The Fiqh of Ethanol in Islam

The Fiqh of Ethanol in Islam

Many of us have come across ethanol or ethyl-alcohol, or just alcohol in products. In this post, we will consider the Islamic Stance of these substances. We must first remind you that Alcohol is a very complex topic and still debated by scholars. We will present a number of views, however, our overarching view is the Hanafi position. If you want to skip the evidence and just want an answer, click here.

What is Alcohol?

Let’s first break down alcohol. Alcohol (more specifically ethanol) is the process of fermenting a food type like grapes or barley. Fermentation is the process of using bacteria or yeast to chemically convert sugar into alcohol. This is how wine and beer are made. Distillation is a process which follows fermentation; it converts a fermented substance into one with an even higher concentration of alcohol by separating water and other components. This is how Gin, Brandy, Whiskey, Rum and Vodka are made.

The other two types of alcohol are for cleaning and manufacturing, not for making drinks. For example, methanol (or methyl alcohol) is a component in fuel for cars and boats. It’s also used to manufacture antifreeze, paint remover, windshield wiper fluid, and many other products. Isopropanol (or isopropyl alcohol) is the chemical name for rubbing alcohol, which we use for cleaning and disinfecting. Both methanol and isopropanol are poisonous to humans. You can read more on What is Alcohol? here.

Islamic Ruling

The basic rule relating to alcohol is that, since it intoxicates, it is haram, whether in large quantities or small quantities. Scholars determine large to mean a regular size (if it meant lake-size, it will probably kill before intoxicating), and small refers to a drop or a small glass or small percentage of alcohol like there is in beer; you’d have to drink 4 or 5 to get intoxicated.

The ruling comes from the following verse and ahadith.

The Quran says: O you who have believed, indeed, khamr, gambling, [sacrificing on] stone alters [to other than Allah], and divining arrows are but defilement from the work of Satan, so avoid it that you may be successful.

[Maidah 5:90]

Scholars unanimously agree that intoxicants are haram, but differ on what constitutes as khamr.

In the above verse, the word khamr is generally translated as wine. Linguistically, khamr relates to the wine of grapes, but in a hadith, the Prophet ﷺ says, ‘Every intoxicant is khamr and every khamr is haram.’ [Muslim 2003]. Thus widening the scope of Khamr to all that intoxicate.

Abu Moosa said: The Prophet ﷺ sent Mu’aadh ibn Jabal and me to Yemen, and I said: O Messenger of Allah, there is a drink that is made in our land and is called al-mizr, which is made from barley, and another drink called al-bit’, which is made from honey. He said: ‘Every intoxicant is haram.’ Al-Bukhaari [4087] and Muslim [1733]. And Umar RA said ‘Khamr is whatever befogs the mind.’

This clarifies the position that Khamr is not only wine from grapes, but any substance that intoxicates (hence why some Quran translations use intoxicants for khamr in the verse).

What constitutes as Intoxication?

Ibn Qutayba  رحمه الله defines intoxication as, ‘one whose intellect has left him so he does not understand a little or much (or anything at all)’ and Ibn Nujaym  رحمه الله as, ‘one who does not know (the difference) between a man and a woman or the earth from the sky.’ Other fuqahaa have defined intoxication as ‘Disorder and confusion of the intellect accompanied by excitement and muddled speech.’

HealthLine states there are 7 stages of alcohol intoxication. The symptoms mentioned include blurred vision, dizziness, vertigo, etc. and involve impairment to the senses, emotions and the intellect. The definitions given by Ibn Qutayba and Ibn Nujaym’s fall under stage three and four. So anything that intoxicates to this extent, is classed as an intoxicant.

And if you were to have the intoxicant in a small dose, i.e. low-level intoxication or tipsy, it will still be haram, as per the hadith of Jaabir ibn ‘Abdullah where the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: ‘Whatever intoxicates in large amounts, a small amount of it is haram.’ [Abu Dawood (3681) and al-Tirmidhi (1865)]. The scholars say this means that if a lot of something will cause intoxication, and a little of it will not cause intoxication, then a lot or a little are both unlawful, this is because you may drink a little that does not cause intoxication, then you may be tempted to drink a little more and become intoxicated.

