Monday, March 30, 2009


It is said the English word alcohol originally comes from the two Arabic words, ‘Al Cohol’. In addition, the words carafe, cork, and jar also originate from Arabic {see wgaw blog archives: A , B&C}

I think most people will know alcohol is a banned substance in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Sharjah (one of the seven states of the UAE). However, I'm not sure everyone will know the rest of the GCC countries (Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and the UAE) allow the sale of alcohol in specially designated 'booze shops' (as long as you're a non-Muslim expatriate) and/or restaurants.

A Dilmun Seal showing drinkers on a boat.  Approx. 1,000 - 2,000 years old, made in Bahrain which was known at the time as, 'Dilmun'. Image taken from:

In the UAE a permit is given to expatriates and states the ammount of alchol which can be bought in a month. You can not go over this ~pretty generous~ limit. In Bahrain alcohol can be bought in any ammounts, as long as you're a non-muslim, whilst in Qatar and Oman alcohol is available in restaurants located within a hotel.

Booze Shops
The advertising of alcohol in any form is banned throughout the entire GCC which means no images, or explanations on the windows of the booze shops. If you do want to buy alcohol you'll need to be shown the shop location by someone who already knows where it is.

I can't imagine anyone would pass a Gulf booze shop and understand what it was if they'd never seen one before. In many cases you simply can not drive by, the shop is located in a cu-de-sac and you need to park your car and walk.

Alcohol in Saudi
In Saudi Arabia and Kuwait the tipple of choice is Johnny Walker (US$ 110/bottle) or a local colourless liquid, often inhabiting the cupboard under the sink, called Sadeeq' [saa-deek] or to translate, 'my friend'.

Qura'nic Quotes
For Muslims alcohol and alcohol derivatives (e.g. gripe water and rubbing alcohol. Items such as deodorants and grapes for the more austere) are not used/consumed because of the following verses in the Koran:

2.1 The Cow 2:219
They ask you about drinking and gambling. Say: 'There is great harm in both, although they have some benefit for men; but their harm is far greater than their benefit."

2.2 Women 4:43
"Belivers, do not approach your prayers when you are drunk, but wait till you can grasp the meaning of your words."

2.3 The Bee 16:67
"And the fruits of the palm and the vine, from which you derive intoxicants and wholesome food. Surely in this there is a sign for men of understanding."

2.4 The Table 37:47
"Belivers, wine and games of chance, idols and divining arrows, are abominations and devised by Satan. Avoid them, so that you may propser. Satan seeks to stir up enmity and hatred among you by means of wine and gambling, and to keep you from the rememberance of God and from your prayers. Will you not astain from them?"

2.5 That Which is Coming 56:6
"They shall recline on jewelled couches face to face, and there shall wait on them imortal youths with bowls and ewers and a cup of the purest wine (that will neither pain their heads nor take away their reason)."

2.6 The Unjust 83:22
"The rightous wil surely dwell in bliss. Reclining upon soft couches they will gaze around them: and in their faces you shall mark the glow of joy. They shall be given a pure wine to drink, securely sealed, whose very dregs are musk (for this let all men emoulously strive); a wine temperedith the water of Tasnim, a spring at which the favoured will refresh themselves."

Alcohol Ban
All sales of alcohol are banned during the Holy Month of Ramadan {see wgaw blog archive: banned} throughout the GCC.

Bahrain currently has the most liberal laws governing the sale of alcohol, but this ruling is subject to change, depending on the parlimentarians. There is also a rumour Gulf Air, the national carrier of Bahrain, will be banning alcohol onboard in the near future.

Urban Legends
One day whilst coming back into the country a friend stopped at the duty free shop to buy supplies. She was stopped in her tracks as she watched about 10 Saudi women, covered from head to toe in black, lifting up their niqabs [nic-qaabs] to read the whisky labels. Every single one of them bought a bottle of whisky and hid it in the bags they had with them.

All Gulf expatriates get to hear this particular urban legend during their stay in the Gulf.  One embassy was importing various crates and boxes from their home country and they were stuck in customs for some reason.  The embassy received a phone call from a customs official who asked them to, “Come and collect your piano, it is leaking.”

Years ago a friend of a friend knew someone who had his own illegal source of booze and would open shop during Ramadan. He was so brazen about his ability not to be caught he even gave away tee-shirts with his beer. It doesn’t happen any more, the authorities cracked down on such blatant disregard to the rules.

A student in a friend’s class was telling her he didn’t eat grapes. She was interested to know why and asked him for the reason. His reply was that, “grapes make alcohol”. She said, “But grapes don’t make alcohol by themselves.” To which he disagreed, according to him, grapes make alcohol and so he couldn’t eat them.


Christine said...

I am glancing over this post once again and I am wondering if there is total ban on are the hospitals dealing with it? like even a blood test needs some alcohol applied on the skin...

Maverick said...

wgaw - that person should have asked her friend if he consumes vinegar in any of his food ... since vinegar is made from alcohol [but since it doesnt intoxicate, its permitted] haha

Christine: Sometimes non-Muslims misunderstand this prohibition because of the *English* word "alcohol" which refers to a wide array of substances, of which only some are intoxicants. In Arabic, the term is "al-khamr" which refers to intoxicants. Some non-intoxicating alcohols are permitted, and yes in hospitals, rubbing alcohol is just fine to use.

Islam is a practical religion and has allowed the consumption of intoxicating alcohol under very rare circumstances. One of these instances is if you are threatened with death by dehydration and there's nothing to drink EXCEPT alcohol, then you're allowed.

Also, in the past, many scholars had allowed its limited consumption during surgeries, to dull the pain.

In each of the cases above howver, the Muslim still remains at liberty to refuse the alcohol. So for example if in the first case he refused to drink and died due to dehydration, it is not considered "suicide". And in the second case, there are plenty of examples of Muslim patients who would still refuse to drink and tell the Muslim surgeon to go ahead an operate.