The issue of cannabis and its use is quite baffling in the Islamic world, and it’s not hard to understand why. On the one hand, being a plant, weed is generally considered kosher in that it does not contain additional ingredients derived from non-kosher meat, milk, and animals.
But on the other hand, there are many grey areas concerning whether or not it is halal. The whole confusion emanates from the fact that neither the Qur’an nor Prophet Muhammad- the founder and leader of Islam makes a direct reference to weed.
So, what exactly is the Islam religion’s stance on recreational and medical cannabis?
Is cannabis allowed in Islam?
It’s somewhat impossible to give a direct answer to this question, especially in a vast Islamic world with numerous tribal cultures that have different views.
Cannabis in Islam isn’t new. Afghanistan- where 90% of the population subscribe to this religion- has long been known as the cradle for weed. A 2007 report by the United Nations cited cannabis as the new drug choice for Afghanistan (after Opium), stating that it has been cultivated in over 70,000 hectares (approx. 173,000 acres).
The report also shows that most of the farmers do smoke weed without any serious social consequences.
The act of smoking pot is also well-steeped in other Islamic tribes, especially among the Sufis. Sufism (also known as tasawwuf in Arabic) is a Muslim movement popular for its broader worship style. Although viewed as a sect of Islam, this movement emphasizes strict adherence to Sharia laws before journeying towards an inward search for God and shunning materialism.
Besides its great emphasis on maintaining spiritual closeness with God, the Sufis are also popular for their deep love for weed. Hashish- a derivative of Cannabis- is smoked openly and communally as a ritual practice. It is said to help them attain higher states of consciousness and to boost their enlightenment.
Now, the vast majority of Muslims have a contrary legal thought and regard it as sin. So, where does the division come in?
The contradicting standpoints on the use of cannabis among different Islamic tribes can be explained from 2 points of view:
- The legal status in Islam
- The popularity of the Islamic movements.
Cannabis in Islam from a legal point of view
In Islam, the permissibility of an action is solely based on shari'a laws and Allah and Prophet Muhammad's rulings. Unfortunately, and as we mentioned earlier, none of the above sources addresses cannabis use directly.
However, most Islamic scholars and authorities that are opposed to cannabis use argue that since cannabis has intoxicating effects, it is a khamr.
The word Khamr in Islam refers to any drink that causes intoxication. And as Prophet Muhammad says in one of his hadiths (sayings), all intoxicants are khamr and, therefore, haraam. Allah has also forbidden the use of intoxicants in al-Maa’idah 5:90:
‘’ O you who have believed, indeed, intoxicants, gambling, [sacrificing on] stone alters [to other than Allah ], and divining arrows are but defilement from the work of Satan, so avoid it that you may be successful.’’
Based on the basic meaning of Khamr (an intoxicating drink) and considering that the Qur’an explicitly prohibits alcohol and not cannabis, then how and why is the latter considered an intoxicant?
On this issue, Islam scholars and authorities explain that if the Prophet used a comprehensive word with a general meaning in his speech, then many other words and meanings may fall under that category.
They continue to point out that this would include the things that existed during the Prophet’s time and in Medina where he lived and those that were introduced later on and existed in other parts of the world. Since weed is known to cause intoxication, then all the rulings of khamr do apply to it.
Importantly, cannabis remains haraam regardless of the amount used. As he puts in another of his hadiths, Prophet Muhammad notes that “If much intoxicates, then even a little is haram.”
Not all jurists share the same legal opinion, though. A good example here is Jamal-ad-din al-Malati, a remarkable Islamic ideologist and political activist who passed a fatwa (a non-binding legal opinion on Islamic law) permitting the consumption of hashish.
In his book Hashish versus Medieval Muslim Society, another triumphant interpreter of Islamic religion and Arabic literature, Franz Rosenthal also observes that although jurists seem to have succeeded in linking hashish with intoxication, they have to contradict opinions when it comes to qualifying weed as an intoxicant.
Cannabis in Islam in terms of the Popularity of Islamic Movements and Social Classes
From a non-legal standpoint, the use of hashish in the medieval Islamic world was associated with the poor and low social rank in society.
There is a lot of evidence, from sayings and poets, which proves that most of the hashish users were poor and uneducated peasants, city laborers, and a few learned Sufis and writers. One of the poets says that an ounce of hashish was much more effective than pints of wine. This tends to confirm other studies’ findings that alcohol and wine were a preserve for the moneyed social class (despite being haraam), while the poor resorted to hashish, which was much cheaper and easily available.
Muslim jurists and scholars who were worried about the harmful mental and physical effects of hashish succeeded in believing that the use of hashish degraded one’s social rank (safalah) and led to bad moral character.
This belief led to a notable social class of Muslims who believed that hashish was a sin and lived to condemn those who used it.
The belief and practice of assuming and taking the elite's activities as pure while condemning the acts of the low class might have spread and trickled down the generations.
To this point, the Islamic stance on pot is still not very clear. As such, perhaps understanding why weed is forbidden in Islam might help.