To summarise the above, although linguistically Khamr relates to alcohol derived from grapes, the hadith narrations show the term is wider than the linguistic meaning, or common meaning. It is anything that affects the senses. This would then also include marijuana and other banned drugs. And that the intoxicant does not have to intoxicate to be classed as haram.

The Shafi’, Maliki and Hanbali schools (رضی اللہ عنھم) prohibit the consumption of alcohol in all its forms based upon the above analysis.

Hanafi Position

The Hanafi Jurists have a slightly different opinion, there is one held by Abu Hanifa and Abu Yusuf and the other by Imam Muhammad (رضی اللہ عنھم).

Abu Hanifa and Abu Yusuf Opinion

Abu Hanifa and Abu Yusuf uphold that Khamr is haram to consume, but restrict its definition to the fermented juice of grapes and dates. This means alcohol derived by means of honey, barley, wheat and millet are ‘permitted’, whereas all forms of grape and date derived alcohol are impure and haram.

They summarise the position in the following three points:

(a) Linguistically, khamr is alcohol derived from grapes. This is what is prohibited by decisive, unequivocal texts of the Qu’ran and the Noble Sunnah, hence it is categorically unlawful (haram) and impure (najis). Consuming any amount is unlawful, even if without intoxication. Moreover, deeming it lawful would entail kufr.

(b) Alcohol derived from dates or raisins is also haram and impure regardless of the amount consumed. Yet this ruling is not based on decisive, unequivocal texts as is the case with grapes; its unlawfulness is rather based on legal judgment (ijtihad), and so its unlawfulness is not as severe as with grapes. Hence, deeming it lawful would not entail kufr, however, would make one a fasiq. The Prophet ﷺ said: “Intoxicants are from these two trees,” while pointing to grapevines and date-palms. [Sahih Muslim]. There is also a consensus of the companions regarding this type of alcohol.

(c) As for alcohol derived from honey, fig, wheat, barley or corn, it is haram and impure when used as an intoxicant i.e. to get drunk, in an amount that intoxicates, or if used in vain (lahw). But, if not used in any such manner, it would be permissible and pure. This ruling differs from the above since it is based on hadiths that are not decisive and unequivocal, although they are rigorously authentic (sahih).

Beer would fall under the third category as it is usually made from barley. The contemporary use of beer, however, clearly does not meet the criteria for permissibility. It is made with the intention to intoxicate and generally has a sufficient distinctive alcohol content. Beer is therefore sinful to consume and an impure substance. Synthetic Alcohol also falls under the third category.

Ibn Rushd al-Qurtubi  رحمه الله explains the Hanafi position further in his encyclopaedia of comparative Islamic Jurisprudence. He says, the Quran prohibits intoxicants because of the underlying cause of preventing ‘…the remembrance of God and breeding enmity and hatred…’ Khamr relates to grape and dates, but for all other substances like honey, barley, etc, which are not explicitly khamr, it’s the quantity that becomes prohibited, as the intoxication is found in the consumption of a substantial amount.

In Summary:

  1. Drinking grape or date-derived wine (prohibited and punishment applicable to drinking ‘even a drop’).
  2. Intoxication from non-grape intoxicants (prohibited but may not qualify for criminal punishment).

It may be useful to note, the above distinction came about as the Hanafi’s tried to lay down the punishment for drinking alcohol. They found there is a discernible difference between how alcohol from grape and alcohol from barley is stipulated and therefore cannot carry the same level of punishment.

Imam Muhammad’s opinion

Imam Muhammad’s opinion is that all alcohol is impure and haram, even in small quantities. And for the last few hundred years, this has been the (Mufta Bihi – the opinion acted upon by the community). This was largely due to the fact that most people consumed such beverages for the purpose of pleasure and not to gain strength for worship thereby the scholars resorting to outlawing any sort or level of alcoholic beverage.

Imam al-Haskafi  رحمه الله states: “Imam Muhammad considered the various beverages, such as those made from honey, fig, etc to be categorically unlawful (haram), whether it is less in quantity or more, and the Fatwa is given on his position.”

