Islamic Perspectives

Why has Smoking not been declared Haram by now?

Let Ramadan be the month of mass abandoning of Smoking by Muslims! According to latest estimates, more than 6 million people are killed by tobacco compared to 3 million by Alcohol. How can such a big killer be Halal?

I will focus here on smoking only because while alcohol and drugs are considered Haram by all the religious experts of Islam, unfortunately, smoking has not yet been declared universally Haram. This is despite the fact that smoking kills and devastates much more than the other addictions.

It was in late 1980s when this writer had authored an article “Why Cigarette Smoking should be declared Haram” It was published first in Radiance and was then republished in many other magazines and newspapers including The Kuwait Times. Subsequently, certain religious scholars in Egypt had issued an edict about Cigarette smoking being Haram. But unfortunately, the movement did not pick up, and smoking continues to be a major health hazard not only in the world as a whole but also in Muslim countries including the Arab world, Iran and Malaysia. Muslims tend to consider it permissible.

Let us first see how much important health is in Islamic system of affairs. The truth is that Islam is meant for protecting life, both in this world and the Hereafter, keeping it healthy and ensuring the highest standards of healthiness. We will see below that Islamic permissions and prohibitions are largely dependent on the impact of the practices on health. In fact, while Islam gives maximum importance to health, the current world order compromises health for the sake of economics.

Health is arguably the most important gift of nature to man. Prophet Muhammad (SAW) has also described well-being as the biggest gift of God to humans. Without health, life becomes an unmeaning burden. But to maintain health requires exactly what the current world dominated by market fundamentalists loathe: discipline in life with plenty of restrictions on activities. The worship of Hygeia is not tolerable for Mammon. “Restrictions” and “prohibitions” are words that do not exist in the lexicon of the bazaar. Health is also or must be perhaps the most easily recognizable criterion of right and wrong. In the simplest terms, right and wrong can be defined thus: what has a good overall impact on health is good, and what has a bad overall impact is bad. This definition can create some complications; but it holds good for most of the cases. Health itself is a comprehensive state of well being. Normally, it is defined in terms of physical, mental and social well being, with spiritual well being added as an essential constituent recently. Ideally this includes family health as well. This is essential for family is an organised unit of society comprising individuals. A person, male or female, child, young or old, is an individual, a member of the family and a member of society.

Consequent on the blind race for money, what has suffered most is health – physical, mental, spiritual and social. While medical scientists have been perpetually engrossed in efforts to find out the aetiologies and remedies of various health problems, magnates have been relentlessly engaged in popularising whatever suits their interests, irrespective of their impact on human health. And the tragedy is that medical scientists too have lately become mere tools in the hands of industrialists. They sometimes resist. But, subdued as they are in disposition, at the most their viewpoint is published only in medical journals. If at all it becomes public, merchants find alternative ways to submerge it into oblivion. The medical world is not dynamic enough to aggressively push its concerns. The problem has further been compounded by the privatisation of medical institutions and research laboratories. The industries are now buying medical specialists for their own ends. They have the money power to lure experts who too seem to have found a heavenly haven in the garden of materialism.

Islam classifies human acts into following categories: 

  1. Halal (Permissible), without being obligatory or desirable;
  2. Fard (obligatory);
  3. Mustahab (Desirable), without being obligatory;
  4. Haram (Prohibited):
  5. Makruh (undesirable) without prohibited.

This categorization is extremely important; this in fact makes the Islamic Shariah the most scientific system of the world. It also gives certain flexibility to the Shariah, which makes life easy for even those having weaker convictions.

The Qur’an itself declares that it allows what is good and forbids what is bad. Now, when we study various prohibitions and obligations in Islam on the basis of the till now available scientific knowledge, we find the categorisation of acts, where they are related with health, to be based on the following principles;

1. Islam declares all those items and practices prohibited which do not form parts of the normal requirements of the body and can directly lead to the development of a disease which more often than not becomes fatal or causes physical handicaps like blindness, paralysis, etc.

2. Islam declares all those items and practices makruh or undesirable, which may harm the health but are neither usually fatal, nor lead to any physical handicap like blindness, paralysis etc.

3. Islam declares all those things Mustahab or desirable that have beneficial effect on the health of the individual or society in general.

It is to highlight the importance of Health in Islam that in my book, “Quranic Paradigms of Sciences & Society” (First vol.: Health) I have given a new definition of Health based on Islamic principles. It says:

“Health is a state of complete physical, mental, spiritual and social wellbeing, which must be safeguarded not only through the maintenance of a health preserving regime at the personal/individual level, but also through the establishment of a health-protective and promoting family system and a health-protective and promoting social system.”

