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Khamr (Arabic: خمر‎) is an Arabic word for wine.[1] In Islamic jurisprudence it refers to certain forbidden substances, and its technical definition depends on the legal school. Maliki, Shafi'i, and Hanbali jurists have traditionally viewed it as general term for any intoxicating beverage made from grapes, dates, and similar substances.[2] Hanafi jurists restricted the term to a narrower range of beverages.[2] Over time, some jurists classified other intoxicants, such as opium and qat, as khamr, based on a hadith stating: "every intoxicant is khamr, and every khamr is forbidden."[2][3][4]

Traditions of the Islamic prophet Muhammad indicated that khamr may be made from two plants, the grape-vine and the date palm.[5]

There are some Muslim jurists (particularly of the Hanafi school) who take the concept of khamr literally and forbid only grape-based (or date-based) alcoholic beverages, allowing those made with other fruits, grains, or honey. This is, however, a minority opinion.[6][7]

Intepretation of prohibition[edit]

As far as the prohibition of Alcohol in the Koran is concerned alcohol was prohibited after an incident which is recorded in the Sunni Hadith literature in a Hadith found in Jami a Tirmidhi where some companions of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad were guests at a meal and drank wine and verses of the Koran were revealed. The narrative is found in Chapters of Tafsir Vol.5 Book 44 Hadith No. 3026.

"Narrated Abu 'Abdur-Rahman As-Sulami: that 'Ali bin Abi Talib said: "'Abdur-Rahman bin 'Awf prepared some food for which he invited us, and he gave us some wine to drink. The wine began to affect us when it was time for Salat. So they encouraged me (to lead) and I recited: 'Say: O you disbelievers! I do not worship what you worship, and we worship what you worship' - so Allah, Most High, revealed: O you who believe! Do not approach Salat when you are in a drunken state until you know what you are saying (4:43)."[8]

Like Mu'tazila, Hanafi scholars uphold the unlawfulness of khamr, but restrict its definition to fermented juice of grapes[9] or grapes and dates.[10] As a result, alcohol derived by means of honey, barley, wheat and millet such as whisky, beer and vodka are permitted according to Abu Hanifa and Abu Yusuf, although all forms of grape alcohol are banned absolutely.[11] This is in stark contrast to other schools of Islamic jurisprudence which prohibit consumption of alcohol in all its forms. Though Hanafis trace their liberal view on intoxicants back to Umar ibn al-Khattab and Ibn Mas'ud,[12][need quotation to verify] but, in essence, this conclusion has its roots in the early Basric and Kufic traditions of Islamic legal thinking with its hermeneutic preference for rational reasoning.[citation needed] Ibn Rushd al-Qurtubi explains it thus in his encyclopedia of comparative Islamic jurisprudence,

In their argument by way of reasoning they said that the Koran has explicitly laid down that the Illa (underlying cause) of prohibition of khamr (wine) is that it prevents the remembrance of God and breeds enmity and hatred…[this is] found only in a certain quantity of the intoxicating liquor not in what is less than that; it follows therefore that only this quantity be prohibited..[13]

This eccentric distinction between the legal status of wine and non-grape alcoholic beverages trickled down to Hanafi legal code. Hanafi jurists delineated drinking-related offences into two categories:

  1. Drinking grape-derived wine (punishment applicable on drinking “even a drop”.[14]
  2. Intoxication from non-grape intoxicants (certainly prohibited from a religious-moral perspective, but may or may not qualify for criminal punishment).[15][need quotation to verify]

As the second category of punishment is specific to the Hanafis (other schools punish drinking regardless of intoxication), they had to come with a legal definition of drunkenness. These definitions ranged from Ibn Qutayba’s ,

[a drunk is he] whose intellect has left him so he does not understand a little or much (anything at all)” to Ibn Nujaym’s ,“[a drunk is he who] does not know (the difference) between a man and a woman or the earth from the sky”.

Hanafi understanding of Shariah not only permitted adherents to indulge in alcoholic beverages but they could do so up to a near point of total "annihilation".[16]


  1. ^ Hans Wehr, J. Milton Cowan (1979). A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic (4th ed.). Spoken Language Services. 
  2. ^ a b c Juan Eduardo Campo (2009). "Dietary Rules". In John L. Esposito. The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (Subscription required (help)). 
  3. ^ Fahd Salem Bahammam. Food and Dress in Islam: An explanation of matters relating to food and drink and dress in Islam. Modern Guide. p. 1. ISBN 978-1-909322-99-8. 
  4. ^ "Jami` at-Tirmidhi » Chapters on Tafsir -". 
  5. ^ John Alden Williams (22 July 2010). The Word of Islam. University of Texas Press. pp. PT 116. ISBN 978-0-292-78667-7. 
  6. ^ John Alden Williams. Islam. Library of Alexandria. pp. PT 117. ISBN 978-1-4655-8103-7. 
  7. ^ Malise Ruthven (23 October 1997). Islam: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, UK. pp. PT 68. ISBN 978-0-19-154011-0. 
  8. ^ "Jami` at-Tirmidhi » Chapters on Tafsir". 
  9. ^ Sa'eedi al-Hanafi, Ghulam Rasool. Sharh Sahih Muslim. 
  10. ^ "Alcohol: Its kinds, usage and Rulings". 
  11. ^ Ruthven, Malisse (1997). slam: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press. p. 55. The following is part of a discussion on prohibited liquors from the Hidayah of Burhanuddin al-Marghinani (d. 1197), a Hanafi faqih of Farghana in Central Asia (modern Uzbekistan). Beer, Whisky, and Vodka, according to this liberal Hanafi view, are permitted, although all forms of grape alcohol are banned absolutely: "..Liquor produced by means of honey, wheat, barley or millet is lawful, according to Abu Hanifa and Abu Yusuf (his most distinguished disciple).. 
  12. ^ Saeedi, Ghulam Rasool. Sharh Sahih Muslim. p. 200. 
  13. ^ Qurtubi, Ibn Rushd. The Distinguished Jurists Primer. p. 573. 
  14. ^ Nyazee, Imran Ahsan Khan. Islamic Jurisprudence: Uṣūl Al-Fiqh. p. 311. 
  15. ^ Fatawa-i Hindiyya. Maktaba Rahmaniyya. p. 344. 
  16. ^ Morrow, John Andrew. Islamic Images and Ideas: Essays on Sacred Symbolism. p. 83.