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by Ibrahim B. Syed, Ph. D. 
 Islamic Research Foundation International, Inc.
 7102 W. Shefford Lane
 Louisville, KY 40242-6462, U.S.A.
 Website:  http://WWW.IRFI.ORG

"O you who believe, intoxicants, and gambling, and the altars of idols, and the games of chance are abominations of the devil; you shall avoid them, that you may succeed."

                                                                                      The Qur'an 5:90

Drugs impair decision-making ability leading to irresponsible behaviour. The third Caliph (Khalifa) `Uthman Ibn Affan (ra) said: "Intoxicants are the key to all evils. A man was once asked either to tear up a copy of the Quran, or kill a child, or bow in worship to an idol, or drink a cup of alcohol, or sleep with a woman. He thought the lesser wrong action would be to drink the cup of alcohol, so he drank. Then he slept with the woman, killed the child, tore up the copy of the Quran and bowed in worship to an idol."

What Is a Drug? 1

Most people would agree that heroin is a drug.   It is a white powder that produces striking changes in the body and mind in tiny doses. But is sugar a drug? Sugar is also a white powder that strongly affects the body, and some experts say it affects mental function and mood as well. Like heroin, it can be addicting. How about chocolate? Most people think of it as a food or flavor, but it contains a chemical related to caffeine, is a stimulant, and can also be addicting. Is salt a drug? Many people think they cannot live without it, and it has dramatic effects on the body. A common definition of the word drug is any substance that in small amounts produces significant changes in the body, mind, or both. This definition does not clearly distinguish drugs from some foods. The difference between a drug and a poison is also unclear. All drugs become poisons in high enough doses, and many poisons are useful drugs in low enough doses. Is alcohol a food, a drug, or a poison? The body can burn it as a fuel, just like sugar or starch, but it causes intoxication and can kill in overdose. Many people who drink alcohol crusade against drug abuse, never acknowledging that they themselves are involved with a powerful drug. In the same way, many cigarette addicts have no idea that tobacco is a very strong drug, and few people who drink coffee realize the true nature of that beverage. The decision to call some substances drugs and others not is often arbitrary. In the case of medical drugs - substances such as penicillin, used only to treat physical illness - the distinction may be easier to make. But talking about psychoactive drugs - substances that affect mood, perception, and thought - is tricky. In the first place, foods, drugs, and poisons are not clear-cut categories. Second, people have strong emotional reactions to them. Food is good. Poison is bad. Drugs may be good or bad, and whether they are seen as good or bad depends on who is looking at them. Many people agree that drugs are good when doctors give them to patients in order to make them better. Some religious groups, such as Christian Scientists, do not share that view, however. They believe that God intends us to deal with illness without drugs. When people take psychoactive drugs on their own, in order to change their mood or feel pleasure, the question of good or bad gets even thornier. The whole subject of pleasure triggers intense controversy. Should pleasure come as a reward for work or suffering? Should people feel guilty if they experience pleasure without suffering for it in some way? Should work itself be unpleasant? These questions are very important to us, but they do not have easy answers. Different people and different cultures answer them in different ways. Drug use is universal. Every human culture in every age of history has used one or more psychoactive drugs. (The one exception is the Eskimos, who were unable to grow drug plants and had to wait for white men to bring them alcohol.) In fact, drug taking is so common that it seems to be a basic human activity. Societies must come to terms with people's fascination with drugs. Usually the use of certain drugs is approved and integrated into the life of a tribe, community, or nation, sometimes in formal rituals and ceremonies. The approval of some drugs for some purposes usually goes hand in hand with the disapproval of other drugs for other purposes. For example, some early Muslim sects encouraged the use of coffee in religious rites, but had strict prohibitions against alcohol. On the other hand, when coffee came to Europe in the seventeenth century, the Roman Catholic Church opposed it as an evil drug but continued to regard wine as a traditional sacrament. Everybody is willing to call certain drugs bad, but there is little agreement from one culture to the next as to which these are. In our own society, all nonmedical drugs other than alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine are viewed with suspicion by the majority There are subgroups within our society, however, that hold very different opinions. Many North American Indians who use peyote and tobacco in religious rituals consider alcohol a curse. The most fervent members of the counterculture that arose in the 1960s regard marijuana and psychedelics as beneficial while rejecting not only alcohol, tobacco, and coffee but most other legal and illegal drugs as well. Classic heroin addicts, or junkies, may reject psychedelics and marijuana as dangerous but think of narcotics as desirable and necessary. Some yogis in India use marijuana ritually, but teach that opiates and alcohol are harmful. There are  some Muslims who  may tolerate the use of opium, marijuana, and qat (a strongly stimulating leaf), but are very strict in their exclusion of alcohol. Furthermore, attitudes about which drugs are good or bad tend to change over time within a given culture. When tobacco first came to Europe from the New World it provoked such strong opposition that authorities in some countries tried to stamp it out by imposing the death penalty for users. But within a century its use was accepted and even encouraged in the belief that it made people work more efficiently. In this century Americans' attitudes toward alcohol have shifted from nonchalant tolerance to antagonism strong enough to result in national prohibition, and back to near-universal acceptance. The current bitter debate over marijuana is mostly a conflict between an older generation that views the drug as evil and a younger generation that finds it preferable to alcohol. Students of behavior tell us that dividing the world into good and evil is a fundamental human need. The existence of evil provokes fear and demands explanation. Why is there sickness? Why is there death? Why do crops fail? Why is there war? And, most important, how should we act to contain evil and avoid disaster? One attempt at a solution is to attribute evil to external things, and then prohibit, avoid, or try to destroy them. This is how taboos arise. People tend to create taboos about the activities and substances that are most important to them. Food, sex, and pleasure are very important, and many taboos surround them although, again, there is little agreement from culture to culture as to what is good and what is bad. Muslims and Jews eat beef but not pork; some groups in India eat pork but not beef. Homosexuality is taboo in most modern Western cultures, but has been fully accepted in the past and is still accepted today in certain parts of the world. People who adhere to taboos justify them with logical reasons. Jews like to think they do not eat pork because pigs are unclean and may have carried disease in former times. Muslims and Christians argue that homosexuality is a sin because it perverts God's intended use of sex for procreation. Actually, reasons for taboos are secondary; the basic process is the dividing of important things into good and evil - a form of magical thinking that tries to gain control over sources of fear. The reasons and justifications come later. Because psychoactive drugs can give pleasure and can change the ways people think - perceive the world, behave, and relate to each other, they invite magical thinking and taboos.