Imam Ibn Abidin  رحمه الله explains: “Fatwa is given on the view of Imam Muhammad and this is also the position held by the other three Imams (i.e. Shafi’i, Malik & Ahmad), due to the Hadith “Every intoxicant is Khamr and every intoxicant is unlawful (haram)” (recorded by Imam Muslim), and also the Hadith: “Whatever intoxicates in large quantities, then a small quantity of it is also forbidden” (recorded by Ahmad, Ibn Majah & al-Darqutni). The (Hanafi) scholars have stated that the Fatwa of prohibition given in our times is due to widespread Fitna (Radd al-Muhtar ala al-Durr al-Mukhtar, 6/454-455).

Contemporary Hanafi Scholars

As alcohol is added in many products as a carrier, many Hanafi scholars are now taking the position of Imam Abu Hanifa and Imam Abu Yusuf. They are trying to reconcile between the issue of abuse and necessity/common predicament, therefore the ruling is as follows:

The majority of scholars consider Khamr to be impure, and Khamr is made from grapes (or dates), therefore an impure substance, whether touched or drank. If Alcohol made from other substances is intended to intoxicate then it is haram and impure also, but if the intention is not to intoxicate, then it is considered permissible and pure. This may be the case where a manufacturer synthetically produces alcohol to preserve a product.

The ruling is based on that alcohol is added as an added flavouring, solvent or carrier and not an added ingredient. The following four conditions also need to be met:

  1. It is not being used to intoxicate

    So this might include perfume or mouthwash that uses synthetic alcohol. If the products use alcohol derived from grapes or dates then they are haram to use. The majority of manufacturers use synthetic alcohol.
  2. Not being used as intoxicants are used

    The purpose of intoxicants is to intoxicate. So, for example, Gin chocolate bars will be haram as their primary purpose is to provide enjoyment of chocolate with a kick on Gin. The purpose of the Gin additive is to cause some form of intoxication, albeit very low level. Whereas synthetic alcohol is not intended to intoxicate but preserve.
  3. Not being used in an amount that intoxicates

    Intoxication is relative to the person as it will depend on age, gender, weight, etc. so there is no set percentage. However scholars do say, the content of ethanol in the flavouring should not exceed 0.5%, and the content of ethanol in the end-product should not exceed 0.1%.
  4. Not being used for vain purposes

    This is where there is no reason for the alcohol, but just because.

In conclusion, if the alcohol is produced from dates or grapes then it is impure and it cannot be used at all. If it is manufactured from other sources then they may be used for as long as it does not have any intoxicating effect.

Opinion of Ibn Taymiyah

If alcohol falls into water and is completely absorbed in it, then someone drinks it, he is not regarded as drinking alcohol and the hadd punishment for drinking alcohol is not to be carried out on him because nothing of its taste, colour or odour remained. However where the essence of the alcohol remains present or its traces may be detected in the mixture, in terms of taste, colour, odour or flavour. In this case, it is haram to consume this food or drink, because of the presence in its ingredients of a percentage of alcohol that has not been fully absorbed [Al-Mustadrak ‘ala Majmoo‘ al-Fataawa (3/12)].

Most food products nowadays contain some type of flavouring – natural, artificial, or a combination of both. Many of these flavourings contain alcohol, which is used as a carrier or solvent for the flavouring. According to the above opinion, as these amounts of ethanol are so minuscule, they are diluted, thus permissible.

Summary from a stance and study by Dr Yasir Qadhi

He goes by the opinion that Khamr constitutes as anything that intoxicates, however, that not every alcohol is Khamr and not all Khamr is alcohol (intoxicator). For example, Methanol is alcohol, but it does not intoxicate, it kills, i.e. it will kill you before you will get drunk. Another way to look at this is, Orange Juice, natural fermentation occurs at a very low level and there may be alcohol, but the amount is so low, it is not haram.

Likewise, the only type of alcohol that is potentially intoxicating is ethanol or ethyl alcohol. But, even then, if the amount is so minuscule that having many drinks of it won’t get you intoxicated, then it is not haram. This can be applied to the use of vanilla extract… a person can have as much vanilla ice cream, and won’t get drunk.

