SEPTEMBER 29 — At the risk of mangling a quote from Evelyn Beatrice Hall, let me say that “though I don’t partake in the drinking of beer, I will defend to the death your right to drink it.
“The etymology of the word “alcohol” is said to have originated from the Arabic term “al-kohl” or “al-ghoul”. The latter referring to a state of unclear and mind-altering state whose description sounds remarkably like a severe hangover. The former, a fine powder used for eye makeup made by mixing distilled ethanol and antimony salts, probably to cover up those bags under one’s eyes as a result of said hangover.
While most of Europe shivered in their furs from dark ignorance during the Early Middle Ages, drank bad ale and lousy mead from animal horns, wooden cups and tankards, hoping that the next batch would not strike anyone blind, the Muslims were rediscovering the ancient technique of alcohol distillation.
While alcohol is the result of fermentation of natural sugars present in fruit such as fructose and glucose, distillation is the means of separating that by-product from the fermented mass which may also contain methanol, amyl alcohol, furfurals and other undesirable and possibly harmful components. These may only be separated through distillation.
A technique that was originally discovered and known by ancient civilisations such as the Greeks, Romans and the Chinese, Arabic alchemists used it to extract fine perfumes, concoct medicinal remedies and yes, more sophisticated alcoholic beverages.
In fact, the still as we know it and which continues to be in use today, was developed in 800 AD by Jabir ibn Hayyan. In those days, Muslims scholars were leading the civilised world in pretty much everything from chemistry (derived from an Arabic word), mathematics, medicine, seafaring, the arts and even good manners.
Renowned Islamic scholar, doctor and scientist, Ibn Sina further improved upon the distillation process in the 11th century. It was important to continue to improve upon the processes in search of getting excellent quality products, strictly for medicinal purposes, of course.
You see, despite what supposed and self-anointed champions of the faith prefer to not acknowledge, pretend to not know or even be ignorant about, the Islamic world has had a long relationship with alcohol, including the drinking kind.
The conquest of parts of Europe under the Umayyad Caliphate and later more extensively by the Ottoman Empire, resulted in many traditions, customs and legacies being left behind in those regions and which spread across the world. One of these legacies was the distillation process to produce alcoholic drinks.
Despite being at the height of their power and the right of conquest over vanquished peoples, the Islamic caliphs, sultans, viziers, governors, and even religious leaders did not seek to take away the drinking of alcohol and impose a ban of it upon those who were non-Muslims.
Quranic scripture speaks clearly of the need to abstain and avoid intoxicants (previously interpreted as alcoholic drinks but may now arguably be expanded to include psychotropic drugs, large amounts of tapai, musang king durian and Facebook) which may cause a state of altered consciousness and perceived reality, impaired judgement and a state of stupor or stupefaction.
But it imposed the burden of compliance and prohibition upon believers of the Islamic faith. Wisely, it did not call for an all-encompassing measure for all those living under Muslim rule. The Quran could have stated that but it didn’t.
Why? The reason is because the teaching of Islam recognises the reality of diversity and the folly of compulsion. That it is a form of bad governance to impose orthodoxy, to deny freedoms and civil liberties. That at the end of the day, it really is between you and God.
Can Muslims simultaneously demand respect and tolerance for Islam while denying others the same? Can and should Muslims demand the freedom to practice Islam as they see fit and then turn around and use these same freedoms to impose their anachronistic interpretations of Islam onto others?
PAS demanding that beer events such as Oktoberfest (which are strictly attended by non-Muslims only) be cancelled is the behaviour and actions of an unrepentant, petulant and immature bully.
Their tendency to impose their orthodoxy and oppressive values and restrictions on others, including non-believers, is the reason why I believe that they can never be trusted with their assurances that measures to bring about an Islamic state will only affect Muslims and is for the greater good.
Instead of bullying others in the name of supposedly upholding the teachings of Islam, can PAS just get along with those who do not share their beliefs? Can PAS and others like it, stop intimidating the government to comply with their demands?
Malaysia is a Muslim majority state with a diverse ethnic and religious composition where pluralism and diversity are supposed to thrive. It is supposed to be one of the best places to live. It means that we live and let live.
By the way, whether you are enjoying a glass of beer, schnapps, grappa, cognac, whisky, tequila, rum or vodka, or just teh tarik and plain water while reading this article, please remember that most of that was made possible by an invention from the Muslim world. Let’s not forget that.