The Forbidden Sale and Consumption of Wine In The Muslim World

Islam has forbidden the use of alcohol for Muslims. It is considered sinful and there are strict prohibitions about it in the Koran. Its sin is “far greater” than its benefits, according to one of the verses of the Muslim’s Holy Book. But as one Arabic translator explains, “It cannot be denied, that many Muslims do have a taste for it.” Muslims living in foreign countries, often get into the habit of drinking because wine is available easily in the West. But when they come back to their own countries, they have to devise numerous ways to procure wine.

Depending on the country

In Pakistan, it has always been easy for the affluent and the influential to obtain permits for buying liquor. It is the “game of the rich” as said by many. According to Aarif Ahmed, a noted translator with an Atlanta Translation services company in Afghanistan, “During the Musharraf regime, it was much easier for the Pakistani Muslims to get liquor permits for buying and selling it.” It all depends on whether you have the right connections or not. In fact, a famous television actress, renowned for her association with the former Army General, was caught at the airport with two bottles of imported wine. No action was taken against her as she intimidated the custom officers on the airport. A substantial amount as bribe and the right “connections” can get one a liquor permit in Pakistan, which is officially allowed to be issued to only the Non-Muslim community. People drink behind closed doors and at late night parties arranged in private bungalows, but it is done discreetly. According to Ahmed, “I once visited a Parsi neighbor of mine, who made delicious home brewed wine and also sold it to people.” In villages, people often purchase homemade wine at cheaper rates but it often results in deaths and severe illness. Liquor is often sold in bottles of “cough syrup” unnoticed by the authorities. If they do notice it, oiling their palms a little can avoid further confrontations with the police.

As reported by Hurriyet Daily News, Morocco has the largest liquor industry in the Muslim World, earning millions in sales tax. It has the right climate for producing the best quality wine. Almost all types of alcoholic drinks are produced in Morocco, from beer to whisky, vodka, tequila, brandy etc. According to the deputy general manager of Morocco’s largest wine making company Celliers de Meknes, Morocco is very liberal as far as the consumption of wine is concerned. Drinking in Morocco is everybody’s “personal choice”. Considering that Morocco is the biggest wine market among the Muslim countries, this line of thinking is quite understandable. Liquor is sold in the grocery sections of many stores, and also in bars or pubs run by Non-Muslim Moroccans or foreigners. Before the onset of Ramadan, grocery stores start sealing their liquor sections. They only sell liquor to Non-Muslims during Ramadan. Other than these religious holidays, liquor is sold without any ethnic discretion and even to the Moroccan Muslims.

However, translators in Saudi Arabia claim that in their country, anyone Muslim caught drinking by authorities will be sentenced to jail and can have other serious consequences, such as being fired from your job. But it doesn’t mean that Arab Muslims don’t drink. Many Arabs have homemade wine stocked in their cabinets. There are bars in some of the larger cities like Riyadh.  Further, amongst Saudis, you would find many admirers of wine. But if you are caught by the police with wine in your possession, then brace yourself for a few months’ prison. It is considered unforgivable and being discreet with consuming wine is the best bet.

In the UAE, things are a little different and one can find all brands of imported liquor in the licensed hotels and restaurants because of the stream of tourists for whom UAE is a center of attraction. But for Muslims, the laws are strict and the wine addicted natives are always very careful about where they are drinking. Drinking in public is unacceptable for Muslims and can result in a trip to prison.

The general perception of a foreigner, about Muslims, is that they never drink as their religion forbids the use of liquor. Looking closely, one finds many Muslims procuring it secretly. In fact, the religious constraints, make the idea of consuming wine close to an adventure.

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