But one principle regarding the minuscule amount is the purpose. In the case of Vanilla, it is used as a preservative, however, pouring a little rum on steak is used for flavour. The steak would be haram to consume, even though the alcoholic properties may have disappeared.

Position of theHalalLife

TheHalalLife provides a service to British Muslims and base opinions on the Hanafi School as it is the most prevalent school in the West. Therefore we take the opinion of the contemporary Hanafi scholars mentioned above.

‘If the alcohol is produced from dates or grapes then it is impure and it cannot be used at all. If it is manufactured from other sources then they may be used for as long as it does not have any intoxicating effect.’

Please note many scholars will refer to Hanafi texts on the rulings of Alcohol, and generally the comprehensive work by the 18th-century Islamic scholar, Ibn ‘Abidin, Radd al-Muhtar ala al-Durr al-Mukhtar. Ibn Abidin takes the opinion of Abu Hanifa and Abu Yusuf, as highlighted above, so will claim all forms of alcohol are impermissible. So you will find a different opinion depending on the level of research carried out by the scholar.


Flavourings from dates and grapes?

In the UK it is rare for flavourings to come from dates or grapes. So we would say:

Alcoholic Flavourings: They are permissible due to necessity and public predicament as they are so widely used in the food industry as well as the fact that the intention is not to intoxicate.

Alcohol Extracts: They are permissible due to necessity and public predicament as they are so widely used in the food industry as well as the fact that the intention is not to intoxicate.

Vanilla Alcohol Extracts

Vanilla extract is a solution made by macerating and percolating vanilla pods in a solution of ethanol and water. It is considered an essential ingredient in many desserts, especially baked goods like cakes, cookies, brownies, and cupcakes, as well as custards, ice creams, and puddings.

Although its primary flavour compound is vanillin, pure vanilla extract contains several hundred additional flavour compounds, which are responsible for its complex, deep flavour. In the United States, in order for a vanilla extract to be called pure vanilla extract, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires that the solution contains a minimum of 35% alcohol and 100 g of vanilla beans per litre (13.35 ounces per gallon).

If it is anything less, then it will be called vanilla flavouring, this is derived from real vanilla beans with little to no alcohol. The maximum amount of alcohol that is usually present is 2%-3%.

The third type you can buy is artificial vanilla flavour is solely made up of artificially-derived vanillin, which is frequently made from a by-product of the wood pulp industry. This does not contain alcohol so halal.

Vanilla Flavourings and Extracts: They are permissible due to necessity and public predicament as they are so widely used in the food industry as well as the fact that the intention is not to intoxicate.

Soft drinks with ethanol

Most soft drinks contain minuscule amounts of ethanol, however, this is classified as permissible because even the person with the lowest alcohol tolerance would not become intoxicated. Again public predicament comes to play.

Kombucha Tea

Kombucha tea, if made and brewed at home, it can be intoxicating. However most products on the market are sold as non-alcoholic drinks, so always ask.

White wine vinegar and Red Wine Vinegar

Made from Red or White wine however due due chemical process change it is halal.

Spirit vinegar

This is another name for vinegar made from barley and is halal.

Apple Cider Vinegar

Made from Apples, this is halal.

Malt Vinegar

Malt vinegar is made from ale and Halal.

White wine extract

No. This type of food will not be lawful to consume, as white wine extract is alcohol derived from grapes, upon the filthiness of which there is scholarly consensus. Any food in which this is added will also become filthy, and thus unlawful to ingest.

Alcohol on clothes or furniture

The scholars declare alcohol to be an impure substance if it is derived from grape or date. So one would need to wash/clean the piece of clothing. Similarly, if it was present in an area of prayer or water was contaminated with it.

Selling Alcohol

Ibn ‘Umar said: The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “Allah has cursed alcohol, the one who drinks it, the one who pours it, the one who sells it, the one who buys it, the one who squeezes (the grapes etc.), the one for whom it is squeezed, the one who carries it and the one to whom it is carried.” Sahih Abu Dawood.

The scholars are unanimous on the ruling of this hadith.

