Intoxicants were forbidden in the Qur’an through several separate verses revealed at different times over a period of years. At first, it was forbidden for Muslims to attend to prayers while intoxicated (4:43). Then a later verse was revealed which said that alcohol contains some good and some evil, but the evil is greater than the good (2:219). This was the next step in turning people away from consumption of it. Finally, “intoxicants and games of chance” were called “abominations of Satan’s handiwork,” intended to turn people away from God and forget about prayer, and Muslims were ordered to abstain (5:90-91). (Note – the Qur’an is not arranged chronologically, so later verses of the book were not necessarily revealed after earlier verses.)In the first verse cited above, the word for “intoxicated” is sukara
which is derived from the word “sugar” and means drunk or intoxicated. That verse doesn’t mention the drink which makes one so. In the next verses cited, the word which is often translated as “wine” or “intoxicants” is al-khamr
, which is related to the verb “to ferment.” This word could be used to describe other intoxicants such as beer, although wine is the most common understanding of the word.
Muslims interpret these verses in total to forbid any intoxicating substance — whether it be wine, beer, gin, whiskey, or whatever. The result is the same, and the Qur’an outlines that it is the intoxication, which makes one forgetful of God and prayer, which is harmful. Over the years, the list of intoxicating substances has come to include more modern street drugs and the like.
The Prophet Muhammad also instructed his followers, at the time, to avoid any intoxicating substances — (paraphrased) “if it intoxicates in a large amount, it is forbidden even in a small amount.” For this reason, most observant Muslims avoid alcohol in any form, even small amounts that are sometimes used in cooking.