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Islam & Alcohol: Shame and Fear of Muslims who Drink Alcohol

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  • It is forbidden for Muslims to drink alcohol, but as with any religion not everyone perfectly follows all the rules — especially when Muslims live in a non-Muslim society. Even in staunchly Muslim Saudi Arabia, alcohol is consumed behind closed doors and among close friends; in western societies like Britain, the opportunities are much greater. In any society, though, most Muslims who drink alcohol feel the need to hide and lie about what they are doing lest they be condemned by their religious community.

    Asad is 33 and goes to great lengths to hide his drinking from family and friends. "It is totally frowned upon in the Muslim community. "That is not to say our elders didn't drink. Some of them did but if someone finds out you drink it can bring great shame upon you. My wife doesn't know I drink. When we go out I always stay over at a friends place so there is never any comeback."

    Asad said his wife became suspicious of his actions but he lied about what he was doing. "I came home once and I had been drinking. Normally she is asleep but this time she was awake. I went straight to the bathroom and pretended to be ill. She asked me if I was okay and I just ignored her. I made sure I didn't come home drunk again."

    "Although I feel a little ashamed it is not as if I do it on a regular basis. I just like to let my hair down and have a good time every now and then."

    Source: Asian Image

    One thing that I find most remarkable about this is how similar this description would be to someone hiding the fact that they are gay, that they use illegal drugs, masturbation, that they are really into pornography, etc. As with these and so many other things, we are looking at actions which religion insists are shameful and this in turn produces all sorts of guilt when people go do them anyway.

    Why should people have to be ashamed and lie to others just to "let their hair down and have a good time now and then"? Because by controlling people’s ability to experience pleasure, religions are able to exert a great deal more control over people and their lives generally.

    Mehboob started drinking regularly whilst at University. "When it comes to alcohol my culture and relgion is in complete contrast to the way I was brought up."

    "I have white friends who think it is quite strange I have to hide my drinking from people. It is not that I am ashamed or embarrassed but I just don't want people saying to my mum that her son drinks. I go to places where there are going to be few Asians. Once I was with my friends and a taxi-driver who knew my dad walked in."

    "Thankfully, he didn't say anything to anyone."

    People like Mehboob might have an easier time avoiding alcohol if they didn't live in a western, secular society, but would that really be better for them? In that case, people would also have far fewer opportunities to learn they can have a life outside the narrow regulations of Islam. You don't need to live according to religious dogmas — Muslim, Christian, Jewish, whatever — in order to live a good life or be a good person.

    As one would probably expect, drinking alcohol is an even more difficult issue for women:

    Faz is 23 years-old and started drinking when she was 18. "I have a close group of friends who I trust explicitly. It's not as if we go drinking all the time but every now and then I don't see anything wrong with it."

    "I used to drink more when I was at Uni because I was living away from home but when you move back home it is more difficult especially for a girl."

    "If my parents ever found out I would be in so much trouble."

    So Faz is basically unable to live her life in a manner she regards as appropriate and reasonable because her parents won't be able to accept her moving beyond the boundaries of traditional Islam. Although the subject of this disagreement is alcohol, it could be repeated in numerous other contexts: clothing, intimate relationships, forms of entertainment, etc.

    At least some Muslims have become quite open about drinking alcohol — no shame, no apologies, and no lies:

    Zeg, 29 began drinking in his teens and feels there is no point in hiding at all. "I don't really care who finds out. So what if I drink? I know it's haram but what is it to anyone. ...I got stopped once coming out of a pub by someone who knew me. I told him where to go. So what if I am not a good Muslim? That's between me and god."

    In the long term, the more Muslims who can be comfortable and unashamed about behaving in ways that contradict traditional Muslim norms the better. This might sound very strange to say, but it's the situation we already have with Christianity and Judaism, and I think that it's highly relevant to the lower amounts of violence and terrorism in those religions.

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