What is the wisdom behind the gradual prohibition of alcoholic drinks?

Details of the Question

1. Why were some things prohibited gradually while others were prohibited directly?
2. Why did Allah not punish those who drank alcohol and make them give up drinking gradually?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

Answer 1:

The habit of drinking alcohol, which has a long history, almost as old as the history of humanity, and is seen in almost all communities, was very common in the Arab community of Hejaz when the Quran was sent down; therefore, Islam used a gradual and persuasive method in the prohibition of alcoholic drinks like in several other issues and prohibited it definitely after certain stages.

In a verse that was sent down in Makkah, people are reminded that Allah gave humanity various boons and they are asked to take lessons from them: “And from the fruit of the date-palm and the vine, ye get out drink and wholesome food: behold, in this also is a sign for those who are wise.” (an-Nahl, 16/67)

Most of the scholars translate and interpret the word “sakar” in the verse as “drink or wine that causes intoxication”. They say this verse was sent down in Makkah long before the prohibition of wine; they state that the verse attracts attention to the fact that various drinks and food are obtained from various fruits rather than alcoholic drinks being halal or haram, or that this verse was later abrogated by other verses.

Some tafsir scholars claim that drinks like vinegar, grape juice and nabidh (a drink produced from raisin and dried dates, etc.) that are produced from grapes and dates  and that there is an indirect indication of the badness of drink since drink is mentioned separately from wholesome food.

The second verse regarding the issue is the following verse sent down in Madinah: “They ask thee concerning wine and gambling. Say: "In them is great sin, and some profit, for men; but the sin is greater than the profit...” (al-Baqara 2/219)

It is narrated that this verse was sent down upon the demand of some Companions, primarily Hz. Umar and Muadh b. Jabal by saying, “O Messenger of Allah! Give us a decree about wine because wine deactivates the mind and harms wealth.” It is also narrated that some Companions gave up drinking after this verse was sent down.

It is also stated that there are some profits in wine and gambling to indicate the great income obtained by purchasing wine cheaply in Damascus and selling it at a high price in Hejaz, or the temporary pleasure caused by alcoholic drinks and gambling or their apparent-imagined profit but it is emphasized that its sin and real harm are bigger.

Some tafsir scholars say this style of expression of the verse is enough for rendering wine haram but the majority says that the verse does not introduce a definite prohibition and that it mentally prepares its addressees for such a prohibition.

It is narrated that a group of Companions gave up drinking after this verse was sent down.
The third verse related to alcoholic drinks in the order of revelation is the following verse: “O ye who believe! Approach not prayers with a mind befogged, until ye can understand all that ye say...” (an-Nisa 4/43) This verse expresses the last stage before the definite prohibition.

According to a narration, the verse above was sent down when some Companions joined the congregational prayers while they were drunk and an imam misread some verses in a way that would mean the opposite; after this verse, some Companions gave up drinking completely since drunkenness was something bad that prevented them from being in the presence of Allah while others drank after the night prayer.  (Jassas, Ahkamul-Quran, III, 165-166)

It is narrated that some Companions including Hz. Umar asked the Prophet and prayed for the decree on drinking alcohol to be expressed clearly since the verse limited drinking at a certain time and did not introduce a definite prohibition, that a fight occurred between some Muhajirs and Ansar who were drunk in a feast after a verbal quarrel, that Sa‘d b. Abu Waqqas was wounded or that similar unpleasant incidents occurred among the Companions and that verses 90 and 91 of the chapter of al-Maida, which prohibited wine definitely, were sent down after those incidents. (see Abu Dawud, Ashriba, 1; Tirmidhi, Tafsirul-Quran, 6; Wahidi, Asbabun-Nuzul, p. 118; Nuwayri, Nihayatul-Arab, IV, 78-80)

Both the prohibition of alcohol and some reasons for it are mentioned in those two verses: “O ye who believe! Intoxicants and gambling, (dedication of) stones, and (divination by) arrows, are an abomination,- of Satan´s handwork: eschew such (abomination), that ye may prosper. Satan´s plan is (but) to excite enmity and hatred between you, with intoxicants and gambling, and hinder you from the remembrance of Allah, and from prayer: will ye not then abstain?” (al-Maida 5/90-91).

The method followed in the prohibition of alcohol is a good example for gradualism and the method of forming a solid ground for the decrees to be placed on related to the legislation of decrees.

This prohibition was warmly welcomed by all of the Companions since the community was prepared gradually for such a prohibition and the incidents that caused those verses to be sent down showed the harms and bad deeds that were brought about by alcohol. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) stated the following after that: “Verily Allah, the Exalted, has forbidden wine. So who hears this verse and he has anything of it with him, he should neither drink it nor sell it. “ After this instruction, the people then brought whatever they had of it in their houses and spilt on the streets of Medina; they also destroyed the containers of wine. (Muslim, Musaqat, 67)

Thus, Islam clearly prohibited the use of alcoholic drinks, which is accepted by sane people to be the root of many harms and evil deeds.

Various wisdoms behind the prohibition of alcohol and the worldly and otherworldly harms that could hit drinkers are mentioned in the hadiths of the Prophet (pbuh). The number of hadiths about the prohibition of alcohol is so high; it is strong and sound enough to be accepted by people. (Wensinck, al-Mu’jam, “ḫmr” item; Abdulwahhab Abdussalam Tawila, p. 50-57)

Answer 2:

Tadrij (gradualism) is a term meaning the imposition of shari’ah decrees in stages.

