Sheikh Salman al-Oadah
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Anas relates that Allah's Messenger (peace be upon him) was asked if it was permissible to take wine for vinegar. He replied in the negative.

It is an authentic hadîth. It is related in Sahîh Muslim, Sunan al-Tirmidhî, Sunan Abî Dawûd, Sunan al-Bayhaqî, and Sunan al-Dâraqutnî among other books.

The meaning of the hadîth:

This hadîth discusses the process of using wine to make vinegar. According to al-Fayrûzabâdî's dictionary al-Qâmûs , vinegar is “the acetified juice of grapes and other fruit”.

In Farîd Wajdî's Dâ'irah al-Ma`ârif (3/781), vinegar is defined as: “a liquid substance produced from acetified fermented juices.”

When any alcoholic fluid, whether it be wine, apple cider, beer, or some other similar drink mixed is exposed to air ranging in temperature from 20 to 25 degrees Centigrade, it undergoes a rapid change whereby its alcohol content turns into ascetic acid and its taste becomes sour.

The transformation of wine into vinegar can occur by introducing to it certain substances like bread or onions or by adding a quantity of vinegar to it. It can also be initiated by moving wine from sunlight into shadow or from shadow into sunlight.

Its legal implications:

This hadîth brings up the question of whether it is permissible for people to use a deliberate process to turn wine into vinegar. Scholars have various opinions on this matter.

The first opinion is that it is not permissible for people to make vinegar out of wine by deliberate action on their part. This is the opinion of the majority of scholars, including al-Shâfi`î, Ahmad, Mâlik, and the scholars of hadîth. This was the opinion of `Umar and other Companions. It was possibly the opinion of Abû Talhah and Anas.

They claim that if it is turned into vinegar by a deliberate process, it will not be made permissible in this manner. However, according to the Shâfi`î school of law, it is permissible to move the wine from the sunlight into shadow or vice versa with the intention of turning it into vinegar.

They cite the hadîth under discussion as evidence to support their ruling, since in it the Prophet (peace be upon him) prohibited taking wine and turning it into vinegar. This means that the wine and the vinegar that could possibly be made from it would have to be discarded, necessitating the destruction of something of value. The Prophet (peace be upon him) would never have ordered the destruction of something of value if there was any way to preserve it.

They also cite the hadîth where Abû Talhah asked the Prophet (peace be upon him) about some wine that some orphan children had inherited. Abû Talhah had suggested that he could turn the wine into vinegar. However, the Prophet (peace be upon him) ordered the wine to be poured out. The protection of the wealth of orphans is emphasized by Islamic Law. In spite of this, the Prophet (peace be upon him) ordered that the wine be poured out and did not permit its being used to make vinegar. This is proof that it is impermissible to make vinegar from wine.

The second opinion held by scholars on this matter is that making vinegar out of wine is disliked in Islamic Law but not prohibited. This was the opinion of Sufyân al-Thawrî and `Abd Allah b. Mubârak. In one narration from Malîk, he is quoted as saying: “It becomes pure by being turned into vinegar.”

It seems that these scholars understood the prohibition mentioned in the hadîth to indicate mere dislike and not actual unlawfulness. And Allah knows best.

The third opinion on the matter is that it is permissible to use wine to make vinegar. This was the opinion of Abû Hanîfah, al-Layth, and al-Awzâ`î. It was also the view of Ibn Hazm.

They cite as evidence the saying of the Prophet (peace be upon him): “How good a condiment vinegar is.” [Sahîh Muslim]

The Prophet (peace be upon him) had asked his family for a condiment for his bread and they lamented that they had nothing to give him but vinegar. He requested it and began to eat with it, saying: “How good a condiment vinegar is.”

This hadîth indicates the purity and lawfulness of vinegar. They argue that this shows, by necessity, that when wine is turned into vinegar it becomes pure and lawful. It ceases to be prohibited. When the Prophet (peace be upon him) said “How good a condiment vinegar is”, he did not exclude any type of vinegar. Therefore, this ruling about vinegar is general.

Some of the proponents of this view also cite the hadîth where the Prophet (peace be upon him) is quoted as saying: “The best of your vinegar is your wine vinegar.” [Sunan al-Bayhaqî]

This hadîth was related by al-Bayhaqî with a chain of transmission from al-Mughîrah b. Ziyâd from Abû Zubayr from Jâbir.

Al-Bayhaqî, raises the following objections to using this hadîth as evidence for the permissibility of taking wine and turning it into vinegar. He writes: “This hadîth was related only by al-Mughîrah b. Ziyâd and it is not a strong narration. Also, the people of the Hijâz region call all vinegar derived from grapes ‘wine vinegar'. Furthermore, the text, if it is authentic, can be understood to apply to wine that turns into vinegar on its own. The same can be said for the hadîth narrated by Faraj b. Fadâlah.”

