Wine and the nectar of the beloved’s mouth entail no sin or crime
Except for heretics who have swerved from our (rightful) creed.
— Ibn Rāfi’ Ra’sah (early Islamic poet; quoted in J. A. Abu-Haidar, “The Muwashshahāt and the Kharjas Tell their Own Story,” p. 57; Al-Qantara 26.1 (2005): 43-98)
Avicenna was fond of wine, and, on being reproached for his defiance of the Koran, replied: “Wine is forbidden because it excites quarrels and bad passions, but I, being preserved from excesses by my philosophy, drink wine to sharpen my wits.”
— George Henry Lewes, The History of Philosophy From Thales to Comte, vol. 2 (1867)
The Mahommedan and Christian Arabs of Asyut get on admirably together. They smile at the mistaken (as they suppose) opinions of each other; and the educated Arab smiles at both. But there is no intolerance, no ill-will, no anathematising. I remember offering a glass of wine to an Arab at Tunis, chiefly with the mischievous object of seeing how he would refuse it. Quaffing it off, to my surprise, he drank my health. “I thought,” said I, “that wine was forbidden by your religion?” “Drunkenness, not drink, is what is meant,” he replied with a smile.
— Wordsworth Donisthorpe [yes, that Wordsworth Donisthorpe], Down the Stream of Civilization (1898)
Some years ago, I attended a dinner at Princeton University where I witnessed a revealing exchange between an eminent European philosopher who was visiting from Cambridge, and a Muslim scholar who was seated next to him. The Muslim colleague was indulging in a glass of wine. Evidently troubled by this, the distinguished don eventually asked his dining companion if he might be so bold as to venture a personal question. “Do you consider yourself a Muslim?” “Yes,” came the reply. “How come, then, you are drinking wine?” The Muslim colleague smiled gently. “My family have been Muslims for a thousand years,” he said, “during which time we have always been drinking wine.” An expression of distress appeared on the learned logician’s pale countenance, prompting the further clarification: “You see, we are Muslim wine-drinkers.”
— Shahab Ahmed, What Is Islam? The Importance of Being Islamic (2015)
That of which a large amount intoxicates, a small amount is forbidden.
— The Prophet Muhammad, Hadith, quoted in Ahmed, op. cit.
Reference to an ‘Islamic wine goblet’ makes about as much sense as talk of ‘Christian adultery.’
— Thomas Bauer, quoted in Ahmed, op. cit.
Drink Wine and Look at the Moon
I recently finished reading What Is Islam? (available on Amazon here, and free to read online or download here) by the late Shahab Ahmed (note: not to be confused with the Australian murderer of the same name!). I wasn’t convinced by all of it, or by the author’s slightly postmodern frame of reference (while Ahmed pokes fun, in a footnote, at another scholar’s prose style as “unnecessarily complicated and none-too-transparent,” I fear the same charge could be brought against much of Ahmed’s own book too), but I think it’s nonetheless a terrific book that makes a persuasive case, backed up by a wealth of historical detail, for, at the very least, the following important claims: