Tobacco: Why Islam does not ban the use of tobacco

Q645 :In a series of articles by Dr. M. Hatham Al-Khayat, the question of health was discussed, with quotations from the Prophet, such as: "There shall be no infliction of harm on self or others", and "He who causes harm to others will be at the receiving end of harm by God." I believe that God has forbidden the use of alcohol, as it is a substance unfit for consumption, and the cause of much tragedy in this world. I applaud the Islamic prohibition of alcoholic drinks. There are other addictive and harmful substances which, paradoxically enough, seem to be permitted. The most glaring example of this is tobacco. As you are well aware, tobacco is highly addictive and extremely hazardous to health, not only of the smokers but of those around him. It is no exaggeration to say that cigarettes kill. I am curious to know why the principle of health protection is not applied to tobacco and other addictive substances when it is applied to drugs and alcohol.

A645 : Generally speaking, Muslim scholars are very hesitant when they come to issue a verdict of prohibition on anything. This is largely due to the fact that the authority to forbid or prohibit anything belongs to Allah alone. Moreover, He has given us a detailed account of what He has forbidden us. There is a general rule that everything is permissible, unless it is pronounced otherwise. Therefore, you must have a very solid evidence in support of a verdict of prohibition. As you realize, tobacco was not known at the time of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) when Islamic legislation was revealed. It was not possible to include among what Allah has forbidden a substance that was not known, saying that when this will be available, it shall be forbidden. Instead, Islam lays down certain principles which should be applied at all times. One of these is the Hadith, or statement by the Prophet, which you have quoted from Dr. Khayat's articles, namely:" There shall be no infliction of harm on self or others." This is a very clear principle and applies to everything that causes harm; whether to oneself or to other people. I agree with you that tobacco is a harm causing substance. It has been proven beyond any shred of doubt that the smoking of tobacco is very harmful indeed. Tobacco smoke contains more than four thousand substances, most of which are harmful. Indeed, 500 compounds which are available in tobacco smoke are classified as very harmful. Hence, it is not surprising that tobacco is the major cause of lung cancer. Indeed, 90% of all cases of lung cancer are attributed to smoking. Moreover, smoking causes many types of cancer including cancer of the lips, the gums, the larynx and the bladder, and, in women cancer of the uterus. It also causes chronic bronchitis and emphysema, as well as coronary heart disease. Its effects, as you say, are not limited to the smoker. Passive smoking, or the inhaling of tobacco smoke from other people's cigarettes, is also hazardous and causes the same list of diseases. As such, smoking is a habit which is certain to cause harm. Other uses of tobacco, such as chewing and sniffing, are likely to produce very similar results. With such long list of diseases caused by the use of tobacco, your statement that "cigarettes kill" is indeed correct. Now what verdict would Islam pass on the use of tobacco? The answer is a definite prohibition, although some scholars are still reluctant to do so. May I say, however, that their reluctance is due to the fact that they have not studied the subject thoroughly well. I am absolutely certain that any scholar who studies the problem of smoking and the use of tobacco properly will arrive at the same conclusion. I say this advisedly. Dr. Al-Khayat, who is Director of Program Management at the Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office in Egypt of the World Health Organization [WHO], sought to have a definitive ruling on smoking and the use of tobacco generally. He collaborated with Al-Azhar, the well known seat of Islamic learning in Egypt. The WHO placed at the disposal of Al-Azhar several scientific reports on the likely effects of the use of tobacco and smoking. It sought a definitive ruling. Al-Azhar put these reports at the disposal of ten of its scholars, seeking a ruling from each one of them. All ten agree that Islam prohibits the use of tobacco. Eight of the ten rulings were absolutely clear that smoking and use of tobacco are forbidden from the Islamic point of view. The other two say that the verdict ranges from "strongly reprehensible" to "forbidden". In the past, scholars used to say that smoking may be discouraged or reprehensible, basing their argument on the fact that tobacco gives a bad smell and that it is a waste of money which could be more beneficially used in some other ways. As you realize, tobacco is addictive. Faced with a large number of people who are addicted to smoking, a governmental authority will be unwise to withdraw it from the market immediately. That would lead to a vigorous smuggling activity trying to get the substance into the country by illegal means. The price will then rise considerably and a list of endless problems will be encountered. Instead, a government should resort to a sustained campaign of health education, seeking to make people clearly aware of the risks they take when they smoke. At the same time, government authorities should concentrate their efforts of health education at schools, particularly on students at the age when they are most likely to try smoking a cigarette. If this is coupled with a regular tax increase to raise the price of cigarettes every two or three months, then that is bound to reduce people's desire to smoke. If all that is coupled with a total ban on cigarettes advertising and other methods of tobacco promotion, then we have the right strategy which may, in time, lead us to a tobacco free society. We hope that the authorities will undertake such an integrated approach to reduce the smoking pandemic.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )