There is no one single answer

The German coalition is planning to legalise cannabis during the current legislative period. Does Islam permit the use of this drug? Muslim theologian Ali Ghandour presents differing positions on this issue in the Islamic spectrum.
The German coalition is planning to legalise cannabis during the current legislative period. Does Islam permit the use of this drug? Muslim theologian Ali Ghandour presents differing positions on this issue in the Islamic spectrum.

The German government is planning to legalise cannabis before the end of this legislative period. So what does Islam have to say about its consumption? Will changing the law alter the way Muslims in Germany feel about the issue? Said Rezek talked to Muslim theologian Ali Ghandour from the University of Munster

By Said Rezek

Mr Ghandour, is the consumption of cannabis compatible with Islam?

Ali Ghandour: We cannot talk about Islam as if it were one unified religion, because it is not. There are three Muslim camps, as far as the normative discourse is concerned. The first regards cannabis as 'haram', the second considers cannabis consumption 'halal', while the third permits cannabis consumption in small amounts, as long as the individual's judgement does not become too clouded.

Do the different Muslim denominations or schools of Islamic jurisprudence favour different interpretations?

Ghandour: Adherents of the Shafi'i, Hanbali and Shia traditions, as well as some who adhere to the Hanafi and Maliki traditions, consider it prohibited – regardless of the amount of cannabis consumed. Other Hanafi and Maliki Muslims only prohibit amounts that cloud a person's judgement.

How do Islamic scholars feel about the issue?

Ghandour: For the majority of legal scholars, the consumption of cannabis is haram. From the thirteenth century onwards, theologians adopted an increasingly strict stance. This reflected the mass phenomenon of cannabis consumption in many Muslim countries at the time, especially among the Mamluks and the Ottomans. Most treatises opposing the consumption of cannabis therefore tend to date from this era.

In the Koran itself and in the hadiths of the Prophet Muhammad, there is no reference to cannabis, let alone an explicit ban on the substance. So what reasons do the scholars give for saying it is a sin?

Ghandour: The legal scholars opposed to the consumption of cannabis refer to an Islamic legal maxim that states that everything that is intoxicating in large amounts may not be consumed in small amounts.

Egyptian men smoke waterpipes with hashish, in around 1910 (photo: picture-alliance)
Egyptian men smoke waterpipes with hashish, ca. 1910: the billions spent on enforcing drug laws since the 1930s have not reduced the market, let alone dried it up, states Ann Fordham, director of the international NGO umbrella organisation International Drug Policy Consortium. "The damage caused by repressive drug policies is far worse than the damage caused by the drugs themselves." By introducing a new drug policy, Germany's governing coalition is hoping for better health, less moralism and alternative prospects for drug-growing countries

Cannabis, the "Sufi herb"

The situation regarding alcohol is clearer than it is for cannabis. Although the Koran does not explicitly mention alcohol, it does feature the Arabic term 'khamr'. The majority of Islamic scholars consider this to mean all alcoholic drinks. Surah 5, Verse 90 of the Koran says "O ye who believe! Strong drink and games of chance and idols and divining arrows are only an infamy of Satan’s handiwork. Leave it aside in order that ye may succeed." It is interesting to note that some verses of the Koran attribute positive aspects to alcohol; however, the negative aspects outweigh the positive. Are there scholars who attribute more positive properties to cannabis than negative?

Ghandour: Some scholars see no parallels with alcohol, which is prohibited by the absolute majority. These scholars also believe that the benefits of cannabis are greater than the damage it causes. The history of cannabis in predominantly Islamic societies was closely linked to the history of some Sufi movements, which led to cannabis being referred to as the "Sufi herb". Some Sufis even included the consumption of cannabis in their rituals. Cannabis helped them to either relax or go into a trance. There was even one Sufi who referred to hashish as the "morsel of meditation".

Sufis represent a particularly spiritual and mystical version of Islam. But even outside Sufism, cannabis consumption is widespread in many predominantly Muslim countries, including in the states of the Maghreb, Turkey and Pakistan. Cannabis is also consumed by Muslims in Germany. Why is that?

Ghandour: Perhaps these Muslims do not consider the consumption of cannabis to be a sin. After all, every Muslim has the right to adopt a theological position that corresponds to their own needs and convictions. The fact is, however, that there have been and still are scholars – even though they are not in the majority – who have spoken out in favour of the consumption of cannabis. As a Muslim, it is permissible to adopt such positions. Muslims do not have a Church that makes centralised decisions about what is permissible and what isn't.

Ein marokkanischer Farmer verpackt Cannabis-Samen; Foto: Fadel Senna/Getty Images/AFP
Hoffnung auf einen legalen Verkauf: Marokko ist einer der weltweit größten Produzenten von Cannabis sowie der größte Lieferant von illegalen Cannabis-Produkten wie Haschisch. Derzeit geht ein Großteil dieser Produkte über verschiedene Schmuggelrouten in die EU. Der größte Teil des Cannabis des Landes kommt aus der wirtschaftlich schwachen Rif-Region im Norden. Zwar wird der Anbau geduldet, doch die Bauern leben im Umfeld der Kriminalität oft in Armut und Angst. Von einer Legalisierung des Cannabis-Konsums in Deutschland könnten die marokkanischen Bauern profitieren.

No impact on religious convictions

What penalties do Muslims in predominantly Islamic countries face if they consume cannabis?

Ghandour: In most predominantly Islamic countries such as Morocco, Tunisia or Egypt, the possession or consumption of cannabis is punishable by either a fine or a prison sentence. In other words, the situation is similar to that in Germany or France.

Cannabis will likely be legalised in Germany, even though most Muslims consider it to be a sin. Will Muslims here in Germany now be able to consume cannabis with a clear conscience because the state permits it?

Ghandour: Nothing will change for Muslims in Germany. The fact that something is legalised doesn't change the religious convictions of those who don't consume cannabis for religious reasons.

For five years it has been legal in Germany to prescribe cannabis on medical grounds. From the Islamic point of view, is the consumption of cannabis for medical reasons considered halal?

Ghandour: The consumption of cannabis for medicinal purposes is permitted by the majority of Islamic scholars because it is a matter of necessity. Cannabis was also used in the Middle Ages as a painkiller and sedative. It was also permitted for those addicts who had to consume small amounts to wean themselves off the drug gradually.

Interview conducted by Said Rezek

© 2022

Translated from the German by Aingeal Flanagan

Ali Ghandour is a research associate at the Centre for Islamic Studies at the University of Munster. His research includes practical theology and the cultural history of Muslim-influenced societies.