Absolute prohibitions sometimes have unexpected and unwanted complications. Take drinking alcohol. The United States no longer has such a prohibition—though about 5% of the population lives in a “dry” jurisdiction that prohibits the sale of alcohol—many majority Muslim nations with religious governments do ban all alcohol consumption and sales.

People who hold strong religious views and attend religious services more often don’t seem to use and abuse drugs and alcohol as much as less religious ones, but absolute bans can backfire. When people from such populations do use, they tend to use more.

Muslim Religious Belief

Islam accepts the Jewish Torah, and  unlike Christianity it views Jesus a prophet, not God. Islam also accepts all the prophets dating back to Adam but teaches that Muhammad was God (Allah)’s last prophet. Their statment of faith is “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger.”

In contrast to the terrorists who kill in its name, Islam is a religion of peace. It requires that its followers pray five times daily, give to charity, fast during the holy month of Ramadan, and make a pilgrimage to Mecca once in their lifetime.

There are also restrictions, such as not to allow “the unnecessary mixing of males and females” who are not related as well as dietary restrictions, most notably pork and alcohol.

Muslims and Alcohol

Before Islam, people freely drank wine in the Arab world, even unto inebriation. Under Islam, alcohol is considered khamr, an intoxicating substance, and therefore is haraam or banned.

The change didn’t happen overnight. It took 17 years and three steps:

  1. Seeing the harm caused by drinking, Muhammad declared that it caused more harm than good. It was discouraged, but not prohibited.
  2. Then a man wildly misspoke a prayer due to intoxication, a blasphemy, at evening prayer. Thereafter, being inebriated during morning or evening prayers was prohibited. This ban led to binge drinking after prayers.
  3. When one post-evening prayer drinking session led to violence, alcohol became forbidden outright.

A small study comparing the drinking habits of various men born in India but living in Great Britain—including Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims—found that while religious Muslims didn’t drink at all, the few Muslim men who did drink regularly outdrank the other groups.

One so-called “secular Muslim” agreed. “Although alcohol is considered haram (prohibited or sinful) by the majority of Muslims, a significant minority drinks, and those who do often outdrink their Western counterparts.” He added some “Muslim-majority countries top the global ranking for alcohol consumption,” including his home country of Tunisia.

Another study found that while Muslims in the nation of Mauritius were less likely to have an alcohol use disorder (AUD), Muslims there who did drink were about as likely to develop AUD as Hindu and Tamil drinkers in the country. Even though Islam promotes abstinence, once a Muslim disregards that tenet, they are no longer protected from the problems of AUD.

Islam and Drugs

Although only alcohol was specifically named, the use of any drugs in Islam or other substances with the intent to get high was generally considered haraam also, whether legal or illicit. (Medicinal use was generally permitted.)

Some scholars and Muslims believe or claim it was and is only intoxication that is prohibited, not alcohol or other substances per se. Others say that only alcohol use is forbidden because other substances—notably hashish and other forms of cannabis—are not named.

These claims seem like wishful thinking. Muhammad stated that the reason for the prohibition was because it befogged thought and caused harm. Other substances than alcohol can produce those effects.

The punishment for intoxication was 40 lashes. It’s a sin that may cost Muslims a happy afterlife and may threaten their current life, health, and freedom.

Man’s law may be loosening, even under Islam. In 2018, Iran greatly raised the threshold for sentencing most drug traffickers to the death penalty by 10–100% and ended capital punishment for cannabis possession. In 2015, Iran considered decriminalizing marijuana altogether.

Barriers to treatment

The barriers to Muslims seeking treatment for substance use disorder (SUD) are not greatly different than for non-Muslims, but they are perhaps more intense.

First, there’s denial. The simplest way for individuals to rid themselves of addiction is by refusing to believe they have one.

Next, there’s stigma or the fear of stigma. Although there is greater acceptance in the United States that addiction is a disease, not weak willpower or moral character, Muslims in America—especially Muslim women in America—are still reluctant to seek SUD rehab assistance where they might be recognized.

That fear isn’t necessarily unwarranted. Even when there is no criminal sanction, there is still a social one. Observant Muslims—even family and friends—may stop supporting substance users and abusers. The fear of such a reaction may even prevent a Muslim who has a substance use disorder from seeking treatment.

Finally, there is a lack of understanding among the general addiction rehab community of what it means to be a Muslim. It’s a religion, a culture, and a way of life.

Rehab for Substance Use Disorder

There are certain aspects common to most substance use disorder (SUD) rehab treatment programs, including:

  • Detoxification (detox) or tapering off from abused substances. You need to be off drugs or alcohol to benefit from rehab. If you can’t stop on your own, you may need medication-assisted treatment (MAT), or prescription drugs to treat an addiction.
  • One-on-one psychotherapy. You need to learn what triggered your SUD. If it was an underlying or co-occurring mental health issue, you may need dual diagnosis treatment to address the mental health issue and the SUD.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). You need to learn new ways to cope with stress, depression, anxiety, and other conditions that may cause SUD.
  • Group therapy. You need to interact with and learn from others going through recovery. Peer support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous or Muslim support groups also may be helpful. There are also 12-step programs for Muslims.
  • Aftercare. Addiction does not currently have a cure. It is probably a lifelong affliction. A relapse remains possible, even after decades, so you must continue your treatment after rehab in a less intense manner.

These evidence-based treatments may be all that secular Muslims require for recovery. Devout Muslims need them, too, but in addition, they may need faith-based treatment.

Islamic Rehab Center for Substance Use Disorder

Muslims are not a monolith. Different sects—Sunni, Shi’a—may react differently, and Muslims from different countries and of different genders may also respond in different ways. The individual family dynamic can also be an issue. How deep the clients’ commitment to their religion and why—personal beliefs or external pressure from family, friends, or society—also can be a factor.

Under Islam, the Quran is the number one remedy. In Malaysia, other remedies such as medication-assisted treatment (methadone, Suboxone) for opioid use disorder are prohibited because they are drugs. That’s unfortunate because a trial methadone program in a Malaysian mosque showed promise.

For treatment to be effective, or even to appeal to devout Muslims with substance use disorder, the treatment should be provided at a Muslim rehab center: grounded in the Islamic faith, tailored for Islamic clients, and sensitive to Islamic culture. One study in Jordan found that counselors who expressly did not incorporate Islam were not regarded as trustworthy or attractive.

All clients with SUD need to be treated as individuals, but that requires that the counselors know and understand the differences.

Talk with one of our treatment specialists . Call 24/7: 949-276-2886


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