God has mercifully provided us with a myriad variety of delectable drinks; water, milk, fruit and vegetable juices, and  nectars  and natural teas. Our minds and bodies have no need of alcohol and the mind active drugs. The following is a list of mind active drugs that Muslims should avoid.


CAFFEINE: Found in coffee, tea, and Cola drinks-also in Chocolate-this drug stimulates wakefulness and awareness.  Heavy use can cause nervousness and insomnia (sleeplessness).  Long term heavy use may contribute to heart attack.


ALCOHOL: Ethyl alcohol is the active ingredient in wine, beer, and liquor.  In moderate doses, it produces relaxation, euphoria (feeling of well being). Heavy use can damage the brain, heart, and liver.  Alcoholism is a serious worldwide social problem.


NICOTINE: Found in tobacco, nicotine is a relaxant, and one of the world's most pervasive addictive drugs.  Studies have linked smoking to cancer, lung damage (cancer, chronic bronchitis and emphysema)  and heart disease and impotence in males.


MARIJUANA/HASHISH: Made from the Cannabis sativa plant, marijuana alters perception (ability to recognize objects or feelings), produces euphoria (feeling of well being), confuses sense of time.


NARCOTICS: Codeine, morphine, opium, heroin, methadone, Demerol, and others.  Narcotics are painkillers and cause a sense of euphoria and drastic alteration of perception.  All are extremely addictive.  Heavy misuse can lead to death.

BARBITURATES: Barbiturates are pharmaceuticals, which go under various trade names.  Prescribed by doctors for their sedative effects, these pills produce sleepiness, relaxation, etc. They are addictive and cause twice as many deaths from over-doses every year as heroin.  Mixing them with alcohol is a dangerous practice.


MINOR TRANQUILLIZERS:  Drugs like Valium and Librium relieve anxiety and muscle tension.  They are the world's most prescribed drugs, operating on the body much the same as barbiturates.


AMPHETAMINES: These stimulants, which go by various trade names, increase alertness and elevate moods.  Overuse can produce paranoia (mental derangement with delusions of grandeur, persecution, etc.) and increased blood pressure.  They are prescription drugs but are often obtained illegally.


