The Conundrum of Using Alcohol as a Medicine

Islam clearly bans all substances which induce a state of stupor in which the subject in unable to think clearly. Moreover, intoxicants are medically proven to cause harm to the human body when used explicitly for that purpose. Among all these substances, alcohol is easily the most controversial.  Alcoholic beverages are intoxicants by nature, which renders a person unable to think and act clearly. As such, they are considered “haram” in Islam. As narrated by The Holy Prophet (SAW):

“O you who believe! Intoxicants, and gambling, and Al‑Ansaab, and Al‑Azlaam are an abomination of Shaytaan’s handiwork. So avoid (strictly all) that (abomination) in order that you may be successful” (al-Maa’idah 5:90).

What is Alcohol?

Alcohol normally refers to ethanol having chemical formula of CnH2n+1O and are primarily found in alcoholic beverages. They are the primary component of alcoholic beverages and measured in alcoholic proof. Mostly a byproduct of fermentation from alcoholic beverages made for consumption, it is strictly banned in Islam owing to its nature.

Alcohol is not just limited beverages; it is also briefly produced during the bread making process. The yeast produces alcohol as a byproduct of fermentation by breaking down sugar and starch. The alcohol, however, is evaporated as a result of high temperatures of the oven. Commercial brewing uses other methods which preserve the alcohol content.

Islam considers alcohol haram and forbids its followers from consuming it for a variety of reasons. It causes neural degeneration by damaging the nervous system. It significantly increases chances of birth defects in pregnant women. The liver is responsible for breaking down alcohol into non-toxic compounds from an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase.

Islamic Perspective Against Alcohol

As far as Islamic jurisdiction goes, alcohol is banned. As The Holy Prophet (SAW) quotes, “Every intoxicant is Khamr, and every intoxicant is Haram (prohibited)” (Sahih Al-Bukhari and Muslim). In another hadith, The Holy Prophet (SAW) stated “Whoever drinks wine in this world and does not repent from that, he will be deprived of it in the Hereafter” (Al-Bukhaari (5147) and Muslim (3736)).

Islamic Perspective In Favor of Medicinal Alcohol

With the advent of modern technology, it has become possible to produce distilled, pure alcohol. It does not contain trace amounts of any other beverage and is manufactured for solely medicinal purposes. Alcoholic beverages are made with the sole intent of intoxication, whereas distilled alcohol is produced for producing medicine. According to Islamic scholars and fatwas, this makes it eligible for consumption, if only on medicinal grounds though. Moreover, the quantity must be less than that to cause intoxication. Lastly, it must be integral to the medicinal compound for delivering the desired effect. In case an alternative is not available, a Muslim is allowed to use these alternatives.

In short, the requirements for consuming alcohol in medicine can be summed as follows:

  • There is no other alternate medicine available.
  • It is absolutely necessary to consume that medicine.
  • Only the prescribed amount is ingested by the patient.
  • It should be medically sanctioned to be safe for consumption and be declared halal by fatwas.

Quranic Evidence

Let us analyze the following Quranic ayat in terms of ijma and qiyas to derive a logical conclusion:

“He has only forbidden to you dead animals, blood, the flesh of swine, and that which has been dedicated to other than Allah . But whoever is forced [by necessity], neither desiring [it] nor transgressing [its limit], there is no sin upon him. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful” (The Holy Quran, Surah Al-Nahl, Chapter 16, Verse 115).

Allah is all-knowing and ever merciful. He understands a Muslim’s situation better than anyone else and if a necessity does arise, he allows them to save their lives by allowing even haram consumables. The human life is something which cannot be replaced, as each is unique and once lost, cannot be returned. The Islamic laws value human lives in the same manner because it is something bestowed by Allah. As such, it is imperative that we protect it at all costs. Allah permits a true believer to use alcohol with restriction if absolutely necessary, as proven by this Quranic ayat.