By Kaleem Dean
In an unprecedented verdict, the Sindh High Court announced the closure of all illegal wine shops in the province while hearing a petition against illegal selling and drinking of liquor in the streets of Karachi and the province at large. There are 20,000 people from religious minorities in the province for whom 24 wines shops have been issued licences mentioned in the report submitted by the Provincial Director General of Excise Department. The honourable court further expressed its concern that according to the Hudood Ordinance 1979, minorities can use liquor on the occasions of their festivals or other religious celebrations, but how can liquor shops be operational throughout the year?
The Director General Excise was ordered to present a fresh report on the issue at the next hearing. This decision of the Sindh High Court is being particularly lauded by minorities, especially Christians because, though not all, but a majority of Christians think that liquor is a substance prohibited in the Holy Bible. There is divisive approach between two camps of Christians: (for understanding) ‘fermented’ and ‘unfermented’. The first school of thought believed that Jesus Christ (PBUH) himself drank wine when he transformed simple water into wine at a wedding in Cana of Galilee, a village, probably, situated in Southern Lebanon. This was the first ever known miracle attributed to Jesus Christ (PBUH). Taking the plea of the Jesus’ miracle, a paltry portion of Christians believes their faith allows the use of wine, liquor and spirits. They also believe that if it was a wedding party, the wine could have been alcoholic, but it seems like a self-assured approach to strengthening their narrative. However, the group is sceptical about excessive use of liquor.
The other ‘unfermented’ camp, the majority participants from different denominations, considers the use of liquor highly intoxicating and irreligious. The use of wine at Jewish weddings was a tradition, and wine used during the last supper of Jesus Christ (PBUH) cannot be classified as a toxic substance. In the memory of the last supper of Jesus Christ (PBUH), Christians believe in sharing the cup as a religious sacrament. With few exceptions, the majority of denominations use wine made of unfermented grapes during the Holy Communion services. But the Biblical references do not support frequent use of wine, liquor, and spirits.
The use of wine and liquor is more cultural than religious in most non-Islamic societies. But still in two diametrically opposed camps, a school of thought known as the ‘fermented’ group insists on the inclusion of wine in a Christian’s life as a fundamental need of the Christian faith. Despite the clear teachings of the Bible against the use of wine and liquor, the divisive nature of the two antithetical approaches keeps the issue hazy. However, the majority of Christians strongly oppose the use of liquor. The Scripture is clearly against the consumption of alcohol, but there are certain references that are theologically not properly understood, and because of these scriptural and textual ambivalences, the human nature always finds a loophole to justify its acts.
The Old Testament clearly states: “Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who tarry long over wine; those who go to taste mixed wine. Do not look on the wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly. At the last, it bites like a serpent and stings like an adder. Your eyes will see strange things, and your heart will utter perverse things.” (Proverbs 23:29-35).
The New Testament seals the topic in these words: “Nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”(1 Corinthians 6:10.)
In the Bhagavad Gita, the sacred book of Hindus, chapter 17, verses 8-10, it is said: “Food that promotes life, vitality, strength, health, happiness and satisfaction; which are succulent, juicy, nourishing and pleasing to the heart are dear to one in goodness. Food that are bitter, very salty, very sour, very hot, very pungent, very dry and burning causing unhappiness, misery and disease are palatable by one in passion. The food that is stale, tasteless, putrid, decomposed, foul and impure, as well as the leavings of others, is dear to one in nascence.”
Furthermore, Manu Smriti, the oldest text of Hindu Law, Chapter 11 verse 94 says, “For liquor is the defiling dirt excreted from rice and dirt is said to be evil; therefore a priest, ruler, or commoner should drink liquor.”
In Pakistan, the Prohibition Order 1979 gave non-Muslims the right to use liquor under article 17 that says: “ The Provincial Government or, subject to the Provincial Government, the Collector, may issue licences to any person in respect of any institution, whether under the management of Government or not for the manufacture, import, transport, sale or possession of any intoxicant or Article containing intoxicant liquor on the ground that such intoxicant or Article is required by such person in respect of such institution for a bona fide medicinal, scientific, industrial or similar other purposes or for consumption by non-Muslim citizen of Pakistan as a part of a religious ceremony or by a non-Muslim foreigner.”But what remained an unanswered question was when and how non-Muslims were consulted to add such a provision in the Prohibition Order 1979. The ordinance also stipulates: “Whoever being an adult Muslim takes intoxicating liquor by mouth is guilty of drinking liable to hadd and shall be punished with whipping numbering 80 stripes.”
In spite of such legislations, the consumption of alcohol remains very high in Pakistan. An article about the Murree Brewery in one of the leading English newspapers states: “Far from bowed, it flourishes as one of Pakistan’s most successful companies, with an annual growth of between 15 to 20pc, a rarity in a country regularly wracked by militancy. It is in the interest of everybody that the Murree Brewery as a legal business should flourish and continue.”
Interestingly, three to four million non-Muslim adults can acquire alcohol-drinking permits from their relevant provincial governments. But the growing needs of communities have compelled dealers to open dozens of liquor shops, particularly in the Sindh province. Isn’t it evident that an average non-Muslim Pakistani earning 10-15,000 rupees a month is hardly able to spend Rs 300 to buy a can of beer or Rs 2,000 for an average-sized whiskey bottle? Mostly, poor non-Muslims working in government offices or as staff members to affluent Muslim families acquire permits — not for themselves but their ‘masters’.
This is the biggest ever loophole in the constitution of Pakistan that in the name of non-Muslims, the majority community is always willing to break the law but rarely intercepted by authorities. The Sindh High Court order is a praiseworthy precedent to be followed by other country courts to ban the use of alcohol. Most members of minority communities have nothing to do with this luxurious drinking hobby, and with their limited earnings — and even if every member of a minority community holds a liquor permit — they would not be able to use their quotas to consume the large quantities of liquor produced in Pakistan.