COCAINE: Comes from the tropical Coca bush.  Not physically addictive, Cocaine (usually seen as a white powder) produces a physical high.  Chronic use may damage nasal membranes and produce effects similar to abuse of amphetamines.


Most inhalants are common household products that give off mind-altering chemical fumes when sniffed. These common products include paint thinner, fingernail polish remover, glues, gasoline, cigarette lighter fluid, and nitrous oxide. They also include fluorinated hydrocarbons found in aerosols, such as whipped cream, hair and paint sprays, and computer cleaners. The chemical structure of the various types of inhalants is diverse, making it difficult to generalize about the effects of inhalants. It is known, however, that the vaporous fumes can change brain chemistry and may be permanently damaging to the brain and central nervous system.

Inhalant users are also at risk for Sudden Sniffing Death (SSD), which can occur when the inhaled fumes take the place of oxygen in the lungs and central nervous system. This basically causes the inhalant user to suffocate. Inhalants can also lead to death by disrupting the normal heart rhythm, which can lead to cardiac arrest. Use of inhalants can cause hepatitis, liver failure, and muscle weakness. Certain inhalants can also cause the body to produce fewer of all types of blood cells, which may result in life-threatening aplastic anemia.

Inhalants also alter the functioning of the nervous system. Some of these effects are transient and disappear after use is discontinued. But inhalant use can also lead to serious neurological problems, some of which are irreversible. For example, frequent long-term use of certain inhalants can cause a permanent change or malfunction of nerves in the back and legs, called polyneuropathy. Inhalants can also act directly in the brain to cause a variety of neurological problems. For instance, inhalants can cause abnormalities in brain areas that are involved in movement (for example, the cerebellum) and higher cognitive function (for example, the cerebral cortex).


Hallucinogens are drugs which cause altered states of perception and feeling and which can produce flashbacks. They include natural substances, such as mescaline and psilocybin that come from plants (cactus and mushrooms), and chemically manufactured ones, such as LSD and MDMA (ecstasy). LSD is manufactured from lysergic acid, which is found in ergot, a fungus that grows on rye and other grains. MDMA is a synthetic mind-altering drug with hallucinogenic properties. Although not a true hallucinogen in the pharmacological sense, PCP causes many of the same effects as hallucinogens and so is often included with this group of drugs. Hallucinogens have powerful mind-altering effects. They can change how the brain perceives time, everyday reality, and the surrounding environment. They affect regions and structures in the brain that are responsible for coordination, thought processes, hearing, and sight. They can cause people who use them to hear voices, see images, and feel sensations that do not exist. Researchers are not certain that brain chemistry permanently changes from hallucinogen use, but some people who use them appear to develop chronic mental disorders. PCP and MDMA are both addicting; whereas LSD, psilocybin, and mescaline are not.

Research has provided many clues about how hallucinogens act in the brain to cause their powerful effects. However, because there are different types of hallucinogens and their effects are so widespread, there is still much that is unknown. The following paragraphs describe some of what is known about this diverse group of drugs.


Anabolic steroids are chemicals that are similar to the male sex hormone testosterone and are used by an increasing number of young people to enhance their muscle size. While anabolic steroids are quite successful at building muscle, they can damage many body organs, including the liver, kidneys, and heart. They may also trigger dependency in users, particularly when taken in the large doses that have been known to be used by many bodybuilders and athletes.


Methamphetamine is an addictive drug that belongs to a class of drugs known as stimulants. This class also includes cocaine, caffeine, and other drugs. Methamphetamine is made illegally with relatively inexpensive over-the-counter ingredients. Many of the ingredients that are used to produce methamphetamine, such as drain cleaner, battery acid, and antifreeze, are extremely dangerous. The rapid proliferation of "basement" laboratories for the production of methamphetamine has led to a widespread problem in many communities in the U.S.

Methamphetamine has many effects in the brain and body. Short-term effects can include increased wakefulness, increased physical activity, decreased appetite, increased respiration, hyperthermia, irritability, tremors, convulsions, and aggressiveness. Hyperthermia and convulsions can result in death. Single doses of methamphetamine have also been shown to cause damage to nerve terminals in studies with animals. Long-term effects can include addiction, stroke, violent behavior, anxiety, confusion, paranoia, auditory hallucinations, mood disturbances, and delusions. Long-term use can also cause damage to dopamine neurons that persists long after the drug has been discontinued.

