Islam, Alcohol and Identity: A Critical Muslim Studies Approach

Held on 13th December 2018 at AMI.

Dr Mustapha Sheikh’s paper offers a new understanding of the Hanafi jurisprudential position on alcohol according to which not all forms are prohibited. Why does the Quran promise ‘rivers of wine’ to believing Muslims in paradise if alcohol is absolutely prohibited? For the Quran to have universal value and be applicable in all times, the promise of alcohol must have some relevance to Muslims today. Accordingly, early Hanafi scholars reason that since the rewards of heaven are appreciated through their analogues in this world, such as rivers of milk and honey, there must be some form of alcohol that is permitted to serve as an incentive for the rivers of wine awaiting Muslims in paradise. Perhaps understandably, there was public outrage when the head of Al-Azhar University said on a popular television programme that according to Abu Hanifa beer from wheat may not be prohibited. This prompted Dr Mustapha’s own research which argues that early Hanafi scholars maintained a distinction between wine from grapes and alcoholic beverages made from dates and wheat, allowing the latter provided it does not reach the level of intoxication.

Dr Mustapha Sheikh is a lecturer in the Department of Arabic, Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Leeds. His areas of expertise include Islamic law and legal theory, Muslim reformist thought, critical Muslim studies, and Islamic finance. He has studied Islamic studies in both the traditional seminaries of Damascus and in a university setting. He completed his doctoral studies in 2012 at the University of Oxford within the faculty of Theology.

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