Is Non-Alcoholic Beer Permissible?
  • Wed, 01/01/2003
Printer-friendly versionSend to friendPDF version

Non-alcoholic beer is a barley and malt beverage. A few brands of non-alcoholic beer contain no alcohol whatsoever. However, there are brands on the market that can contain up to 0.5% alcohol per volume or 5 parts per thousand. The alcohol percentage of most brands is situated somewhere between 0.35 and 0.48. (This can be compared to a normal beer with an average of 4.5% alcohol per volume.) This beverage is consumed by Muslims throughout the world and is even widely available in countries like Saudi Arabia. Due to the presence of alcohol in the drink, many Muslims are concerned about its permissibility.

In Islamic Law, all intoxicants are categorically prohibited. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: "Every intoxicating substance is unlawful." [Sahîh al-Bukhârî] The first thing to understand is that a ruling on a given substance, with respect to its being considered an intoxicant, applies to the substance taken as a whole and not to its component parts. Sheikh Salman al-Oadah astutely observed: "The percentage of alcohol mentioned has no effect on the ruling. The ruling applies to the drink itself taken as a whole and not to its composition."

Once it is established that a given beverage intoxicates, it is unlawful to consume even a small serving of that beverage. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: "Whatever intoxicates in large quantities, then a small quantity of it is forbidden." [Related by al-Tirmidhî, Abû Dawûd, al-Nasâ'î, Ibn Mâjah, al-Dâraqutnî, and Ahmad with an authentic chain of transmission]

The Prophet (peace be upon him) also said: "Every intoxicant is forbidden. So if a faraq of something intoxicates, then a handful is unlawful." [Related by al-Tirmidhî and Ahmad with an authentic chain of transmission] A faraq is a volume measure of 16 ratl. A faraq can be estimated in modern terms to be roughly 6 liters. Scholars agree that the exact volume of a faraq is not the point. It was merely being used in the hadîth as an example of a very large quantity of drink. It is a good example, since it is about the largest quantity that some people might conceivably be able to drink at one go, albeit with a great deal of discomfort. Emphasizing this point is the fact that people would have had to know that a large quantity of a substance intoxicates by way of experience. They were not in a position to rely on chemical analysis to make this determination.

Sheikh al-`Uthaymîn, while discussing these hadîth, says:
If a small quantity of alcohol is so submerged in something else that is has no tangible or theoretical effect, then the substance keeps the ruling that is in accordance with its own attributes. As for the hadîth that states 'Whatever intoxicates in large quantities, then a small quantity of it is forbidden', this refers to a certain beverage that intoxicates when someone drinks a lot of it but not when he drinks a little. It is unlawful to drink a small quantity of such a beverage, because even though a small quantity cannot make a person drunk, it can lead to drinking larger quantities." [Majmû` al-Fatâwâ (4/260)]
From this discussion, we can derive the following rule:

If a large quantity of a given drink intoxicates, then a small quantity of that drink is forbidden. Conversely, if a large quantity of that drink does not intoxicate, then that drink is not forbidden.

On this basis, we can see that non-alcoholic beer is not an intoxicating drink, since it cannot intoxicate a person even if it is consumed in gargantuan quantities. Though there is a trace amount of alcohol in certain brands of non-alcoholic beer that can be determined by laboratory testing, this minute amount does not in any way warrant classifying the drink as an intoxicating beverage. It would be extremely difficult for a person to drink enough of the beer for the alcohol within it to have any affect.

For example, a person weighing a mere 54 kg (120 lbs) would have to consume at least twenty-three 330 ml bottles of non-alcoholic beer at 0.5% alcohol per volume - the high end of the spectrum for non-alcoholic beers - to even begin to feel intoxicated by the alcohol that it contains. (Incidentally, this is larger than the faraq mentioned in the hadîth.) Moreover, he would have to drink this quantity within a period of less than 15 minutes. He will not be able to become intoxicated if he takes a longer time to consume those 23 bottles, since in that case the liver will be eliminating the alcohol faster than he can consume it. Needless to say, anyone who undertakes to consume 23 bottles of non-alcoholic beer in 15 minutes so he can experience a transient moment of mild intoxication is doing something unlawful in Islam.

One of the reasons why the Prophet (peace be upon him) forbade small quantities of intoxicating beverages is that a little can lead to a lot. How many alcoholics started off with a glass of wine at the dinner table? This level of consumption can increase slowly until the unfortunate fellow is thoroughly addicted and spends more of his life drunk than sober.

This risk does not exist for non-alcoholic beer. The trace amount of alcohol that it may contain is inconsequential. It can neither intoxicate nor cause dependency or addiction. We know of the alcohol within the beverage from laboratory testing, not from the affect that it has on people who drink it. The drink is simply a barley or malt beverage and can no more be forbidden as an intoxicant than can grape juice or apple cider.

For this reason, a good number of scholars, including our own Sheikh Salman al-Oadah, consider it permissible for Muslims to drink non-alcoholic beer.
There is another possible objection that might be raised against non-alcoholic beer. Alcohol is considered an impure substance by many scholars, though its impurity is a matter of dispute. However, even if we accept that alcohol is impure, it will not affect the ruling on non-alcoholic beer. There are two reasons for this. First of all, wine and other alcoholic drinks are considered impure because of the fact that they are intoxicating beverages, not specifically because they contain alcohol. Non-alcoholic beer is non-intoxicating; therefore it is not impure. Secondly, even if we insist on considering the alcohol itself as an impure substance in the drink, this will not make the drink impure. It is an established principle in Islamic Law that if minute quantities of impure substances are completely submerged or obliterated in pure substances, they do not make those pure substances impure. The quantity of alcohol in non-alcoholic beer is so minute as to be unworthy or recognition as far as matters of purification are concerned.

Hence, there are no grounds to prohibit this drink. And Allah knows best.