Alcohol-free beer

In Saudi Arabia, you can buy Alcohol-Free beer which in fact contains 0.05-0.1% beer. The Hanafis regard such drink as impermissible to consume as it is being used for vain purposes. The beer will not make a person drunk even after 10 bottles. But there is no purposes for such alcohol.

More reading

Alcohol boiling points:

  • Alcohol added to boiling liquid and removed from heat: 85% alcohol retained
  • Flamed Alcohol: 75% alcohol retained
  • No heat, stored overnight: 70% alcohol retained
  • Baked, 25 minutes
  • Alcohol not stirred into mixture: 45% alcohol retained

Alcohol label types

Alcohol-free beer = no more than 0.05% ABV
De-alcoholised beer = no more than 0.5% ABV
Low-alcohol beer = no more than 1.2% ABV
Alcoholic beer = contains more than 1.2% ABV

Ethanol and its Halal status in food industries by Jawad Alzeer and Khaled Abou Hadeed, 2016

Zymase is an enzyme from yeast, which is responsible for the changes of simple sugars into ethanol and carbon dioxide. The fermentation reaction, represented by the simple equation:

Simple Sugars àCH3 CH2 OH (ethanol) + CO2 (carbon dioxide)

During the process of fermentation, in the absence of oxygen, ethanol concentration is increased until it is reached about 15%, above this concentration, yeast is toxified and zymaze enzyme is inhibited and fermentation process stopped.

How ethanol works

Ethanol is completely soluble in water, when drank as beverage, the ethanol molecules are rapidly absorbed through the stomach by small intestines and bloodstream then supplied to tissues such as brain. Small amounts of alcohol act as a stimulant to many organs, but with increasing levels it begins to act as a depressant in the body and increase the risk of developing disease.

Beer: It contains between 3% and 7% of ethanol and several compounds with antioxidant properties (Ghiselli et al., 2000).

Wine: Its content of ethanol varies from 9% to 15%. Red wine has significant amounts of resveratrol, an antioxidant which is derived from the skin of grapes and seems to have anti-cancer properties (Chong et al.,2015).

Spirits: These drinks contain between 35% and 50% of ethanol, although some reach even higher values, since they are obtained by distillation (Lachenmeier et al., 2015). Spirits include whiskey, vodka, grappa, gin, and tequila, among others (Table1).

Ethanol contents in fresh fruits increase by time due to the anaerobic fermentation of their sugars (Logan & Distefano, 1998). Ethanol content for unripe and ripe hanging palm fruits, and for over-ripe fallen fruits was determined. No ethanol was detected in the pulp of unripe palm fruits, whereas about 0.6% of ethanol in the ripe palm hanging fruits and ripe fallen fruits was determined to be 0.9%, the value was increased for over ripe-fallen fruits to 4.5% (Dudley, 2004).

Any ethanol produced by anaerobic fermentation and ranging between 1 and 15% is considered to be Haram (non-Halal, Forbidden), whereas ethanol produced by natural fermentation and less than 1% is considered as preserving agent and its Halal status is allowed. Any ethanol solution higher than 15% is treated as a toxic solution but still could be used in industries, meanwhile, ethanol solution prepared by dilution from absolute or denatured ethanol is allowed for industrial used but toxic for human consumption. However, any concentration varied from 0.1 to 100% prepared with the intention to be used as a beverage drink is considered non-Halal.

Ethanol Halal status at a concentration less than 1% is allowed and called Mubah (neither forbidden nor recommended) in Islam, and essential to maintain the acidic condition and prevent the growth of harmful microbes. As drinking 4 L of 1% of alcohol to reach intoxication is practically impossible, therefore one may conclude that alcohol less than 1% should be treated as a preserving agent rather than forbidden for reasons described above.

In Islam, human deeds are judged on the bases of intentions (Niyyah), Prophet Mohammad ﷺ said

“Verily, deeds are only with intentions” (Sahih Bukhari). Therefore, any ethanol beverage or vinegar made with the intention to achieve partial or complete intoxication, it is prohibited, no matter if ethanol content is <1% or >15%.

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2 thoughts on “The Fiqh of Ethanol in Islam

  1. Assalaamulaikum

    Many fragrances and oud’s have alcohol in it. What is the fiqh behind these?

    Jazak’Allah Khayr

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