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Islamic Education research network launched at University of Warwick

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Sheikh Al Otheymin (Rahimahoullah)

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Aspects of Mercy
Aspects of Mercy

Then, the Qur’an went one step further, which many scholars consider to be the first step in the process of prohibition.Scholar Daraz says, “The first step along this road was taken in a word that was revealed in Mecca, a word that had gently touched the hearts. Thus amongst the bounties God has created in nature, the Qur’an mentions the fruits of palm trees and vine and adds thereto: “And from the fruit of the date-palm and the vine, ye get out strong drink and a wholesome food, in this also is a sign for those who are wise.” (Al-NaHl, 67). It was merely a weighing between strong drink and the other fruits, which it describes as being wholesome, without describing the strong drink itself. In this manner, the believers came to feel some embarrassment and misgivings towards this type of drink.[17] By the way, I apologize for some of the texts which I sometimes quote and which is difficult to wholly assimilate in this quick discussion, but I promise to pass them to you, for further consideration.I also adopt this subtle Quranic style sometimes. Thus when I meet two of my students at the end of the semester, after they had sat for an exam, and they ask me about the result, I tell the one who passed the exam that he had done well and succeeded in the exam, but I do not say anything to the other. I believed that he would understand this subtle hint, which involves a certain touch of mercy, as I would not wish to face him with the sad result.

In the last quoted verse, the Qur’an has described the food as wholesome and was silent as regards the wine. So the followers of the Prophet, pbuh, would have realized that the wine was not wholesome, but nothing else.After a few years, the Qur’an makes use of an incident, which was reported by exegesists and tradition scholars, to the effect that the companion Abdul RaHman bin ‘Awf had invited people to partake of some food that he had prepared for them and offered them wine to drink. When it was time for prayer, they asked one of them to lead the prayer and he made a mistake while reading the Qur’an on account of his having drunk wine. So God sent down the verse: “O ye who believe, approach not prayers in a state of intoxication, until you understand what you are saying.”(An-Nisaa’,43). Thus so far, God had not ordained the prohibition of wine, but enjoined them against approaching prayer in a state of drunkenness.This second step came to restrict wine and narrow the time for those who wish to drink. This was because prayer would no longer be proper with the drinking of wine. Moreover, the prayers, almost covered the entire day and night. Thus this indirect partial prohibition was a logical approach to expand the span of time for the cessation of the effect of alcohol, and was at the same time a method for the reduction of the popularity and gradual elimination of wine, without causing an economic crisis as a result of the sudden total prohibition.[18]

The partaking of intoxicants by the companions began to decline after it was made incompatible with prayers and after the siege was imposed on it, which made some of them wonder as to where it stands, to the answer of which God’s ordinance was revealed: “They will ask thee about intoxicants and games of chance, say, ‘in both there is great evil and some benefit for man, but the evil which they cause is greater than the benefit which they bring.’”(Al-Baqarah, 219).This Quranic text is explicit in that the evil of intoxicants is greater than their benefit. Let me now draw your attention to beautiful gestures in this noble verse. It has mentioned the evil before the benefit, as being the rule and described the evil as great but did not say anything about its benefit, which is a godsend mercy, because it contributes to the distancing and alienation from intoxicants.It seems to me that the matter had become self evident, and this being the case, the companions began to feel a kind of aversion to intoxicants, and expected that it would be expressly prohibited any moment after the preceding anticipation, to the point that Omar bin Al-Khattab, the second Khalif of the Prophet, found himself raising his hand in supplication: “O, God, enlighten us adequately concerning intoxicants.”[19]

It is also reported hat the companions had started giving up intoxicants before its Quranic prohibition, so that Abdullah bin Omar said, “Intoxicants were prohibited even when there was no trace of it in Medina.”[20]. He definitely did not mean to generalize fully, but his statement purports that intoxicants had not existed as before, as though they had given it up before they were required to do so.The companions had started as though they were expecting a forthcoming prohibition, which they had been prepared to accept, even to look forward to, as though they were asking for it. Such was the prohibition applied when God’s revelation came down; “O ye who believe! Intoxicants and gambling, sacrificing to stones, and (divination) by arrows, are an abomination, of Satan’s handiwork: Eschew such (abomination) that ye may prosper.”(Al-Maídah, 90).

