The Islamic perspective on smoking

Where do you stand on the topic of smoking?

Where do you stand on the topic of smoking?

Recent research suggests that vaping is a healthy alternative to cigarettes after a long-term study of its effects on former smokers. The study, carried out by Cancer Research UK found that after six months, those who switched from real cigarettes to vaping devices have fewer toxins and cancer-causing substances in their bodies.

“We’ve shown that the levels of toxic chemicals in the body from e-cigarettes are considerably lower than suggested in previous studies using simulated experiments. This means some doubts about the safety of e-cigarettes may be wrong. Our results also suggest that while e-cigarettes are not only safer, the amount of nicotine they provide is not noticeably different to conventional cigarettes. This can help people to stop smoking altogether by dealing with their cravings in a safer way.”

So now that more people may be encouraged to pick up vaping as an alternative means to smoking, this begs the question, what does Islam have to say about it? One country that has taken the lead on the question of vaping is Malaysia, whereby the country’s national fatwa council announced e-cigarettes and vaping as haraam. This is due to the belief that vaping is equal to drinking poison. “The council finds that the consumption of something that is harmful, whether direct or indirectly, purposely or not, could lead to harm or death – so this will not be allowed,” Islamic Sharia Council chairman Abdul Shukor Husin said.

Lawful v Unlawful

With this, we know that the general consensus in Islam is that anything harmful to the body should be avoided. The Holy Quran stipulates this is in the Chapter of A’raaf whereby Allah (swt) describes Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as “he [who] enjoins people in good and forbids them evil, and makes lawful to them the good things (al-tayibaat) and makes unlawful to them the impure things (al-khba’ith).” [7:157]

The word tayibaat here means that which is halal, good and wholesome, suggesting that it is something that makes you content and satisfied. In contrast to this, the word khaba’ith here means that which is khabeeth or malignant, suggesting that it is evil in nature, and can cause harm.

If we are to apply this premise to smoking, do we then class it as one of the good and lawful things, or something that is malignant and unlawful? The general consensus across all schools of thought and modes of thinking is that smoking is prohibited due to its harmful effects on the human body, which of course is consolidated by the Holy Quran: “And do not kill yourselves, surely Allah is most Merciful to you.” [4:29] and in another verse: “And do not throw yourselves into destruction.” [2:195]

The Islamic rulings on smoking

In the past, Muslim scholars differed in opinion due to the lack of evidence surrounding the negative effects of doing so. However, with technological and medicinal advances, there is no way to beat around the bush and to pretend that it is not something that may potentially lead to the development of cancer, and death. The general consensus now is that which Sayed Ali Sistani has explained in the following religious ruling:

“Smoking becomes haram for the beginner if it entails serious harm, even in the future, regardless of whether that serious harm is certain, most probable, or just probable so much so that sensible people would demand caution. However, with the protection from serious harm (for example, by smoking less frequently), there is no problem in it. If continuing to smoke will cause serious harm to the compulsive smoker —as explained above— it is necessary for him to refrain from it unless the harm in quitting is similar, greater than to the harm in continuing, or the great difficulty that he will face in quitting is such that it cannot be normally tolerated.”

As such, the only reasoning for smoking to still be permissible is if the smoker genuinely feels as though quitting smoking could potentially harm them (due to withdrawal symptoms, for example). Similarly, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar University, Sheikh Gadul Haq Ali Gadul Haq has stated something of the same calibre:

“It has become abundantly clear that, sooner or later, smoking, in whichever form and by whichever means, causes extensive health and financial damage to smokers. It is also the cause of a variety of diseases. Consequently, and on this evidence alone, smoking would be forbidden and should in no way be practiced by Muslims. Furthermore, the obligation to preserve one’s health and wealth, as well as that of society as a whole, and medical evidence now available on the dangers of smoking, further support this view.”

Mufti Menk on smoking:

Is smoking an intoxicant?

However, if we are to assess the permissibility of smoking due to it being an ‘intoxicant’, there is much left to be desired. Martin Broughton, chairman of the British American Tobacco to the Common Health Committee states: “Smoking does not intoxicate, does not require ever-increasing consumption to maintain its pleasure and is not a short-term risk to health.”

The medical definition of an intoxicant is either poison or a drug which excites or stupefies to the point where physical and mental control is markedly diminished. Although cigarettes affect the brain and induce certain levels of pleasure, it would be hard to argue that they excite “to the point where physical and mental control is markedly diminished.”

But, this is the medical definition, and one must refer to the Islamic definition of an intoxicant for Islamic rulings. In Islamic jurisprudence, an intoxicant is defined as ما یذهب العقل – meaning ‘that which removes the intellect‘. Once again, although cigarettes affect the brain, it would be hard to argue that this effect reaches a level that could be defined as having one’s intellect removed.

Where do you stand on this topic? Drop us a comment below!

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