The Etymology of “Khamr”

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ 

Ustadz William Voller wrote that the word used in the Qur’an relating to alcoholic beverages is khamr, which derives from the root “kha-mim-ra’”, meaning, “to mix or cover.”  Khamr” can mean “any intoxicating thing that clouds, or covers the intellect,” as per Lisan al-‘Arab, such as when ‘Umar (r.a.) said that the Prophet (s.a.w.), said, “Khamr is that which mixes up the mind.”  Here, “mixes up” is “khamarah”.  This is found in the Shaykhayn.  Khamr can refer to wine from grapes; in particular, pressing grapes, khamran; and dates. 

سُوۡرَةُ یُوسُف

قَالَ أَحَدُهُمَآ إِنِّىٓ أَرَٮٰنِىٓ أَعۡصِرُ خَمۡرً۬ا‌ۖ (٣٦) 

… Said one of them, “I see myself (in a dream) pressing wine.” … (Surah Yusuf:36) 

As recorded in Swahih Muslim, the Prophet (s.a.w.) said, “Khamr is from these two trees,” while pointing to grapevines and date palms.  Linguistically, however, khamr is most likely referring to the intoxicating characteristic of beverages rather than the substance of wine in particular, since the general word for grapes is “‘inab.”  Another more general word used for intoxicating drink is “sakar.” 

Gradualism in legislation, tanjim, is an important principle of Islamic law, the wisdom of which a wise father explained to his son, “Do not deal with matters hastily, son.  God Almighty despised drinking alcohol twice in the Qur’an and did not declare it Forbidden but in the third time.  I am afraid that if I enjoined the right on people at one stroke, they would give it up all at once, which might lead to sedition.”  This is from al-Muwafaqat fi Uswul ash-Shari’ah by Imam Ibrahim ibn Musa ash-Shathibi (r.a.). 

The first verse was of disapproval, but did not forbid drinking: 

سُوۡرَةُ البَقَرَة

۞ يَسۡـَٔلُونَكَ عَنِ ٱلۡخَمۡرِ وَٱلۡمَيۡسِرِ‌ۖ قُلۡ فِيهِمَآ إِثۡمٌ۬ ڪَبِيرٌ۬ وَمَنَـٰفِعُ لِلنَّاسِ وَإِثۡمُهُمَآ أَڪۡبَرُ مِن نَّفۡعِهِمَا‌ۗ (٢١٩) 

They ask you concerning wine and gambling.  Say, “In them is great sin, and some profit for men; but the sin is greater than the profit.” ... ― (Surah al-Baqarah:219) 

The second Revelation made it haram to approach swalah in a state of intoxication: 

سُوۡرَةُ النِّسَاء

يَـٰٓأَيُّہَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُواْ لَا تَقۡرَبُواْ ٱلصَّلَوٰةَ وَأَنتُمۡ سُكَـٰرَىٰ حَتَّىٰ تَعۡلَمُواْ مَا تَقُولُونَ (٤٣) 

O you who believe!  Approach not prayers with a mind befogged, until you can understand all that you say … (Surah an-Nisa’:43) 

And finally, Revelation came down making it haram: 

سُوۡرَةُ المَائدة

يَـٰٓأَيُّہَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوٓاْ إِنَّمَا ٱلۡخَمۡرُ وَٱلۡمَيۡسِرُ وَٱلۡأَنصَابُ وَٱلۡأَزۡلَـٰمُ رِجۡسٌ۬ مِّنۡ عَمَلِ ٱلشَّيۡطَـٰنِ فَٱجۡتَنِبُوهُ لَعَلَّكُمۡ تُفۡلِحُونَ (٩٠) 

O you who believe!  Intoxicants and gambling, (dedication of) stones, and (divination by) arrows, are an abomination ― of Satan’s handiwork: eschew such (abomination), that you may prosper. (Surah al-Ma’idah:90) 

The companions drank right up until the last verse was Revealed near the end of the Prophet’s (s.a.w.) life; Sayyidina ‘Abbas ibn Malik (r.a.) said, “I was serving drinks to people in the home of Abu Thalhah on the day that wine was Prohibited, and they were drinking nothing but date wine.  Suddenly someone called out, ‘Come out and see!’  So, we did so and someone called out, ‘Verily, wine has been Prohibited!’  It was flowing through the streets of Madina.  Abu Thalhah said to me, ‘Take it outside and pour it out.’  So, I did so.”  This is recorded in the Shaykhayn. 

By consensus, ijma’, khamr, in the sense of wine from dates and grapes, is a sin and a crime to drink in small or large amounts for Muslims - even in “Muslim” lands, non-Muslims are allowed to drink at home or in designated areas.  This is based on unequivocal texts from the Qur’an and mass transmitted, mutawatir, ahadits, thus making the Prohibition of drinking khamr something “necessarily known”, such that to believe otherwise is disbelief, kufr.  Other types of substance that intoxicate not from grapes and dates are not as unequivocally prohibited.



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