21: The Prohibition of Praying while Intoxicated

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21: The Prohibition of Praying while Intoxicated

Allah Almighty says (what can be translated as): "O you who have believed, do not approach prayer while you are intoxicated until you know what you are saying or in a state of janaba, except those passing through [a place of prayer], until you have washed [your whole body]. And if you are ill or on a journey or one of you comes from the place of relieving himself or you have contacted women and find no water, then seek clean earth and wipe over your faces and your hands [with it]. Indeed, Allah is ever Pardoning and Forgiving." (An-Nisa': 43)

Almighty Allah prohibits His servants from praying while intoxicated because in that case the person who prays would not know what he says, does or reads (This was before the total prohibition of drinking alcohol).

Almighty Allah prohibits the person who is in a state of janaba (a state of major ritual impurity) from entering the mosque unless he is just passing from a door to another, without staying in the mosque. The doors of al-Ansar's houses were inside the mosque. Sometimes they would be in state of janaba and they do not have water, so they had to pass through the mosque to leave their houses. The prohibition of staying in the mosque applies to the junub (a person having janaba) and menstruating women until they perform ghusl (purifactory bath) or tayammum (dry ablution).

If you were suffering from illness that might worsen due to using water, if you were traveling, relieved yourselves or slept with your spouses and you could not find water to perform ghusl or wudu (ablution) then perform tayammum with the pure clean earth. Wipe over your faces and your hands with it as tayammum substitutes for wudu and ghusl. Because of His pardon and forgiveness, Almighty Allah licenses tayammum for you in the cases mentioned above. He (SWT) permits you to pray if you do not find water after doing tayammum to make things easier for you. Tayammum is a license for you to use, it is performed with striking or hitting lightly the clean earth twice with both palms together. Then, wiping one's face after the first hit, then wiping one's arms after the second hit on earth.

It is an installment in the series of the Lord's education of the Muslim community. This community was rescued from the pit of Jahiliah (the ignorant practices of the Pre-Islamic era) by the Islamic method. Drinking alcohol was one of the most conventional established traditions in the Jahiliah society. It was a practice that defined that society the most. It is almost the most defining practice of any Jahiliah society whether in the modern or old times. Alcohol was a defining practice of the Roman society during the climax of its Jahiliah. This applies to the Persian society too. Today, it is also a social practice that defines the European and American societies at the climax of Jahiliah. It also applies to the African Jahiliah society that has been retarded since the old times.

In Sweden, which is one the most advanced modern Jahiliah nations, each family used to prepare their own alcohol in the first half of the last century. The average consumption of alcohol per person was about 20 liters. The government realized the danger of such situation because of addiction. So, the Swedish government monopolized the production of alcohol to control the individual's consumption. They banned drinking alcohol in the public shops and places. They lifted these restrictions just a few years ago. They permit dirking alcohol in restaurants provided that the customers eat food while they are drinking. Then, dirking alcohol was permitted in limited number of shops until midnight. Then, they permitted drinking only wine and beer, yet regardless of these measures alcohol addiction is increasing among the teenagers..!

As for the United States, the American government tried to end this social practice by enacting a law in 1919 to ban selling the alcoholic beverages. The law was called the "Dry Law" as a kind of irony because it bans "irrigation" with alcohol. This law was enforced for fourteen years. Yet, the American government cancelled it in 1933. They used all means of publishing, broadcasting, cinema and lectures to promote for the alcohol ban. It is estimated that USA spent more than 60 million dollars on the publicity against alcohol. It published books and brochures that included about 10 billions of pages. The total cost of what USA has to spend to apply the prohibition law is not less than 250 million pounds. USA executed 300 and imprisoned 532335 persons during the time the law was enforced. The financial penalties paid because of this law reached 16 million pounds and the properties confiscated by the government are estimated by 400 million dollars or 4 billion pounds. After all those expenses and losses, the government has to cancel the law due to its failure. As for Islam, it eliminated this deep-rooted practice in the Jahiliah society by revealing a few verses of the Qur'an. This is the difference between curing the human spirit and the human society by the method of Allah and the methods of Jahiliah whether during the old times or modern ones. In order to realize the deep penetration of this social practice in the Jahiliah society, we have to return back to the Pre-Islamic poetry. We will find that alcohol is an essential theme in the Jahiliah literature. It was an essential element of life back then to the point that the word "trading" became the synonym of selling alcohol in specific.

