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Embassy in the News

Drugs and Islam

by James Emery

Religion and nationalism have been the refuge of scoundrels for many years, so I wasn’t surprised when I heard that Haji Baz Mohammad, the Afghan criminal mastermind who’s made millions of dollars from narcotics trafficking, state that he was selling heroin in order to wage a jihad against the United States. Right, and Al Capone sold booze and women to fund his soup lines.

The Taliban, who’ve earned over a billion dollars in the narcotics trade under the dubious guise of religious warriors, claim they are promoting drugs to attack the West. I suppose the Taliban consider the fact that millions of Muslims have become addicted to their drugs as collateral damage in their so-called “jihad.”

The Qur’an bans the use and involvement with all intoxicants and mind-altering substances in the second surah, verse 219 and the fifth surah, verse 90. Wine and mind-altering substances are referred to as khamr derived from the Arabic word khamara, which means to veil or conceal. Muhammad said that every intoxicant is khamr, and that every khamr is haram (the Arabic word for forbidden).

“Muhammad says that whatever alters the mind is khamr,” said Ammar Amonette, the Imam at a large mosque. “So there is no question that drugs are khamr. There is a fatwa against alcohol and drugs. They are forbidden for the welfare of the individual and the community.”

Within Islam, there are six essential fundamentals that must be defended. The first is religion and the second is human life. The third fundamental is the mind, which comes ahead of family, wealth, and honor. Anything that is a threat to one of these six things must be dealt with immediately. The Imam told me, “How can we expect people to make proper decisions if their mind is clouded? People who are on drugs are likely to commit crimes and violate moral laws.”

“A lot of people would deny the fact that the Taliban are involved,” continued the Imam, “especially people who support them. Within Islam, the Taliban are an outlaw group in many ways. As perpetrators in the drug trade, they are guilty of spreading corruption in society. They are responsible for the misery that befalls every individual or family.”

The definition of khamr extends to anything that befogs or alters the mind. There is no compromise on this issue. No distinction between a little or a lot, as a single step in the wrong direction, such as one drink, would encourage additional steps, potentially dooming the individual and their family.

From a historical perspective, Muslim scholars considered anyone who sells alcohol, drugs, or other mind-altering substances to be far worse than the person who uses them. “The general attitude,” said the Imam, “is to be lenient towards addicts and severe towards dealers, especially big dealers.” Some Muslim scholars have said that anyone who sells khamr is considered to be an agent of Satan.

Another Imam I spoke to referred to drug addiction as a plague on society; a disease that weakens the addict physically and morally and destroys families, which are the foundation of Islamic culture. Virtually all Muslims worldwide, except the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and other reprehensible groups, hold a deep loathing for anyone involved in the manufacture, distribution, or consumption of drugs.

Perhaps this point should be reinforced in Afghanistan and Pakistan through government sponsored public information programs that point out that opium cultivation and drug trafficking are forbidden by the Qur’an and in direct violation to the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad.

Seminars could be held in each community to provide information on the impact of the drug trade that would include lectures, movies, photographs, and testimonials from victims and their families about the devastation of narcotics. These programs would be open to the public, with special invitations and seating for Imams, school teachers, and the press, who could be encouraged to reinforce the message through mosques, schools, and the media.

Gatherings of this type would help people better understand the suffering and misery caused by the drug trade, while soliciting their support in discouraging family members and other Muslims from having anything to do with it. If this were done in conjunction with the development of self-sustaining alternative sources of income, it could discourage many Afghans from growing opium poppy or working in the drug industry.

A number of sources have linked Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda directly with the drug trade. One of the older reports I reviewed states that prior to the defeat of the Taliban, Osama bin Laden served as a middleman for Afghan opium traders, using his commissions to buy weapons and provide funding for his training camps. There are numerous credible reports that some Taliban groups, including top leaders, are directly involved in selling and smuggling opiates, in addition to collecting taxes and protection money from drug traffickers.

“Al-Qaeda and the Taliban are terrorists,” said Ashraf Haidari, Political Counselor at the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington, D.C. “They work hand-in-hand so we really don’t differentiate between them. Narcotics are one source of funding for al-Qaeda.”

While al-Qaeda has attempted to keep a low profile regarding their involvement in the drug trade, they have without question, actively supported the Taliban’s drug-related activities for many years. Al-Qaeda operatives have also accompanied Taliban forces in protecting heroin shipments and narcotic’s traffickers.

“The Taliban are doing what the Taliban are all about,” added Haidari. “The drugs, the hostage taking, targeting civilians, and holding female Koreans are totally against Islam.” Some of the Taliban insurgent’s reportedly gang raped several of the Korean women. Since their inception, the Taliban have committed an incalculable number of offenses against Islam. They should be publicly ostracized as loathsome criminals and heretics who have repeatedly defiled Islam and willingly destroyed millions of Muslim families, engulfed in the horrific degradation of drug addiction.

The Prophet Muhammad said that the primary emphasis of jihad was the internal struggle to become a better human being, something that is lost on charlatans like Haji Baz, bin Laden, and the Taliban. The jihad to defend the faith was a different form of struggle, with strict requirements to justify taking up arms. This has been ignored by terrorists and drug traffickers who use Islam as a ruse for their real objectives, power and wealth.

During the Hajj to Mecca there is a special line for anyone arriving from Pakistan due to the amount of drugs that have been brought into the Sacred Arabian Peninsula from that location. While people arriving from other countries just have their luggage screened, Saudi officials take passengers from Pakistan behind a curtain to do a body search for Afghan drugs. Perhaps they are looking for Taliban jihad tools -- heroin and hashish -- that got misdirected.


James Emery is an anthropologist and journalist who has reported on regional conflicts and the drug trade for over twenty years, including five years overseas. He’s made several trips into Afghanistan, Myanmar, and other drug- producing and transit countries. Professor Emery lectures on Afghan and Arab culture and the use of applied anthropological techniques in the occupation of Afghanistan, global terrorism, and the war on drugs. His essays on Opium and the Drug War in Afghanistan, and on the Training of International Drug Enforcement Agents can be read in the October and November issues of World and I Online.

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