Why weed is forbidden in Islam
During Prophet Muhammad’s time, Khamr referred to wine (a fermented drink). This word is derived from another word, khamara, which means covering/concealing something with another one. In Islamic law, Khamr is explained to mean ‘’what covers the mind.’’
Three centuries after the Prophet's death, Muslim legal scholars interpreted the word Khamr to include any intoxicant that ‘’covered one’s thinking ability and/or consciousness.’’
If you are already aware of marijuana's effects on the brain, then you must understand that, among other things, it creates a feeling of relaxation and can also alter one’s ability to concentrate and focus. Just like alcohol, weed can also lead to short-term and long-term memory loss.
Considering the number of times that a Muslim needs to pray each day and the strictness that this comes with, it goes without saying that weed can easily interfere with pure ibadaah (pure worship of Allah).
On these grounds, scholars determine that whoever becomes intoxicated either because of hashish or alcohol is not allowed to go to the mosque until he clears up. This is in line with what the Qur’an states in Chapter 4 verse 43;
‘’O you who have believed, do not approach prayer while you are intoxicated until you know what you are saying…’’
Several other obvious reasons are put forward by those who campaign against marijuana in Islam. First, smoking is viewed as a waste of money, and as the Prophet narrates, Allah forbids wasteful extravagance.
‘’O children of Adam, take your adornment at every masjid, and eat and drink, but be not excessive. Indeed, He likes not those who commit excess.’’
The smell of a smoker’s mouth is also argued to be a nuisance to other people, especially in the mosque. On the issue of offensive smells and going to the mosque, Jabir ibn Abd Allah- a prominent companion of Prophet Muhammad, reports that ‘’ The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) forbade eating of onions and leek. When we were overpowered by a desire (to eat), we ate them. Upon this, he (the Holy Prophet) said: He who eats of this offensive plant must not approach our mosque, for the angels are harmed by the same things as men.’’
What is the punishment for smoking weed in Islam?
During the medieval era, the vocal defenders of hashish argued that since neither the law nor the prophet indicates that hashish is forbidden, no punishment comes with eating it.
However, the interpretation of intoxication to include weed now means that smoking pot in Islam carries the same punishment as drinking alcohol. According to the prophet, the punishment is that one’s prayers will not be heard for 40 days unless he repents. If he drinks again, the prayers are again not heard for 40 days unless he repents. And if he drinks yet another time, then it becomes imperative for Allah to give him a drink of the mud of al-khabaal (the sweat of people in hell).
Worth noting, while the prayers of an individual under the influence of an intoxicant won’t be heard, it’s obligatory to perform all the day's prayers.
What is more, haraam, cannabis, or alcohol?
The question of which is worse between cannabis and alcohol in Islam is a tough call. Both of them are ubiquitous and deeply-rooted in Muslim majority countries.
Drinking alcohol is very easy to be considered socially unacceptable, especially because it is directly referenced as khamr and, therefore, haraam.
On the other hand, cannabis isn’t mentioned anywhere in Koran and Hadiths- the 2 most important Islamic law sources. This could explain why most Muslims are not only widely smoked, but it also remains to be among the most grown and traded plants in countries that practice this religion.
Today, cannabis has been deemed an intoxicant and is, therefore, prohibited by the sharia. It’s not debatable that it befogs the mind. As such, it is considered haraam.
On the question of which is worse, Prophet Muhammad’s sayings- if much intoxicates even a little is haraam- generally suggests that none is more haraam than the other.
Medical Cannabis in the Islamic World
Despite the ever raging controversy on the recreational use of cannabis, its use for medicinal purposes has been generally accepted since time immemorial.
Ismail Ali, the vice president of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) explains that according to Muslims, God has provided some form of cure, medicine, or treatment for every disease that afflicts human beings. That being said, the consensus is that cannabis is not haraam if it is used for medical reasons.
Mind you, the use of weed as medicine in the Islamic world is as old as the drug itself. It is also supported by the Hanafi- the 4th major legal school of thought in Islam.
In one of his most notable works, az-Zarkashi- a prominent scholar in law, hadith, and history who lived between 745 and 794 AH- noted that cannabis could be considered legal if it was used for medical reasons. He cited producing anesthesia for amputation and boosting appetite.
Yet another jurist is noted saying that unlike wine, hashish is used as medicine. He also adds that it is not subject to punishment as long as it is eaten in small quantities that don’t influence the mind.
In the modern world, although sharia prohibits the use of pot, Muslim experts tend to approve its use in the health fraternity.
Weighing in on this matter, Dr. Faeeza Abdulatief, a practitioner of Unani Tibb Medicine, tells the Voice of the Cape (VOC) FM that the legalization of weed for medicinal use would give people access to natural treatment. She explains that cannabis can be a powerful pain reliever besides offering relief for anxiety and stress.
Importantly, she adds that dose-dependent effects can have a certain effect in small dosage and an opposing effect when used in high doses. She suggests that anyone who is prescribing the drug should have enough training to ensure that only the correct dosage is administered.
Asked on the best way to administer medicinal cannabis, Dr. Abdulatief says that administering it through oils extracted from the plant has more benefits than harm.
She asserts that the conventional way of smoking ends up introducing many other unwanted toxins into the system, some of which are known carcinogens.