There are thousands of lines describing the assemblies and gatherings of drinking in the Jahiliah poetry which is distinguished by praising alcohol such as the poems by Amr ibn Qami'ah, Imra'ou al-Qaiss, Torfa ibn al-Abd, al-'Ashaa, al-Mankhal al-Yashkari and many others.

The poet Labied said in one of his poems:

I became her playful companion and the flag of the alcohol trader… 

I come to him at night to buy alcohol when they stop serving it.


There are countless examples in the Pre-Islamic poetry about alcohol and the narrations of events that happened during the stages of prohibiting alcohol in the Muslim society. The main characters in those incidents were Omar, Ali, Hamzah, Abdul Rahman ibn Awf in addition to many other men. This shows how deeply rooted this practice was in the Pre-Islamic society which is quite clear in the long narration by Omar ibn al-Khatab who said "I used to drink alcohol in Jahiliah, I said to myself, I will go to the vintner to drink." Omar continued to drink in Islam until this verse was revealed: "They ask you about wine and gambling. Say, 'In them is great sin and [yet, some] benefit for people. But their sin is greater than their benefit.'" (Al-Baqarah: 219) So, Omar said "O Allah! Give us a clear ruling regarding alcohol!'' He continued to drink then Allah Almighty sent down the verse in Surat an-Nisa': "O you who have believed, do not approach prayer while you are intoxicated until you know what you are saying." (an-Nisa': 43) Omar kept praying: "O Allah! Give us a clear ruling regarding alcohol!'' Then, the clear prohibition of alcohol was revealed in the verse: "O you who have believed, indeed, intoxicants, 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. Satan only wants to cause between you animosity and hatred through intoxicants and gambling and to avert you from the remembrance of Allah and from prayer. So will you not desist?" (al-Mai'dah: 90-91) So upon hearing this verse Omar ibn a-Khatab said: "We desisted, we desisted" and he stopped drinking.

As for the reason of the revelation of this verse: "O you who have believed, do not approach prayer while you are intoxicated until you know what you are saying...", there are two narrations in that regard in which Ali and Abdul Rahman ibn Awf from the Muhajirin (the Muslim immigrants from Makkah) and Saad ibn Mu'adh from al-Ansar (the Muslims of Medina) were present.

Narrated Ibn Abi Hatem from Younes ibn Habib from Abu Dawoud from Mus'ab ibn Saad from Saad who said: "There were four Ayat revealed about alcohol…'' He then said, "A man from al-Ansar made some food and invited us. We drank alcohol before it was prohibited and became intoxicated, and thus started to boast about our status. Al-Ansar said that they were better, while Quraysh (the Muhajirin) said that they were better. So a man from the al-Ansar took a bone and struck Saad's nose with it and made a flesh wound on it. Ever since that happened, Saad's nose had a scar from that wound." This was before the prohibition of alcohol, so the verse "O you who have believed, do not approach prayer while you are intoxicated until you know what you are saying..."was revealed. The narration is mentioned by Imam Muslim from Shu'bah.

Narrated Ibn Abi Hatim from Muhammad ibn Ammar from Abdul Rahman ibn Abdullah al-Dashtaki Abu Ja'far from Ata' ibn al-Sa'ib from Abi Abdul Rahman al-Salmi who said: "Abdul Rahman ibn awf made some food to which he invited us and served some alcohol to drink. When we became intoxicated, and the time for prayer came, they asked someone to lead us in prayer. He recited "Say, O disbelievers! I do not worship that which you worship, but we worship that which you worship…" (Refer to the correct wording of the Surat al-Qafrun: 109)" Allah then revealed, "O you who have believed, do not approach prayer while you are intoxicated until you know what you are saying."

We do not need further examples or narrations to prove the profoundness of the social practice of drinking alcohol in the Pre-Islamic society. Alcohol and gambling were the two main interweaved activities in the traditions of that society.