Why do people use drugs? 2

People use drugs for enjoyment and fun. The "now. COM" generation is using ecstasy and speed in their pursuit for happiness, or to escape the pain and suffering of their lives – a "time-out" from the pressures they endure to conform and fit in.

There are certain risk factors that show correlation with a person’s likelihood to misuse drugs, these include:

  • Poor parenting or abuse,

  • A family’s lack of social or local attachment,

  • Family illness especially psychiatric illness,

  • Substance abuse by parents,

  • Poverty,

  • Poor support services and

  • Peer pressure.

  • The reasons that young people use drugs are complex and varied, including the alienation of some young people from society and their belief that society does not value them.

The Islamic Solution 2


The Islamic and sensible solution to the problem is to ban all drugs for recreational and social use. Critics of this 'magic bullet' approach will be in uproar, and their opposition will be immediate. Yet, if we look at the problem objectively, everyone can see the advantages and disadvantages of such a stance. Government bodies are well aware of the social and financial costs of drugs and the staggering toll on the lives of ordinary people. In response to the crisis, tobacco advertisements have been replaced by "Quit" campaigns, drivers are subject to random breath tests by police, and graphic portrayals of road carnage litter our television screens.  Every magic bullet needs a magic gun, and that gun is Islam. Not the heavy-handed, government-enforced solution that typified the attempts of the American authorities with their 'Prohibition' legislation in the 1930s - we all know that was a total failure. What is needed is a similar approach to the one adopted by the Prophet (s) and those early Muslims. Firstly, instill belief in One God firmly into peoples' hearts and minds, to make them personally aware of, and responsible for, the success or failure of their own souls. Then introduce solid and reasonable arguments and programs against consumption of drugs, coupled with step-by-step restriction of use, before completely banning them. Only then can legislation be enforced, because only then will people have the correct, natural attitude of reliance upon their Creator and abhorrence to drugs of all sorts.


The General Quranic Method 2


If we examine the nature of the Quranic method, the Meccan portion of the Glorious Quran revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (s), dealt with only one question, and that is the Unity of Allah (swt) – the Tawheed. The injunctions against intoxicants and many of the laws regulating society were revealed later. As Sayyid Qutb eloquently elaborates: "During the Meccan period, the Quran explained to man the secret of his existence and the secret of the universe surrounding him. It told him who he is and where he has come from, for what purpose and where he will go in the end. Who brought him from non-existence into being, to whom he will return, and what his final disposition will be. It also informed him concerning the nature of the things, which he can touch and see, and the things, which he can sense and conceive but which, he cannot see. Who created and administers this marvelous universe. Who alternates night and day, and Who renovates and varies things. Similarly, it told him how to relate to the Creator, to the physical world, and to other human beings."


When the first generation of Muslims truly appreciated the Unity of Allah (swt), when they understood the implications of declaring laa-ilaaha-illallaah (there is no god except Allah), they were then ready to have all their affairs governed by the divine laws of the Shari`ah. The prohibition against intoxicants was developed in three stages over the period of revelation, once it’s absolute prohibition was finalized the first generation of Muslims had the conviction to not only cease the consumption of intoxicants but also destroy every trace of them from the city of Madinah.

Allah (swt) knew that morality and a value system could only be built on Imaan. Imaan provides criteria, creates values, defines the authority from which these criteria and values are to be derived, and prescribes the reward of the one who accepts this authority and the punishment of those who deviate or oppose it.

Without the collective belief in the concept of a higher authority, all values remain unstable and morals based on that remain unstable. Faith in Allah (swt) will generate respect, honesty, righteousness and perseverance -- values which will protect our youth from the problems of drug addiction.

This solution is not simplistic. It has been successfully documented in history, and is repeatable, if people have the will and the courage to implement it. A drug-free society is absolutely possible and is the hallmark of a truly civilized and progressive world. This is a goal to which we should all strive, and it is an option that should be put fairly and squarely before the world community. Who should do this? We should, with the Help of Allah (swt)!




1.      Chocolate to Morphine: Understanding Mind Active Drugs by Andrew Weil, MD and Winifred Rosen 1983 Houghton-Mifflin Company.


2.      Zachariah Matthews, SALAM Magazine,

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