The word tadrij, which is derived from the word darajah, lexically means “making somebody approach something and be familiar with something in a gradual way”. It means the imposition of decrees by divine will as a method of legislation in stages, not as a whole and directly, by taking into consideration the humane and social phenomena.

This method, which is used in the imposition of some decrees in the Book and the Sunnah, is called tadrij when the legislative will is considered and is called tadarruj when the quality of the legislative activity is considered.

It is seen that four kinds of tadrij methods are used when decrees are imposed in the Book and the Sunnah.

The first one is the introduction of the decrees in the from of general and universal (abstract) principles first and the arrangement of the detailed and specific (concrete) parts later. The imposition of decrees in this way can be called “ijmal-tafsil (brevity-detail) method”. The decrees about deeds introduced in the period of Makkah are generally universal and abstract. Their transformation into practicable details took place in the period of Madinah.  

For instance, the prohibition of killing a person unjustly, oppression, injustice, wronging people, deceiving people while measuring and weighing, causing mischief on earth, the order of treating people justly, doing good deeds, solidarity, charity, forgiving and protecting orphans are among them.

The ethical stance that the Muslim community assumed with this method formed the ground of legitimacy for the legal arrangements to be done in the period of Madinah and enabled them to be put into practice without any problems.

According to Shatibi, every arrangement that was made in the period of Madinah could be included in a general and abstract decree in the period of Makkah. All of the general and abstract decrees of the period of Madinah are based on the five principles classified as the protection of the religion, life, mind, wealth and future generations. (al-Muwafaqat, III, 41-45, 95-96)

The second method is delaying the decrees until a social need arises or the social structure becomes suitable. It can be called “gradual method in terms of time”.

The great majority of Islamic jurists accept that the introduction of the decrees could be delayed until the time when the need for an arrangement arose and that it actually took place. As a matter of fact, there are many narrations explaining the reason for the imposition of some decrees by the Quran and the reason for the introduction of some decrees by the Sunnah. It is known that when a decree is imposed based on a certain reason, it becomes easier to understand and it increases its influence in the social life.

The imposition some decrees were delayed until the social structure became mature enough to accept the decree determined by the divine will as it is seen in the example of the delaying the prohibition of mut’a marriage until the year when Makkah was conquered (8 H/630 AD). (Muslim, Nikaḥ, 11-32)

The third method in tajrid is the imposition of some decrees temporarily. The decree is annulled after it reaches its aim.

This method, which can be called “the method of temporary decree” is directly connected with naskh (abrogation). For, the annulment of temporary decrees imposed in order to arrange social transition periods are a kind of naskh. For instance, the order to make a bequest to parents and relatives (al-Baqara 2/180) was abrogated by the verse that arranges the shares of inheritance (an-Nisa 4/11-12). Hz. Prophet stated that no bequest would be left to the inheritors through a will after that. (Bukhari, Wasaya, 6; Abu Dawud, Wasaya, 6; Shafii, p. 137-145)

The fourth method used in tadrij is the imposition of decrees related to the same issue based on the degree of responsibility in stages. This can be called “the method of tadrij within decree”.

It is seen that this method is used in two ways.

The first one and the most common one is the method of increasing the responsibility from easy to difficult and from less to more. Each stage is like a sociopsychical preparation for the next stage.

For instance, five daily prayers were rendered fard within a certain process and in two stages. First, two daily prayers (the morning prayer and the evening prayer) were rendered fard; then, five daily prayers were ordered to be performed.

The prohibition of alcohol is like that too.

It is stated in the first stage in the Quran that Muslims obtain drink and wholesome food from dates and grapes; drink is mentioned separately and is not regarded as wholesome food. (an-Nahl 16/67)

In the second stage, it is stated that there are great sins and some profits in alcoholic drink and that its sins are more than its benefits. (al-Baqara 2/219)

In the third stage, the Muslims were ordered not to approach prayer when they were drunk; thus, drinking alcohol was restricted. (an-Nisa 4/43)

In the last stage, drinking alcohol was absolutely forbidden. (al-Maida 5/90-91)

Arrangements related to war form an example of the method of tadrij. (The order of the revelation of the verses regarding the issue is as follows: al-Hijr 15/94; al-An‘am 6/106; an-Nahl 16/125; al-Ankabut 29/46; al-Hajj, 22/39; al-Baqara 2/190; at-Tawba 9/5; al-Anfal 8/39; al-Baqara 2/244)

The method from difficult to easy is rarely seen in tadrij within decree. The relief in the decree about tahajjud prayer is an example of this kind of tadrij. (al-Muzzammil 73/1-4, 20)

The method of tadrij within decree is connected with naskh. Every new decree abrogates the decree in the previous stage and the last decree informs people about the last arrangement; it becomes impossible to apply the decrees imposed in the previous stages.

The classical fiqh doctrine states that the period when tadrij method is valid is limited with the process of the Prophet’s conveying the message of Islam.  

However, the transition of the communities from the traditional structure into the modern structure brought about a problem of practicability related to the issues of bodily penalties, the witnessing by women, division of inheritance and slavery, and even a problem of defensibility in terms of the values considered through them.

Therefore, acting upon Hz. Umar’s abandoning the forms of some decrees originating from the Book and the Sunnah and making some different arrangements instead of them, some researchers of the modern era regard tadrij as a method of ijtihad that takes into consideration the circumstances of each community, that is continuous and that is based on the principle of development/evolution, not as limited with the process of the Prophet’s conveying the message of Islam. (see DİA, Tedric item)

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