What did the heavenly method do to end this deeply rooted social practice? What did it achieve to battle with this lesion with which no society has ever become serious, righteous, sober or straightforward? What did the heavenly method do to stand against this old primary habit that was attached with the social traditions along with the economic interests? The heavenly method treated all these points with a few verses in the Qur'an. It was dealt with through several statements with patience and lenience. It won the battle without war, sacrifices or bloodshed. Actually, what were shed were the vessels, glasses and sips of alcohol at the moment the believers heard the verse of alcohol prohibition. So, they spit it from their mouths and abstained. They did not even drink those sips, as it will be clarified later.

In Makkah where Islam did not have a state or authority before the immigration to Medina, there was no authority except that of the Qru'an. There was a quick hint in a Qur'anic verse that was revealed in Makkah that shows the view of Islam concerning alcohol. You would realize it in the context of the verse which is just a hint. Almighty Allah says: "And from the fruits of the palm trees and grapevines you take intoxicant and good provision. Indeed in that is a sign for a people who reason." (al-Nahl: 67) He (SWT) mentions 'intoxicant' which is the alcohol they produced from the fruits of palm trees and grapevines. On the other hand, Allah mentions 'good provision'. This indicates that there is a contradiction between the two, so 'intoxicant' is one thing and 'good provision' is another. It was just a distant hint for the newborn Muslim conscience.

Yet, the habit of drinking, or in a more accurate wording, the tradition of drinking was more profound than a mere individual custom. It was a social tradition based on economic roots. It was too established to be affected with this quick distant hint.

In Medina, where Islam established a state and it had authority, it did not resort to prohibiting alcohol with the power of the state and the word of authority. It rather restored to the authority of the Qur'an.

Hence, the method started its work with lenience and ease, in addition to the experience of the human spirit and consideration of the social circumstances.

It started with the verse in Surat al-Baqarah in response to questions that implies the dawn of awakening for the Muslim conscience against alcohol and gambling: "They ask you about wine and gambling. Say, 'In them is great sin and [yet, some] benefit for people. But their sin is greater than their benefit.'" (al-Baqarah: 219) This was the first beat with a heard voice for the Islamic feeling, conscience and logic of jurisprudence. The ruling of permission, prohibition or undesirability is based on the prevalence of the sin or the goodness in any matter. If the sin of alcohol and gambling is more than their benefits, then this is a crossroad for Muslims.

Yet, the issue is deeper than this. This is why; Omar ibn al-Khatab (may Allah be pleased with him) said "O Allah! Give us a clear ruling regarding alcohol!''. This supplication from Omar shows how deeply rooted the tradition of drinking alcohol in the spirit of the Arab was before Islam.

Then, other incidents took place such as the ones we narrated above so the verse: "O you who have believed, do not approach prayer while you are intoxicated until you know what you are saying…" was revealed. The insightful method continued to work further towards the prohibition of alcohol…

This was the intermediate stage which lies between the repulsion against alcohol because its sin is more than its benefit and the total prohibition because it is defilement from the work of Satan. The function of this intermediate stage was to "stop the habit of drinking" or "put an end to the addiction" by the prohibition of drinking near the prayer times. The times of praying are distributed all over the daytime; the intervals between them are short and not enough for drinking in a way that would satisfy addicts. Also, the sobriety from the heavy drinking which would take time so that they know what they are saying!! In addition, dirking had times in the mornings and evenings, between those times there are the prayers times. At this point, the Muslim conscience has to choose between the duty of performing the prayers and the enjoyment of drinking. This conscience reached the level of taking prayers as the pillar of life.

Yet, Omar ibn al-Khatab the great companion supplicated to Allah saying: "O Allah! Give us a clear ruling regarding alcohol!''

Then the time passed, incidents happened and the proper time came for the decisive ruling according to the order of the heavenly method.

