Sunday, October 30, 2016

In a foundational work of medical literature, The Welfare of Bodies and Souls (Kitāb maṣāliḥ al- abdān wa al-anfus) of Abū Zayd al-Balkhī (849–943), we find the author stating: 

"The best drink that humans, through their reason and understanding, have devised a means of producing, is the refined grape-drink among whose properties is that it intoxicates [al-sharāb al-ʿinabī al-raqīq alladhī min ṭabʿi-hi al-iskār]. It is, of all beverages, the most noble in essence, most superior in composition, and most beneficial—if taken in moderation, and not to excess."

Abū Zayd is, of course, speaking of grape-wine.

"The benefit of a substance to the body lies in what the substance provides the body by way of health and strength, whereas its bene t to the soul lies in what the substance provides the soul by way of happiness and ani- mation: for these two things—I mean: health and happiness—are the end to which all people strive in this world; and they are not found together in any food or drink save for in this particular drink [illā fī hādhā al-nawʿ min al-sharāb].

. . . Its benefit to the soul is the happiness and animation that it provides the soul. It is is something unique to it among all foods and drinks, for none of these have in them anything of which the pleasure is transported from the body to the soul producing therein—as does this drink— an abundance of happiness, animation, openness, stimulation, self-contentment, generosity, and freedom from cares and sorrows. 

Among its virtues is that it acts to produce a marvelous effect within the capacities of the soul by bringing forth from it that which was not seen to be present in it prior to drinking: such as the capacities for courage and magnanimity—which are known to be the noblest of human capacities—this even if these things were lacking in a person before: thus, wine gives courage to the coward and makes generous the miser. It also increases that which is already present in a person: such as the capacities for understanding, memory, intellect, eloquence, and sharpness of thought; for it is known that these virtues increase in a person when he has reached the midway state of drinking—before he is overcome by inebriation.

Further among its virtues is that it is the thing that creates a cause for friends to come together around it in conversation and close company . . . It is known that society is made pleasurable by listening or by conversing . . . and that it is by listening and conversing that companionship and happiness fourish in social gatherings—and that nothing makes listening and conversing so agreeable and pleasurable as partaking in wine. It is wine that provides excellence to society and conversation . . . and there is nothing that makes possible relations of intimacy and confidence between friends so tastefully and pleasantly and effectively as does drinking wine together. In this way one finds that . . . the person dearest to anyone from among all his associates is his boon-companion who drinks with him."

Quoted in What is Islam? by Shehab Ahmed, 2016, p. 59

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