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The Tequila Sin: Alcohol in the Muslim World

In the Middle East, Alcohol sales increased by 72% between 2001 and 2011, while on a global scale, only an increase of 30% was visible.

The Middle East is dominated by Muslims – a known fact.

Alcohol is forbidden in Islam – another known fact, despite denials.

Yet, the alcohol industry in the region is flourishing. The growth continues, although the turmoil caused by revolutions in various countries in the Middle East and North Africa in 2011 slowed down the consumption and manufacturing of alcoholic products.

It is no secret that alcohol is quite popular among Arab Muslim nations, yet due to cultural customs and traditions, barely anybody likes to talk about it.

In the Middle East, alcohol sales increased by 72% between 2001 and 2011, while on a global scale, only an increase of 30% was visible.

Prominent Magazine “The Economist” specifically explains that the “rise [in alcohol-sales in the Middle East] is unlikely to be accounted for by non-Muslims and foreigners alone”.

Alcohol is a taboo in several Arab Muslim countries, and even though the law might approve of its consumption, the societies themselves reject the idea and – especially in the poorer circles – people who consume alcohol are looked down on.

Some Muslim countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Libya and Pakistan formally prohibit the consumption of alcoholic drinks and make it punishable by law, yet this does not mean that people in these countries do not drink it. In Lebanon, Turkey, Indonesia, and Egypt it is officially legal to consume alcohol.

The magazine calculated the annual alcohol consumption of people in different Muslim countries from 2003 – 2005 of age-groups 15+, revealing rather interesting results.

[All figures add up to the number of liters of pure alcohol consumed per person in one year].

The highest consumption can be found among the secular-minded wealthy of Lebanon, where one person drinks about 2.23 liters of pure alcohol a year. Lebanon is closely followed by Turkey, as one person consumes about 1.87 liters annually. Next on the list is Iran, where home-brewers and party-goers in Tehran drink 1.02 liters per capita a year, even though it is not officially allowed.

Indonesia stands at 0.59 liters a day, while Egypt follows with 0.37 liters mainly consumed either by the poor in their own homes, or by the rich in “posh hotels”. In Saudi Arabia, foreign diplomats are thought to drink 0.25 liters of pure alcohol a year. As for Libya, the study claimed that the Qaddafi-family was the main alcohol-consumer before its fall earlier this year, with 0.11 liters. Last on the list is Pakistan, with only 0.06 liters.

According to the BBC, Saudi Arabia’s punishment for drinking alcohol is public lashing, and last month, English newspaper The Guardian reported about an Iranian couple that was lashed 160 times twice for consuming alcohol, and was facing the death penalty after they were caught the third time. The Human Rights Watch urged Iran to reverse the sentence, arguing that the “crimes … are not considered serious and exceptional under treaties that bind it.