Two verses were revealed in al-Ma'idah: "O you who have believed, indeed, intoxicants, 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. Satan only wants to cause between you animosity and hatred through intoxicants and gambling and to avert you from the remembrance of Allah and from prayer. So will you not desist?" (al-Mai'dah: 90-91) So, all Muslims desisted and stopped drinking. Alcohol vessels were spilled and their bottles were broken everywhere when they heard the verse. Those who had some alcohol in their mouths did not swallow them and they spit them all when they heard the ruling even those who were drinking at the moment of the full prohibition.

The Qur'an won and the method succeeded, its authority was established voluntarily without using force!!

Yet, how did this happen? How did this miracle occur that has no match in the history of mankind? There is no equivalent to this miracle in the history of legislations, laws and governmental procedures everywhere and every time.

The miracle took place because the heavenly method dealt with the human spirit in a certain way; it led the spirit with authority, fear and awareness that Allah is The All-Knowing. The spirit complied because of the presence of Allah Almighty; it is a presence that the spirit does not ignore even for one moment of time. The heavenly method dealt with the spirit as a whole, it treated the human disposition according to the way of the Creator of dispositions.

The heavenly method filled the emptiness of the spirit with great concerns which leaves no room for any emptiness that might be filled with the pleasure of alcohol, fantasies of drunkenness and what accompanies that such as empty boastings and vanity. It filled the spirit with concerns such as transferring this lost deluded humanity from the arrogance of Jahiliah, the blaze of its desert, the dimness of its darkness, the humiliation of its slavery and from its suffocating narrowness to the magnificent gardens of Islam, the refreshing shading, illuminative light, kind freedom and the vastness that encompasses the present life and the hereafter.

The heavenly method filled the void in the spirit with faith which is a dewy satisfying pleasant and beautiful feeling. So, it does not need the ecstasy of alcohol to fly in false and untrue fantasies. The human spirit is now satisfied with the radiant faith that takes it up to the high illuminative dominion where it lives near the majesty and light of Allah Almighty. It tastes the sweetness of this nearness which annuls any taste or ecstasy of alcohol; it defeats its delusion and headache and declines its dirtiness and subsidence at the end.

The heavenly method of Islam saved the natural disposition from the heaps of Jahiliah. It opened the spirit with its key for which it only opens to walk through the ribs, depths, ways and roads to spread the light, life, purity, wakefulness, zeal, speediness towards great goodness. It led the spirit to work and succession on earth as it should be according to the decision of The All-Knowing and The Fully-Aware and according to His pledge, condition, guidance and light.

Alcohol is like gambling and the rest of obsessive amusements such as obsession of playing and watching sports, obsession of speed, obsession of the cinema, obsession of fashion and new trends. There is also the obsession of watching bullfighting and all kinds of trivialities that preoccupy the lives of the masses in the modern Jahiliah societies, i.e. the ignorant side of the industrial culture.

These obsessions are a manifestation of spiritual emptiness. First, they reflect the lack of faith and second the lack of great concerns that consume the energy.  They are an announcement of the bankruptcy of this civilization in directing the natural energy in a sound healthy way. The emptiness and bankruptcy lead humans towards alcohol and gambling to fill the void. They also lead to all kinds of madness as mentioned above.

They lead to the known kind of "madness", the psychological and neurological diseases and abnormalities.

They were not mere words that achieved this unique miracle; it was the method, the method of these words. It is a method put by the Lord of people, not the people! This is the genuine difference between this method and the other methods that people follow which they do not lead to a lot of achievements!!

It is not a matter of words! Words are too many. A philosopher, poet, thinker or ruler may write many words. They may write beautiful words that seem to comprise a method, sect or philosophy, yet the consciences of people receive them with rejection because they are mere words that "Allah has sent down no authority" for them. The source of the word is what gives it authority. The heavenly authority is higher than the nature of the human method that is characterized by weakness, inclination, ignorance and dereliction.

When will this simple fact be realized by the people who try to put methods for people's lives other than the method of The All-Knowing and The Fully-Aware? When will they stop legislating rules for people other than the rules of The Ever-Wise and The All-Seeing? When will they stop evaluating for people guidelines that are not evaluated by The Omnipotent Creator? When will they stop their arrogance?

