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Customs and Culture >
What is Islam's attitude toward alcohol and pork?

Both alcohol and pork are forbidden in Islam. Islamic law strictly prohibits the consumption, sale, and purchase of alcohol by Muslims, although in rare cases its use is permitted for medicinal purposes. The prohibition of the consumption of alcohol is based upon Quran 5:90–91, which states, “O you who believe! Intoxicants and gambling, dedication of stones, and divination by arrows are an abomination, among the works of Satan. Abstain from such work so that you may prosper. Satan's plan is to stir up enmity and hatred between you, with intoxicants and gambling, and hinder you from the remembrance of God, and from prayer. Will you not then abstain?” The specific intoxicant mentioned in this passage is date wine. Although a few jurists have argued that, according to a literal interpretation, only date wine is therefore forbidden, the overwhelming majority have interpreted this passage as a broad prohibition against any substance that produces an altered state of mind, including alcohol and narcotics.

Many countries that have implemented the Shariah (Islamic law) have banned alcohol, usually for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Examples include Iran, Pakistan, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Libya, and portions of Malaysia. Some countries with secular regimes, such as Turkey and Egypt, have instituted strict laws prohibiting narcotics but have allowed controlled importation, sale, and consumption of alcoholic beverages. Islamist organizations typically support a complete ban on alcohol.

In the United States and Europe, Muslim communities today debate and differ about whether Muslims should work in places that sell, consume, or produce alcohol, including vineyards, restaurants, and grocery stores. A similar concern is whether it is permissible for a Muslim to accept an invitation to dinner knowing that alcohol may or will be served as part of the meal, whether at a restaurant or in the privacy of someone's home.

The dietary prohibition against pork also comes from the Quran. Quran 5:3 states, “You are forbidden to eat carrion, blood, and the flesh of swine, as well as whatever is slaughtered in the name of any one other than God.” Quran 6:145 confirms this prohibition. Further, some Muslims believe that because the pig is an animal known to carry germs and diseases, particularly trichinosis, the consumption of pork products is unhealthy and unhygienic, in addition to being prohibited by the Quran. Physical contact with pork or pork products is believed to render a person or object impure, although washing or removing the offending substance can remove this impurity.

American Muslims generally respect the prohibition of pork and pork products. Just as with alcohol, some Muslims are reluctant to accept dinner invitations to non-Muslim homes for fear of unknowingly being served a pork product. The widespread use of pork products and by-products by American food manufacturers creates difficulties for American Muslims seeking to avoid pork. Pork lard is commonly used in the United States as shortening, so it may be concealed in seemingly harmless food items like cookies, and potato chips may be fried in it. Some American Muslims read every label carefully to verify that no pork products have been used; others believe that such detailed attention is unnecessary. This raises the further question of the permissibility of eating in restaurants, particularly fast-food restaurants that fry their foods, because the consumer does not know what oils and fats are used for frying and other cooking. Some mosques and Islamic centers circulate lists of specific products known to contain either pork or alcohol (even mustard, because some mustards are made with white wine), so that their faith communities can avoid them.

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