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EXPLAINER: Islam’s prohibition of alcohol and how it is enforced

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DOHA, Qatar – Just two days before the opening of the World Cup, hosts Qatar banned the sale of beer in stadiums in a sudden reversal that was criticized by some and applauded by others.

Qatari officials have long said they are eager to welcome football fans from around the world to the tournament, but that visitors should also respect their culture and traditions. Alcohol consumption, illicit in Islam, is one of the areas where the country is trying to strike a delicate balance.

Here’s a look at some of the issues related to alcohol and Muslim beliefs.

WHAT DOES THE QURAN SAY ABOUT ALCOHOL?

Drinking alcohol is considered haram or forbidden in Islam. As proof of the prohibition, Islamic scholars and Muslim religious authorities usually point to a verse in the Quran, the holy book of the Muslims, that calls intoxicants “the work of Satan” and instructs believers to avoid them. In addition, they cite sayings of the Prophet Muhammad and the negative effects that alcohol can have.

In addition to abstaining from drinking, some Muslims also pursue religious edicts on a variety of related everyday questions or dilemmas. These include whether or not to consume food mixed with alcohol; if it is considered a sin to work in a Western country in a restaurant that serves alcohol; whether perfumes with alcohol are allowed; and whether any ceremonies or events are attended where drinks are served.

MUSLIM ATTITUDES ABOUT ALCOHOL

Although alcohol prohibition is believed to be widely observed in Islam, not all Muslims abstain from drinking. Some drink, privately or in public. In a Pew Research Center survey of Muslims around the world, most respondents said drinking alcohol was morally wrong. More than half of all countries where Muslims were surveyed held this view, including more than nine in 10 in Thailand, Ghana, Malaysia, the Palestinian Territories, Indonesia, Niger and Pakistan, according to the Pew report, released in 2013. was published. and included 38,000 interviews. Yet in 11 of the 37 countries where this question was asked, at least one in 10 said drinking alcohol is morally acceptable, and in some countries significant percentages said consuming alcohol is not a moral issue, the report said.

HOW IS THE ALCOHOL BAN APPLIED?

Alcohol is available in some Islamic countries, although regulations vary widely and there can be complicated rules and restrictions on its sale or where it can be consumed. Some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, ban alcohol altogether. Drinking there can be punished with flogging, fines, imprisonment and, for foreigners, deportation. The kingdom has opened up entertainment options in recent years, leading to speculation about whether alcohol consumption exemptions could be made in the future.

Other places take a more relaxed approach, such as Dubai, a top travel destination in the United Arab Emirates known by many for its glitz and love of superlatives. Dubai has a variety of bars, nightclubs and lounges that attract many visitors and well-to-do expatriates. In recent years, the city has also increasingly relaxed laws regarding the sale of alcohol and the possession of liquor. As in some other places, the sale of alcohol is a lucrative source of tax revenue there.

Alcohol is freely sold in liquor stores in Jordan and served in bars and restaurants in Amman’s capital. It is also available in Muslim-majority Egypt, which has traditionally been popular with tourists and is home to a Christian minority. There, the young and the rich can enjoy cocktails or wines in beach clubs or bars, many with foreign names, while swaying to the music. Wine, beer and spirits can also be ordered online. Yet drinking is rejected by most; in the Pew study, 79% of Muslims in Egypt surveyed said they viewed alcohol as morally wrong.

In dry lands, some have gone to great lengths to obtain alcohol, sometimes risking arrest or worse. In Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s holiest sites, there have been reports of attempts to circumvent the ban, including selling liquor to neighboring Bahrain. Attempts to sneak booze into the kingdom over the years have included bottles of whiskey hidden in socks and beer cans disguised as Pepsi. However, some attempts end in tragedy. In 2002, 19 people in Saudi Arabia died and others were hospitalized after drinking cologne containing methanol. In Iran, some have also died of methanol poisoning after drinking poisonous homemade concoctions.

Qatar, which like Saudi Arabia follows an ultra-conservative version of Islam known as Wahhabism, has strict restrictions on the purchase and consumption of alcohol, although its sale has been allowed in hotel bars for years. Originally, beer would also be sold in stadiums and fan zones in the evening during the World Cup. That changed on Friday when it was announced that only non-alcoholic beer would be available in the stadiums, except in the luxury catering areas where champagne, wine, whiskey and other alcohol are served. The vast majority of cardholders do not have access to those areas.

The World Cup in Qatar is not the first to spark debate over whether the sale of alcohol during matches should be allowed. Before the 2014 tournament, Brazil was forced to change a law to allow the sale of alcohol in stadiums, but the same cultural issues were not at play. Brazil had banned the sale of alcohol at football matches to curb fan violence. At the time, some of those pushing for the ban to be lifted said that stadium beer sales were an important part of World Cup tradition.

The Associated Press’ coverage of religion is supported by the AP’s partnership with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

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