Now back to the digression in the gracious verse: "O you who have believed, do not approach prayer while you are intoxicated until you know what you are saying or in a state of janaba, except those passing through [a place of prayer], until you have washed [your whole body]…" The verse prohibits the believers from approaching prayers while they are intoxicated so that they know what they are saying. It also prohibits them from praying while they are in a state of janaba until they perform ghusl.

There are different opinions about the meaning of "except those passing through [a place of prayer]" and also about the meaning of banning to approach prayer.

It was said: The meaning is not to approach the mosques or stay in them for those who are in a state of janaba until they perform ghusl, uless they are passing through the moque. A group of companions had their houses' doors in the mosque of the Messenger (Peace Be upon Him) so they had to pass through the mosque in order to get out and into their homes. This is why Allah gave them the permit to pass through the mosque while in a state of janaba without staying or praying except when they perform ghusl.

It was also said: it means praying in specific and the prohibition from performing it unless the person makes ghusl unless the person is travelling. At this point, he can go to the mosque and pray without ghusl yet, he has to make tayammum which substitutes for ghusl and wudu.

The first interpretation is clearer and more convincing because the second case, travelling, is mentioned in the same verse later. So, explaining the expression "those passing through" as the travelers leads to a repetition of the ruling in the same verse which is unnecessary.

"And if you are ill or on a journey or one of you comes from the place of relieving himself or you have contacted women and find no water, then seek clean earth and wipe over your faces and your hands [with it]. Indeed, Allah is ever Pardoning and Forgiving."…

The text includes the traveler when he is in a state of hadath akbar (major impurity)1 and accordingly he needs to perform guhsl or hadath asghar (minor impurity)2 and then he would be needing wudu to perform prayers.

The text equalizes him in this case with the one who is ill then he becomes in a state of hadath akbar or asghar, the one that comes from the place of relieving himself or the one who contacted women.

There are some interpretations of the expression "contacted women" such as:

It was said: it is a metaphor for sexual intercourse so it requires ghusl.

It was also said: It literally the touching between any part of a man's body with a woman's body and that requires wudu according to some schools of Islamic jurisprudence while it does not require wudu for other schools. This is explained in details in the Islamic books and we will mention some of them here in short:

(A) Touching requires wudu at any case.

(B) Touching requires wudu if the one who touched gets aroused by the touch and if the woman touched arouses the desire.

(C) Touching requires wudu if the one who touched feels that the touch moved him according to his estimation in every time it happens.

(D) Touching does not require wudu at all, neither kissing nor hugging the wife.

Each opinion has a reference in the deeds and sayings of the Messenger (Peace Be upon Him) like any differences in the schools of Islamic jurisprudence when it comes to branches.

The interpretation that we would choose for "or you have contacted women" is that it is a metaphor for the act that requires ghusl (sexual intercourse). Accordingly, we will dispense with the disagreements in the matter of wudu…

In all the above mentioned cases, whether it is a situation that requires ghusl or wudu for praying, when there is no water available, or there is water yet using it might cause a damage that is unbearable, tayammumsubstitutes for ghusl and wudu. It is mentioned in the text of the verse.

The verse "…then seek clean earth…" means head to a clean pure earth. The word earth means any substance that belongs to the earth such as the clean dust, rocks or walls as long as there is dust such as that on the ride's back and the evaporating dust on bed. So, the person can make tayammum as long as there is evaporating dust upon striking the hands on the surface.

The method of tayammum: is either one strike with the palms on the clean earth, shaking them and wiping the face then wiping the arms up to the elbows. Or, the person performing tayammum can make two strikes on clean earth, one for wiping the face and another for wiping the arms. No need to mention the detailed jurisprudence differences in this regard because this religion is ease. Legislating tayammum manifests clearly the meaning of ease: "Indeed, Allah is ever Pardoning and Forgiving."

This commentary implies facilitation, compassion in case of weakness, forgiveness in case of incapability and forbearance in case of dereliction.

Before we end the discussion about this verse and lesson we will add some final touches in explaining this short verse:

We stand before the "wisdom of tayammum" to try to clarify what Allah has made easy for us to understand from this wisdom.