Thus prohibition and abstaining have taken place in a surprising manner, a miracle of accurate implementation and quick response. Let me, dear audience, invite the companion, Anas bin Malek, to give us the complete picture of this astonishing and solemn episode. He said,“I was offering to Abu Obaidah Al-JarraH, Abu TalHah Al-Ansari and Ubay bin Ka’b a drink of dates, when a messenger came and said that intoxicants had been prohibited. Thereupon, Abu TalHa said, “Go and break these jugs.’ So I took a stone and hit them therewith until they broke.”[21] In another report, “Abu TalHah told me to go out and spill them, which I did and they flowed through the conduits of Medina.[22] Allow me, now to quote a beautiful comment by Dr. Daraz, who said, “This easy, gradual method reminds us of the method adopted by skilful physicians in the treatment of a chronic disease, indeed to remember in general the method used by mothers in weaning their babies. This is because these methods, which are free from violence and suddenness make the digestive system change its routine gradually, beginning with the lightest of foods, through the middle degrees, up to the most difficult to digest. How great is God’s Mercy that treats men gently, in a manner that surpasses the art of treatment and the tenderness of mothers”[23]. How beautiful and how true !

Dear audience,

I had intended to end my talk on intoxicants with those words, but I have changed my mind and decided to give you a brief contrasting picture of what has preceded in that respect. It is the American Law on the prohibition of intoxicants – how it began and how it ended.In 1933 a law was issued prohibiting intoxicants in America and was appended to Article Eighteen of the Constitution, which provides for this prohibition and the procedures that should be applied for the implementation thereof. But no sooner had that law been issued than the secret trade in intoxicants became rampant.Thus, types of intoxicants were sold that were harmful to life and there occurred a proliferation of the secret places where intoxicants were made and sold, and the places for the illegal sale increased. So, before the prohibition, there had been about four hundred factories, but seven years after the prohibition their number was close to eighty thousand.

Moreover, intoxicants were consumed by all categories of people and included all the regions of the country, including villages and the rural areas, the rate of crimes escalated, and pubs multiplied.The statistics of the American Judiciary have indicated that about two hundred persons were executed and the crimes of children increased, so much so that America’s judges announced that the number of children who were arrested while drunk was unprecedented.Police reports indicated that the number of addicts among children rose to thrice the number and the number of deaths rose to twice the number before the prohibition.In consequence of this failure and as a result of the losses in life and  funds, the state revoked the law and permitted the production of intoxicants, in which the percentage of alcohol was less than 33%. Then, in the same year, the abrogation of Article Eighteen that prohibited intoxicants was officially announced and the previous status of intoxicants was restored after an unsuccessful attempt made by the American government, with all its might, for a period of fourteen years.[24]

An American scientist has commented on this, saying, “The decision to prohibit intoxicants was not because intoxicants were good, bad or harmful or unharmful; it was revoked for practical reasons, namely, that the prohibition has failed.[25]I may have dwelt too long on the subject of intoxicants. However, I did that deliberately in order to show, first, the aspects of mercy that have led to its obliteration in Islamic society, as opposed to the elements of force that failed to prohibit them.Moreover, while mercy was clearly apparent in the gradual prohibition of intoxicants, the same mercy was more apparent in the prohibition itself. I have read in a medical source that intoxicants have caused the following damage to the body:

1. The destruction of the brain cells; 2. The damaging of the liver; 3.The reduction of the breathing process; 4. The decrease of immunity in the body; 5. The frailty of bones; 5. stomach ulcer and cancer. There are other health ailments, which space does not permit the enumeration thereof, not to mention the social and economic damage which you are all aware of. Thus prohibition was truly a mercy to people.Contemporary humanity is in a dire need for the sword of mercy, which is associated with gradualness, which Prophet Muhammad, pbuh, has brandished in the face of intoxicants until it eliminated them gently and lovingly.I conclude by saying that the gradual establishment of legislation and provisions was a distinctive characteristic of this religion`, which was revealed to Prophet Muhammad, pbuh. This was not confined only to intoxicants but also to fasting, zakat and other matters such as usury, as some scholars have indicated.

