the perfection of Islam as a religion, its conclusiveness as a legal code, and its comprehensiveness as a way of life. As one German convert to Islam noted:
“[Islam] values the moral and spiritual health of a nation as much as its physical well-being. It considers anything that interferes with the normal working of the mind, numbs our senses, thereby reducing our level of shame or responsibility, or clouds our perception as harmful (this includes alcohol as well as other drugs altering the mind). And recognizing that different people react quite differently to the same stimulant, it does not leave the judgment, as to how much is acceptable to them. Too many people thought they had control over their drinking habit, yet ended up having ‘one glass too many’. Islam categorically states that if a substance can destroy the clarity of the mind in large quantities, it is harmful even in minute quantities. Islam, therefore, advocates a total prohibition of narcotic drugs, including alcohol. It forbids the use, not just the abuse of these substances.”
Yes, there are some benefits to be derived from alcoholic beverages. For example, alcohol can give one strength and confidence; it helps one to relax and, in small quantities, is even good for the health of one’s heart. However, as the Glorious Quran states, the harms associated with alcohol far outweigh its benefits. As such, in the final analysis, alcohol is a foe, not a friend of its consumer.
“They ask you (O Prophet) concerning alcoholic drink and gambling. Say: ‘In them is a great sin, and (some) benefit for men, but their sin is greater than their benefit…’” (Quran 2:219)
It is only because Islam seeks the benefit and betterment of man that Islamic law criminalizes the consumption, production, transportation and sale of alcoholic drink. In fact, the mere consumption of alcohol is a criminal pursuit so serious that it carries with it a severe corporal punishment. As for the Hereafter, the punishment is truly grotesque:
“Every intoxicant is prohibited. God has made a covenant regarding those who consume intoxicants to give them to drink the discharge (of the inhabitants of Hell)!”
To conclude, it is perhaps useful to have the reader ponder over the following well-known story; well-known at least to many a cautious Muslim.
Once upon a time, a bad woman invited a good man to bad deeds. The man, fearing God, flatly refused. But, determined not to let her prey escape, the woman offered him one of three choices, each one more dastardly than the other: to consume alcohol, to commit adultery, or to murder her child from a previous marriage. If the man refused, she would cry rape. So, after having pondered his predicament, the pious man chose what he reckoned to be the lesser of the three evils. However, upon taking the alcohol, the man became drunk and then, under the influence of his brain-killing beverage, he killed the child and committed adultery with the wicked woman.
Ponder, and then consider how easily you yourself could degenerate as a human being if, that is, you too were to embrace “the mother of every evil.”
While some medical studies — and a great deal of media attention — have focused on possible health benefits of drinking alcohol in moderation, a large new report warns that the harms of alcohol greatly outweigh any potential beneficial effects. The authors of the study, which looks at data on 28 million people worldwide, determined that considering the risks, there is "no safe level of alcohol."
Alcohol is associated with 2.8 million deaths worldwide each year, the researchers found in the study, which is published in the journal The Lancet. Just over 2 percent of women and nearly 7 percent of men worldwide die from alcohol-related health problems each year.
Regular alcohol consumption can have negative impacts on the body's organs and tissues, while binge drinking can lead to injuries or alcohol poisoning. Alcohol dependence can lead to self-harm or violence.
"Previous studies have found a protective effect of alcohol on some conditions, but we found that the combined health risks associated with alcohol increase with any amount of alcohol," lead author Dr. Max Griswold, of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, said in a statement. "In particular, the strong association between alcohol consumption and the risk of cancer, injuries, and infectious diseases offset the protective effects for ischemic heart disease in women in our study."
He added, "Although the health risks associated with alcohol starts off being small with one drink a day, they then rise rapidly as people drink more."
Across the globe, one in three people drink alcohol, equivalent to 2.4 billion people, according to the report.
For the study, the authors reviewed data from 694 studies to estimate how common drinking alcohol is worldwide. They also looked at 592 studies with data on 28 million people in 195 countries to study the health risks associated with alcohol.
Among the many findings, the research showed that drinking alcohol was the seventh leading risk factor for premature death and disease in 2016. That year, in people aged 15 to 49 years old, alcohol was the leading risk factor, with 3.8 percent of deaths in women and 12.2 percent of deaths in men connected to alcohol.
