Muslims are prohibited from drinking alcohol. But why? In objectively reviewing for the ban in the Koran, one can only leave bewildered. Occasional passages that do not refer to alcohol as it is known today is interpreted as being a complete prohibition on alcohol consumption, without exception.
The Koran has a few sections that cryptically refer to alcohol. In 4:43, Muslims are forbidden to attend to prayers while intoxicated; in 2:219, intoxicants are said to contain good and evil, but the evil is greater than the good. In these two sections, the word for “intoxicated” is sukara which is derived from the word “sugar” and means drunk or intoxicated. In 5:90, “intoxicants” are called “abominations of Satan’s handiwork” intended to turn people away from God and prayer, and Muslims are therefore ordered to abstain. Here, the word is al-khamr, which is related to the verb “to ferment,” and probably refers to fermented sugar drinks. This word could be used to describe other intoxicants such as the Roman era wine.
Yet these stern words from the prophet didn’t stop the keen chemists of the early Islamic world from vigrously involving themselves in the developing alcohol. Indeed, they pioneered it! Distilling alcohol as a pure compound was first achieved by Muslim chemists in the 8th century, and like the English words algebra and alchemy, the word alcohol comes from Arabic. Persian scientists later mastered distillation, which was introduced to Europe in the 12th century by various European authors who translated and popularized the discoveries of the Muslim world.
Exactly when alcohol became banned in the Arab world and the Muslim world beyond is unclear, and it is all but impossible to find any objective history of the topic. All that is known is that Islamic scientists. But the debate lasted for many, many centuries, and the case of coffee shows an interesting example of compromise. Coffee from Ethiopia developed into a popular drink in Islam in the 15th century, but due to its intoxicating effect, it was banned in Egypt and Mecca in the 16th century for several decades. The ban, however, could not overcome the popularity of the drink and after several decades, the religious leaders of both Egypt and Mecca gave up on trying to ban the drink. Today, drinking and talking over cups of concentrated Arabic coffee is one of the most popular social activities among the Bedou of the Arabian peninsula.