This definition signals a huge paradigm shift in the awy health management needs to be done and would give sleepless nights to all the proponents of globalisation and their stooges in the World Health Organisation and other health related international bodies and agencies. The WHO has never insisted on identifying practices that are not suitable for humans and must therefore be totally prohibited, legally and socially, through effective measures at the national and international level. Whenever campaigns have emerged and intensified against certain practices like smoking, the suggestions have been not to impose total ban on these practices and the commercialisation of harmful substances and practices but only to create awareness among the people about the adverse effects of their actions. The same approach is visible when we study the Lalonde report. The report suggested that there are four general determinants of health, which he called "human biology", "environment", "lifestyle", and "healthcare organisation". So, “health is maintained through the science and practice of medicine but can also be improved by individual effort. Physical fitness, weight loss, a healthy diet, stress management, training and stopping smoking and other substances are examples of steps to improve one's health. Workplace programs are recognised by an increasingly large number of companies for their value in improving health and well-being of their employees, and increasing morale, loyalty and productivity at work. A Company may provide a gym with exercise equipment, start smoking cessation programs, provide nutrition, weight or stress management training. Other programmes may include health risk assessments, health screenings and body mass index monitoring.” The report obviously stresses only the awareness and training programmes for individuals without even being lightly suggestive of any legal and executive measures to ensure a health protective family and society, where individuals are not exposed to dangerous substances and practices. What to speak of a health protective society, the international system is allowing society to become provocative for the practices that are dangerous from medical point of view.

To explain the medical basis of prohibitions, let us concentrate on the prohibition of alcohol, sexual freedom and pork. 

Let us first take the case of alcohol. To describe its toxic effects requires hundreds of pages. To be very concise, the drinking of alcohol causes a number of diseases the chief among them being Cirrhosis, Pancreatitis, Alcoholic Neuropathies, Psychosis, etc. Out of these, Cirrhosis in an incurable fatal disease having no treatment till now in any of the systems of medicine. Thousands of persons die every year of alcoholism. Apart from being dangerous medically, alcoholism is perhaps the biggest familial and social problem of the world that leads, directly or indirectly, to serious disturbances in the families, suicides, murders, rapes and accidents, causing heavy damage to the life and property.

Similarly, pork, prohibited in Islam, is known for giving rise to Trichinelliasis, caused by Trichinella spiralis and Taenaiasis, caused by Taenia solium. Trichinella and also sometimes Taenia solium (when it makes human body its primary host) enter the blood circulation and in a number of cases cause paralysis, blindness or sudden death. Interestingly, the other species of the genus Taenia, namely, Taenia saginata found in cow’s meat does never make human being its primary host and therefore does never enter the blood circulation. It remains confined to the intestines causing much less harmful diseases like anaemia.

Pork in addition has an indirect highly dangerous implication on health due top pig farming. Swine flu caused by contacts with pigs has killed more than 150 million people in the last two century.

Free sex, advocated by the Western society is also directly responsible for many dangerous diseases of which syphilis in the past and AIDS at the present have been responsible for millions of deaths. Free sex is also one of the major causes of the psychological, familial and social problems leading to crimes like murders and rapes and familial problems like separations and divorces.

Out of the desirable acts in Islam, circumcision, breastfeeding for two years and cleansing of teeth may be cited here as acts of extraordinary medical, significance. Circumcision prevents fatal diseases, namely, Cancer of Penis in the males and Cancer of Cervix in the females and Muslims rarely suffer from these. It has been proved that AIDS in circumcised men are much less than in the uncircumcised. Cleansing the teeth, which the Prophet did practice before every Salaah (namaz), prevents dental diseases like carries, pyorrhoea etc. Breastfeeding for two years has been proved to have a significant positive effect on life expectancy. All Islamic practices of Fard and mustahab in fact have beneficial effect on life expectancy, and all prohibited practices have a pronounced depleting effect.

In my book, “Quranic Paradigm of Sciences & Society” (First Volume: Health”, I have developed a Quranic dynamic paradigm of health. While the WHO Definition of Health describes health as “a state of complete physical, mental, social and spiritual being” with the onus of maintaining health only on individuals without fixing the responsibility of maintaining health on system, Islamic definition of health, developed by this writer, is much broader:

“Health is a state of complete physical, mental, spiritual and social wellbeing, which must be safeguarded not only through the maintenance of a health preserving regime at the personal/individual level, but also through the establishment of a health-protective and promoting family system and a health-protective and promoting social system.”