In this age group, the leading causes of alcohol-related deaths included tuberculosis, road injuries, and self-harm. In people age 50 and older, cancers were a leading cause of alcohol-related death, accounting for about 27 percent of deaths in women and 19 percent of deaths in men.
The researchers note that previous studies looking at the health benefits of alcohol have numerous limitations. These include that they're often self-reported, which relies on people recalling their drinking habits, which is subject to human error; or based on alcohol sales data, which doesn't always provide an accurate picture of people's individual consumption levels. Additionally, certain studies may not take into account that some non-drinkers may avoid alcohol because they already have health issues. Some studies also overlook illicit trade and home brewing.
The new study aims to correct these limitations by combining alcohol sales data with the prevalence of alcohol drinking and abstinence, self-reported data on the amount of alcohol consumed, tourism data to estimate the number of alcohol-drinking visitors to an area, and estimates of illicit trade and home brewing. The authors also used updated and more robust statistical review models to analyze alcohol consumption and the health problems associated with it.
In their review, the authors found that the only protective effect of alcohol came with reducing the risk of ischemic heart disease. There were also possible protective effects for diabetes and ischemic stroke, but these results were not statistically significant.
However, the risk of developing all other health issues increased with the number of alcoholic drinks consumed each day and the harms far outweighed the potential benefits, the authors report.
"Policies focusing on reducing alcohol consumption to the lowest levels will be important to improve health. The widely held view of the health benefits of alcohol needs revising, particularly as improved methods and analyses continue to shed light on how much alcohol contributes to global death and disability," Griswold said.
In an accompanying editorial, Dr. Robyn Burton of King's College London calls the research "the most comprehensive estimate of the global burden of alcohol use to date."
"The conclusions of the study are clear and unambiguous: alcohol is a colossal global health issue and small reductions in health-related harms at low levels of alcohol intake are outweighed by the increased risk of other health-related harms, including cancer," she writes.
WHY PORK IS FORBIDDEN IN ISLAM
Islam is a holistic way of life, taking into account physical, spiritual, and emotional well-being, each a separate but overlapping part of the structure of a human being. God created us with a purpose; to worship Him, (Quran 51:56) but He did not abandon us to a world of instability and insecurity. He gave us a book of guidance, the Quran, and the example of Prophets and Messengers to explain that trusting in God was the way for us to achieve success in this life and in the hereafter.
. A Muslim spends his or her life endeavouring to please God by worshipping Him and obeying His laws, or rules. One of those rules is that the eating pork, or pork products is forbidden.
At first, one might wonder what harm could come from pork, a product eaten in many parts of the world, and the fact that pork contains parasites and diseases harmful to man may spring to mind as a justifiable reason for abstaining. However, when analysing why Muslims are forbidden to eat pork, this becomes a secondary reason. Muslims simply do not eat pork or pork products because God has prohibited it.
“He has forbidden you only dead animals, and blood, and the swine, and that which is slaughtered as a sacrifice for other than God.” (Quran 2:173)
Sometimes we may never know or understand why God has ordained some things and prohibited others. In the case of pork, no specific reason for the prohibition is given except in Quran 6: 145when God says, in reference to the flesh of swine (pig), “for that surely is impure”. A Muslim submits to God’s commands willingly, without needing to know the reason behind the divine rule. Moreover, God has expressly stated that a believer hears the words of his Lord and obeys them.
“‘We hear and we obey.’ And such are the successful (who will live forever in Paradise).” (Quran 24:51)
“When God and His Messenger have decreed a matter, they (the believers) should not have any option in their decision. And whoever disobeys God and His Messenger; he has indeed strayed into a plain error.” (Quran 33:36)
A believer understands that God is the Most Wise and the Most Just; therefore, His rules are designed to benefit us in our daily needs, be they physical, emotional, or spiritual. The Creator knows the best way for His creation to live in this world and prepare for the next. It is not permissible for a Muslim to consume pork under any circumstances except in cases of dire necessity, such as, if a person’s life depends on eating it. In cases of dire necessity, prohibited things are permitted.
God allows us to enjoy all the good lawful things and forbids us to partake of those things that may be harmful to our beliefs, health, well being, or morals. Consequently, Muslims are acutely aware of the dangers of eating things that are forbidden and therefore make concerted efforts to seek out permissible food, even if it involves extra effort or expense.
