Islam and Cannabis

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Q: I am doing an article on the mainstream religious use of Cannabis and was hoping to ask you some questions on this subject to get a perspective on this from the view of Islam.

1. Some scholars have stated that khamr (which in practice bans the use of cannabis), actually means fermented drink and is therefore talking about alcohol, which has always been known as a poison, and would also mean cannabis is not haraam. What are your views on this, and could there be any validity to this statement?

2. According to an Arab legend, Haydar who was usually very silent ate the leaves of the cannabis plant which helped him preach to his disciples easier. The story goes on to say that the disciples went into the mountains, ate the cannabis, and went on to preach to others. Do you believe this is a true story and does it have any significance?

3. It is widely known that the Tawrat (or Torah) is also an Islamic holy book, written by the prophet Musa. This being said, is the use of Kaneh-bosem (translated to cannabis) in Holy Anointing Oil a religious law of Islam too?

4. All of this being said do you believe there are some cases where cannabis is acceptable to use, such as for religious purposes? In forms such as eating or rubbing as an anointing oil that do not damage the body?

Thank you for your interesting query, and for the opportunity to provide some information on this important topic. I shall answer your questions as listed in your email.

As a starting point and a ground rule of importance it must be understood that Islamic Law is derived from two primary sources, viz The Holy Quran and the Rulings of The Holy Prophet Muhammad sallallahu alaihi wa sallam, termed Sunnah. Hence a true reflection of Islamic teaching and practice can only be acquired by the study of both these Scriptures. It will be insufficient and unproductive to only consider what the Holy Quran says and ignore the Sayings and Judgements of the Holy Prophet. Since the inception of Islam, throughout the corridor of Islamic history, the system has been to base Islamic Law on the Quran and Sunnah.

A second significant point to note in relation to Islamic Law is that both the Quran and Sunnah have laid down operative and workable principles that can aptly govern a wide section of thought and practice. For example, the Holy Quran prohibits interest or usury, and the defining principle governing usury makes it applicable to all the different forms of usury that exist in the world day. This is indeed a remarkable facet of the Holy Quran and Sunnah. These two fountainheads of Islamic Law have devised such principles that incorporate situations and issues that did not even exist during the early days of Islam. One such example is the matter under discussion, as I shall outline further.

Another ground rule is that the precedents, judgments, and edicts of Muslim Jurists of the past also feature in the make-up of Islamic Law. The rulings of these Scholars are also based on Quran and Sunnah. These are Jurists and Intellectuals who made in-depth studies of Quran and Sunnah and expounded new rulings and precedents from these two sources. I shall now proceed to answer your queries in the light of the above three very relevant ground rules.

It is true that khamr or wine is a fermented drink that is clearly and strictly prohibited in the Holy Quran. However, the Quran is silent on cannabis, marijuana, and their like. But such silence cannot be construed to mean that the substance is not ruled upon by Islamic Law. It does not mean that what is not mentioned in the Quran has to be considered halaal by default. Such an assumption can only be valid if neither the Quran nor the Sunnah had made mention of any principle governing that particular act, or there is no direct reference to it in the Sunnah. Likewise, had our former jurists not discussed this issue to any extent, we could then safely acknowledge that cannabis falls outside the parameter of haraam. But that is certainly not the case.

Firstly, the principle on which the Holy Quran has based the prohibition of khamr or wine is, inter alia, the factor of intoxication. In other words, whatever is intoxicating will be haraam. It thus follows that wherever this factor is found, the law of prohibition will apply. Intoxication is found in cannabis, marijuana, etc. hence these substances will be prohibited by extension of this principle.

Furthermore, there is an express ruling of the Holy Prophet Muhammad wherein he had prohibited every intoxicant and every substance that impairs the intellect. This is narrated in many of the famous books written on the Sunnah. In this judgment, the factor of intoxication has been given a very wide application for it is clearly not confined to wine or alcohol. The operative phrase in this judgment is: every intoxicant.. which includes every substance that causes loss of senses and intoxicates the mind, be it marijuana, heroin, cocaine, or any of the plethora of drugs being abused in the world today. It is, therefore, on this basis that we say all forms of drugs and cannabis are haraam and prohibited.

The famous jurist of the past, Muhammad bin Idrees Al-Shaafi, whose School of Thought is followed by almost half of the Muslim world today, had ruled that every substance that clouds and corrupts the senses has the same ruling as khamr. Clearly, this Jurist had based his ruling on the above principle governing khamr.

From the above it is clear that cannabis is haraam in Islam because a) it intoxicates, b) the Sunnah has prohibited any substance that intoxicates, and c) it resembles khamr in the factor of inebriation. However, the difference in the two substances is that khamr has a prescribed punishment of 80 lashes (in an Islamic State), while cannabis or any similar intoxicant has no fixed punishment. A person guilty of such an offence in an Islamic State would be punished according to the discretion of the Court.

The legend of Haydar is not just a legend, it’s a myth. It has no basis in Islamic History, and even in western historical works the account of this Haydar smoking cannabis is hazy and vague. It cannot be traced back to a reliable origin. Furthermore, it is not possible, according to The Holy Quran and the teachings of Prophet Muhammad sallallahu alaihi wa sallam, for a person who imbibes something haraam or forbidden, to be able to preach Islam and teach good. When the guide himself is misled, how can he guide others? The Quran prohibits a person who has taken liquor from even going near the mosque for prayers; it, therefore, follows that a person high on drugs or cannabis will not be allowed into a mosque let alone preach and teach the religion.

Regarding your reference to the Torah, let me first point out that Torah is a Jewish Book, not an Islamic Book and it was not written by The Prophet Moses alaihis salaam. Instead the Jews and Muslims believe that the Torah was revealed to the Prophet Moses by Almighty God. Secondly most of the Biblical Scholars have refuted the translation of  Kaneh-bosem as cannabis. They say it is not cannabis referred to in the Torah but a different plant that was used for anointment and that did not have intoxicating qualities. A search on Google will reveal more details in this regard.

Finally I can assure you that once a substance is not considered lawful in Islam there is no question of it being used for any religious purpose whatsoever. External use as a medicine will only be permitted if it is reliably proven that the haraam substance does cure and there is no alternate to the haraam substance.

I trust these few words have answered your queries and that you now have a better understanding of Islam’s standpoint on cannabis and intoxicants.

Mufti Siraj Desai