As for the hadîth of Faraj b. Fadâlah, it is a third piece of evidence cited by those who consider it permissible to take wine and turn it into vinegar. It is the hadîth where the Prophet (peace be upon him) enquired with Umm Salamah about her sheep that died, asking: “Did you benefit from its hide?” to which she replied: “It is carrion.” In turn, he replied: “Tanning it makes it lawful just as vinegar makes wine lawful.

This hadîth is recorded by al-Dâraqutnî and al-Bayhaqî in their compilations.

However, al-Dâraqutnî says about this hadîth: “Faraj b. Fadâlah is the only one to mention this narration on the authority of Yahyâ who is weak. He relates from Yahyâ b. Sa`d a number of hadîth that are not followed up.”

Al-Bayhaqî says: “It is a weak hadîth.”

Abû al-Barakât al-Nasafî and some proponents of this view provide a peculiar interpretation of the hadîth where the Prophet (peace be upon him) prohibited Anas from taking wine for vinegar. They claim that the word “take” here means “to use as it is”, like in the statement “Do not take a horse for a chair”. They interpret the statement to mean: “Do not take wine and use it at the table as you would use vinegar.”

This is quite an unbelievable interpretation. Can anyone believe that one of the Companions – the people who read the Qur'ân as it was being revealed and who knew firsthand the context of the revelation – would ask if he can use wine at the table like he would use vinegar!

From this, we can see that the evidence provided by those who permit using wine to make vinegar is so weak as to not be worthy of serious criticism.

The only authentic evidence that they provide from the Sunnah does not prove their case in the least. This is quite detrimental to their position in the presence of an authentic hadîth that clearly states the impermissibility of using wine to make vinegar.

The texts they provide that might possibly be construed as supporting the permissibility of using wine to make vinegar – like the hadîth “The best of your vinegar is your wine vinegar” and the hadîth about wine being like an animal skin – are all unauthentic. Even if those hadîth were authentic, they can easily be reconciled with the hadîth prohibiting the use of wine to make vinegar. As explained by al-Bayhaqî, the hadîth can be understood to refer to wine turning to vinegar without human intervention. Alternatively, the term “wine vinegar” can be understood to mean any vinegar that is made from the juice of grapes, which was indeed the customary usage of the people of the Hijâz region at that time.

Therefore, we conclude that it is impermissible to use wine to make vinegar. There is nothing to make us assume that the prohibition of doing so is an indication of mere dislike. There is, in fact, a contextual indication that the prohibition indicates unlawfulness, since by not using the wine in this way, we are discarding something of potential value and we would not be encouraged to do that unnecessarily. Moreover, the keeping of wine is unlawful and sinful in itself.

When wine turns to vinegar on its own without the aid of human intervention, the vinegar is pure and lawful to use. Ibn Taymiyah, al-Nawawî, and Ibn Hubayrah claim that this is a point of consensus ( ijmâ` ) among the scholars of Islam. The only exception to this is the opinion of the Mâlikî jurist Sahnûn. Al-Nawawî says, however: “His opinion is overlooked in consideration of the consensus that existed on the matter from before his time.”

Even if it is not a point of unanimous consensus, it is most definitely the opinion of the overwhelming majority of scholars.

Al-Qurtubî writes in his commentary on the Qur'ân: “Mâlik and his students never disagreed on the point that when wine turns to vinegar on its own, the resulting vinegar is lawful for consumption. This was the opinion of `Umar b. al-Khattâb, Qubaysah, Ibn Shihâb, Rabî`ah, and one of the views of al-Shâfi`î which, according to his students, is his true position.”

Some benefits of this hadîth:

1. It is forbidden to use wine to make vinegar. The reason for this is that unlawful things cannot be kept or used in any capacity whatsoever. If there had been any lawful way to preserve such an item of value, the prophet (peace be upon him) would have told us about it. This would have clearly been the case when the wealth of orphans was concerned.

2. When wine turns to vinegar on its own, without any human intent or intervention, then that vinegar is pure and lawful to use. The text directs its prohibition only to the active taking of wine to make vinegar. This means that when the wine becomes vinegar on its own, the underlying permissibility of vinegar must be assumed.

The wisdom behind this distinction is that if it were permissible to use wine to make vinegar, then the Muslim world would continue to have wine distilleries under the pretence of vinegar manufacture. This increases the danger of alcohol abuse in the Muslim world and runs contrary to the Qur'ân's command to “stay away” from wine.

3. For those who consider wine to be impure, the hadîth provides an example of an impure substance transforming into a pure one. This was discussed by Ibn Hazm in two places in his work al-Muhallâ (1/161-162 and 8/147-149).