Some researchers in the field of wisdom of the Islamic legislations and acts of worship rush into explaining the rulings in a sense that they investigated and concluded this wisdom completely so there is nothing more to investigate for! This method is not correct when it comes to explaining the Qur'anic texts and legislative ruling. As long as there is no direct mention of the wisdom behind establishing the ruling, then we should always say when we discuss them "This is what we can conclude from the wisdom of the text or ruling. There might be more wise secrets that Allah has not shown to us yet." This way; we are locating the human mind in the proper place with regard to the religious texts and heavenly rulings without exaggeration or underestimation.

I say this point because some people, some of them are very devoted, like to present the texts and Islamic rulings with fixed wisdom that people came to know based on their situations or what the "modern science" has revealed so far. This is a good approach, yet it should be within certain limits that are above mentioned in the last paragraph.

At many times, it was explained that the wisdom of wudu before praying is cleanliness…

This might be the meaning of wudu, yet asserting and limiting that the only wisdom of wudu is cleanliness is not the right method and also not a safe one.

At a certain time some arguers said: we don't need this backward method of cleanliness. It is now available and people make it part of their daily routine. If this is the "wisdom of wudu" then there is no need to make wudu for praying!! On top of that, what is the need to pray as well?!

Some also mentioned that the "wisdom of praying" can be physical movements to train the body, other times they said it is to adapt to a routine in terms of times, movements, lines of people performing praying and having an imam (leader)…etc. They also said praying is a connection with Allah Almighty through supplication and reading Qur'an. They mentioned several explanations, they might all be meant yet we should not limit the "wisdom of praying" in this or that because this is a sort of exceeding the sound and safe method.

At a certain time, some people said we don't need the physical movements in praying because now we have physical exercises and sports activities. They are now enough as playing sports has become a widely practiced activity.

Some people even said: we don't need to pray to have a system or routine. We have the military system; it is a bigger and wider system so it is enough!!

Some said: there is no need to stick to one method of performing praying. Connection to Allah can be done in solitude and seclusion without the movement of the organs that might stop the spiritual perspective.

Thus, if we start to "limit" the wisdom of each act of worship and ruling and explain it according to "modern science", then we ascertain that the wisdom we defined is the only one meant.

By following this kind of thinking, we deviate from the correct method of dealing with the texts and rulings of Allah Almighty. We are distancing ourselves from the safe limit and open the door to the altercations. In addition, our explanations might include major mistakes especially when we link them to science because science is inconstant; it is liable for changes and modifications each day.

In the present subject of "tayammum", it seems that the wisdom of wudu and ghusl is not "mere" cleanliness since the alternative for one or both of them will not achieve this "wisdom". So, there must be "another" wisdom for wudu or ghusl that is achieved through "tayammum" as well.

We do not need to fall into the same mistake by making an assertion; we only say that may be it is for the spiritual preparation to meet Allah (AWJ) by doing the sort of act that would separate between the matters of our daily lives and this great sublime meeting, i.e. prayer. By the same token, tayammum substitutes for ghusl and wudu in the same way.

In addition, there is the encompassing conclusive sublime knowledge of Almighty Allah of the deepest recesses, lines and paths of the heart that are only known by The All-Knowing The Fully-Aware. What is left is to learn to have the proper manners with Almighty Allah, The Omnipotent, The Exalted and The All-Magnificent.

We should stand one more time before the heavenly method of prayers and the duty of performing them against all the excuses or obstacles. We have to try to overcome the obstacle and seek the permit represented in substituting tayammum for wudu, ghusl or both of them when water is not available. Tayammum may also be used in case of the possibility of harm in applying water on the body; another case is when water is needed for drinking and priorities of life. Also, tayammum can be used in case of traveling (even if we have water according to some religious opinions).


Hadath Akbar: a state of major ritual impurity and it requires performing ghusl to resume acts of worship such as praying etc.

Hadath Asghar: a state of minor ritual impurity caused by either dozing off in a reclined position, or passing stool, urine or wind, or with a mouthful of vomiting. It requires performing wudu to resume acts of worship such as praying etc.

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