Thus, fasting was at first voluntary, but when people got used to it, it became binding on them and a major duty, as God Almighty said, “Hence, whoever of you lives to see this month shall fast throughout it.” Al-Baqrah, 185)Moroever, zakat was in the Meccan period unrestricted, determined by people’s faith and feeling of the duty of brotherhood towards their believing brethren. Thus it was enough to spend a little amount of money, but there might be a need for spending plenty more.[26] Then in the second Hegira year, it became a duty and an essential pillar of Islam, with special rules, conditions and applications.Thus mercy appears in all these provisions and legislations and was apparent in every step taken by Prophet Muhammad, pbuh, in his guidance of humanity to ethical transcendence.You are certainly aware of the close association and integration between the Mercy of Almighty God, in promulgating these merciful provisions, and the mercy of the Prophet, pbuh, who received them in order to implement them gently and mercifully.Before concluding, I apologize for dwelling too long on this matter, but I wanted to complete this interlinked subject. Thank you again and see you next lecture.


[1] See Abul Baqaa’Al-Kafwi,  Al-Kulliyyat: mu’jam fii al-mustalaHaat wal furuuq al-lughawiyyah, v.1, p.471, edited by Adnan Darwiish and Muhammad Al-Masri, Al-Risalat Foundation, Beirut.


[2] Reported by Al-Hakem in Al-Mustadrak, v.1, p.91, and by Al-Dirami in Al-Lisan, v.1., p.21, and admitted by Al-Albani in SaHih Al-Jame’, v.1, p.411.

[3] Reported by Musli, in the Section on The Prohibition of the cursing of animals and others, tradition 6613.

[4] Reported by Bujhari, the Section on Prayer is an atonement, tradition No.526.

[5] See Dr. Daraz, The Constitution of Ethics in the Qur’an, p.80 ff.

[6] Reported by Bukhari, Section on Fasting in travel and breaking of one’s fasting, tradition 1944>

[7] An authentic tradition reported by Ibn Maja, the Section on those who vow to go on pilgrimage on foot, tradition 2135. See The Series of Authentic Traditions, p.205.

[8] Reported by Muslim, the Section on The Merits of Abu Dharr, tradition 2473

 9 Reported by Muslim, in the Section on The Unnecessary Detestation  of Public Position, tradition 1825.


[10] Reported by Muslim, in the Section on The prayer and the shortening thereof, tradition 686.

[11] Dr. Ibrahim Anis et al, Al-Mu’jam Al-Wasseet, v.1, p.277, with some adaptation

[12] Dr.  Daraz, The Constitution of Ethics in the Qur’an, p.83.

[13] Dr. Daraz, The Constitution of Ethics in the Qur’an, p.83

[14] Ibn Kathir, Al-Bidayah wa Nnihaya, v.4, p.250, edited by Dr.

[15] Reported by Bukhari, in the Section on The Compiling of the Qur’an, tradition 4993.

[16] Jamal el-Dine Al-Qassimi, Beauties of Interpretation, v.8, p.89, 2003, Dar Al-Hadioth, Cairo, edited by Ahmad bin Ali and Hamdi SubuH

[17] The Constitution of Ethics, ibid.

[18] Dr. Daraz, The Constitution of Ethics, pp.84-85.

[19] See At-TaHrir wat Tanwir, v.7, p.21, ibid.

[20] See Al-taHrir wa ttanwir, v.7, p.21, ibid.

[21] Reported by Malek in Al-MawTe,, the Section on the Prohibition of Intoxicants, tradition 1599, p.517.

[22] See Al-Bukhari in kitab al-mazalem, in the Section on the Spilling of Intoxicants in the Street, tradition 2464.

[23]Dr. Daraz, The Constitution of Ethics in the Qur’an, p.85.

[24] See Dr. Fikri Akkar, Intioxicants in Islamic Jurisprudence: an Analytic Study, first impression, 1977.

[25] Ibid., p.175.

[26] Youssof Al-Qaradawi, The Jurisprudence of Zakat, v.1, p.77, with some adaptation.