It is on the basis of this definition that I have advocated Right to Health as a Fundamental right. When the right to health becomes a fundamental right, smoking, drinking and uninhibited sex would automatically become unlawful; for each one of these is responsible for increase by millions in the annual mortality and morbidity. This will result in a momentous fall in the incidence of diseases like lung cancer, mouth cancer, cirrhosis, ischaemic heart diseases, peptic ulcers, bronchitis, Korsakoff psychosis, syphilis, gonorrhoea, Chancroid, herpes, AIDS and a number of psychiatric diseases. The crime, accident and suicide rates would also decline substantially.

Quran clearly points that God has allowed all wholesome things (Halal and Tayyib) and banned all unhealthy and unhygienic items and practices. Quran has also clearly asked not to put oneself in situations causing death:

“And spend in the way of Allah and do not throw [yourselves] with your [own] hands into destruction. And do good; indeed, Allah loves the doers of good.” (Al-Baqara, 2: 195).

“O you who have believed, do not consume one another's wealth unjustly but only [in lawful] business by mutual consent. And do not kill yourselves. Indeed, Allah is to you ever Merciful.” (Al-Baqara, 2: 29).   

It is clear that Quran prohibits anything that endangers life. How can then smoking be Halal? Some people argue that smoking does not cause the fogging of mind or intoxication like alcohol and drugs. They forget that it is threat to life and not the fogging or intoxication which is the primary criteria of prohibition. Pork, meat of dead animals, promiscuity and homosexuality do not cause “Khumaar” (intoxication) but have been expressly prohibited.

Smoking reduces life expectancy by more than ten years. According to BUPA’s Health Information Team, “Smoking cuts life expectancy by 10 years, reveal the results of a 50-year study. But the good news is that giving up at any age will add years to a person's life.” Smoking is an important factor in a number of diseases including Lung Cancer, Ischaemic heart diseases and hypertension, peripheral vascular disorders like Buerger’s diseases and Peptic ulcer. The study reveals that, on average, smokers die 10 years younger than non-smokers (

There are 1.3 billion smokers in the world. In an initial estimate of factors responsible for the global burden of disease, tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs contributed together 12.4% of all deaths worldwide in the year 2000. Looking at the percentage of total years of life lost due to these substances, it has been estimated that they account for 8.9%. While alcohol, gambling and sex-related problems are markedly less in Islamic societies, the smoking and the problems related to smoking fotm a significant portion of the Burden of Diseases in the Muslim Community. Banning it would make Islamic societies healthier and more peaceful.  

It can be seen that Tobacco is a bigger killer than even alcohol. According to latest estimates, more than 6 million people are killed by tobacco compared to 3 million by Alcohol. How can such a big killer be Halal? In addition, tens of millions develop severe respiratory illness causing breathlessness and cough and crippling heart diseases. The markets earn hundreds of billions, and this comes from the pockets of the people at the cost of their own health. The Islamic scholars cannot remain sleeping over this huge hazard to life. They need to sit together and issue a categorical fatwa declaring all forms of tobacco including smoking Haram. Once they do it, the governments, at least of Muslim countries, will be under pressure to ban the manufacturing and supply of the tobacco products.

The smokers have a golden opportunity to give up smoking during Ramadhan. If they are fasting, they are keeping away from smoking for more than twelve hours in most parts of the world. Just avoid smoking after the break time for a few days, and they will find it easy to give it up forever. They must remember that addiction can be given up only through quick abandoning; attempts to do it slowly are bound to fail. The higher spiritual level in Ramadhan is more likely to help their cause. If they take it as Haram, it will be easier for them to quit. Let every smoker and tobacco chewer take a pledge to give up their addiction forever! This will be one of the biggest thanksgivings to God in the month of Ramadhan.

Dr Javed Jamil is India based thinker and writer and Head of Chair in Islamic Studies & research, Yenepoya University, Mangalore,  with over a dozen books including his latest, “Muslim Vision of Secular India: Destination & Road-map” and  “Qur’anic Paradigms of Sciences & Society” (First Vol: Health), “Muslims Most Civilised, Yet Not Enough” and Other works include “The Devil of Economic Fundamentalism”, “The Essence of the Divine Verses”, “The Killer Sex”, “Islam means Peace” and “Rediscovering the Universe”. Read more about him at Facebook page:; also He can be contacted at 

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