If a believer consumes pork unknowingly or by mistake, there is no sin of him or her. God does not punish anyone for lack of knowledge, nor for unintentional mistakes or forgetfulness. However if a believer is certain, or thinks that any pork, or pork products may be in his food, drinks or medicines then it is not permissible for him or her to consume it. If he has doubts then he must make an effort to inquire about the ingredients or ask for details. Nowadays knowledge about ingredients and the manufacturing process is readily available and the prohibition applies whether there is a small amount of pork or pork products, or a large amount.
The scholars of Islam differ over the issue of whether or not changing the form of the impurity (in this case pork products) lifts the prohibition. The Islamic Organisation for Medical Sciences is of the opinion that changing the form (for example, food, and medicine additives) so that it becomes something different, does lift the prohibition. However, there is no doubt and no difference of opinion that it is forbidden to consume meat derived from the pig, including ham and bacon.
The recent outbreak of swine flu in Mexico and North America led some countries to slaughter pigs en masse however there is ample scientific evidence to suggest that pigs harbour parasites that are harmful to humans and the pig has long been considered the ideal breeding ground for influenza.
In Part 1 we discussed the primary reason for Muslims abstaining from eating pork and pork products, and that is, that God has forbidden it. As the Creator of humankind and all that exists, God knows what is good for us, and He has sent guidance enabling us to make wise decisions. Just as a computer would not work properly if it were incorrectly programmed, a human being is not able to function if he is not nourished correctly. Islam is a holistic religion that recognises the interconnectedness of spiritual, emotional, and physical health. What a person eats and drinks has a direct bearing on their overall health and well-being.
Virologists have long been aware that the pig is an ideal breeding ground for influenza, so it is no surprise that the latest threat, swine flu, originated in pigs. Microbiologist and immunology expert, Dr Graham Burgess says, “Viruses that would normally grow in the chicken can potentially grow in the pig and ones that grow in humans will potentially grow in pigs. So we consider the pig a great mixing pot for viruses and this is where it can play a real role in generating new viruses".
The pig is known to harbour parasites as well as bacteria and viruses. Cysticercosis is an infection caused by the pork tapeworm, Taenia solium. Infection occurs when the tapeworm larvae enter the body and form cysticerci (cysts). When cysticerci are found in the brain, the condition is called neurocysticercosis. This tapeworm in pigs is found worldwide but is most problematic in poor and developing countries were pigs are allowed to roam freely and often eat human faeces. This infection can occur even in modern developed countries but the CDC reports that it is very rare in Muslim countries where eating pork is forbidden.
Trichinellosis, also called trichinosis, is caused by eating raw or undercooked meat of animals infected with the larvae of a species of worm called Trichinella. Infection occurs most commonly in certain wild carnivorous (meat-eating) animals but it may also occur in domestic pigs. The CDC warns that if a human eats meat containing infective Trichinella cysts, the acid in the stomach dissolves the hard covering of the cyst and releases the worms.
The worms pass into the small intestine and, in 1-2 days, become mature. After mating, adult females lay eggs. These eggs develop into immature worms, travel through the arteries, and are transported to muscles. Within the muscles, the worms curl into a ball and encyst (become enclosed in a capsule). This infection occurs when these encysted worms are consumed in meat. The number of cases of trichinellosis throughout the world has steadily decreased due to an awareness of the dangers of eating raw and undercooked pork products and legislation prohibiting feeding raw meat garbage to pigs.
Pigs are omnivores, which means they consume both plants and animals. Pigs will scavenge and eat any type of food, including dead insects, worms, tree bark, rotting carcasses, garbage, and even other pigs. Pigs have very few sweat glands so therefore they are unable to completely rid their bodies of toxins. New evidence indicates that farming practices are leading directly to the spread of human bacterial infections.
Pigs often live in the small spaces and fetid conditions that exist in many modern factory farms and studies are revealing that pigs frequently harbour antibiotic resistant staph bacteria. This drug resistant bacterium is now entering our food supply and recent investigations in the United States of America indicate that 49% of pigs and 45% of pig workers now harbour these bacteria responsible for killing more then 18,000 people in the US every year.
“He has forbidden you only dead animals, and blood, and the flesh of swine...” (Quran 2:173)
“For that surely is impure” (Quran 6:145)
Muslims refrain from eating pork and pork products because God has forbidden it. However a little investigation into the anatomy and lifestyle of the pig reveals that it is certainly an unclean animal. Those interested in consuming healthy, natural, and pure foods would do well to abstain from pork and pork products.