Umar’s Advice to Someone Who Became an Alcoholic

Umar's Advice to Someone Who Became an Alcoholic

There was a man from Ash-Sham (Syria and surrounding regions) who used to frequent ‘Umar’s gatherings. When ‘Umar (ra) didn’t see him for a number of successive days, he asked others about him. Someone said to ‘Umar (ra), “He has become addicted to drinking alcohol.”

Upon hearing this sad news, ‘Umar (ra) said to his scribe, “Write down the following:

From ‘Umar ibn Al-Khattaab to so-and-so.

Peace be upon you. I say to you that all praise is for Allah and that none has the right to be worshipped but Him. In the name of Allah, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful.”

‘Umar (ra) then recited the following verse:

 حمٓ • تَنزِيلُ ٱلْكِتَـٰبِ مِنَ ٱللَّهِ ٱلْعَزِيزِ ٱلْعَلِيمِ • غَافِرِ ٱلذَّنۢبِ وَقَابِلِ ٱلتَّوْبِ شَدِيدِ ٱلْعِقَابِ ذِى ٱلطَّوْلِ ۖ لَآ إِلَـٰهَ إِلَّا هُوَ ۖ إِلَيْهِ ٱلْمَصِيرُ

“Hâ Mim. [These letters are one of the miracles of the Qur’an, and none but Allah (Alone) knows their meanings]. The revelation of the Book (this Qur’an) is from Allah the All-Mighty, the All-Knower. The Forgiver of sin, the Acceptor of repentance, the Severe in punishment, the Bestower (of favours). La ilaha illa Huwa (none has the right to be worshipped but He), to Him is the final return.“ (Qur’an: 40:1-3)

Having dictated the contents of the letter, Umar (ra) said to his messenger, “Do not hand him this letter until you find him to be completely sober. ” ‘Umar (ra) then ordered those who were with him to supplicate for the forgiveness of the alcoholic man.

Upon being given ‘Umar’s letter, the alcoholic man proceeded to read it; and having reflected on the meaning of the verse that Umar (ra) quoted in the letter, he said, “Verily, my Lord has promised to forgive me, and He has warned me about His punishment.” As he continued to repeat those phrases to himself, tears began to flow from his eyes. He asked for forgiveness from his Lord, and had thus successfully completed an important step in the process of repentance. And he was determined not to stop there, but to go further by making his repentance complete: he did so by vowing to never again imbibe even a drop of alcohol. In fulfillment of that vow, he went cold turkey, turning away from his addiction both abruptly and completely. First and foremost because of Allah’s help, and then because of his own determination and sincere repentance, the man made a smooth and complete and immediate transition from the state of alcoholism to that of total abstinence.

When ‘Umar (ra) heard the good news, he said to his companions. “That is what you should do: If you see that one of you has fallen into error, then help him to correct himself, and supplicate for him – but [whatever you do] do not be a helper of the Devil against him (i.e., by shunning him, by condemning him, by being judgmental in a non-helpful way, or by doing anything to discourage him from repenting).”[1]

‘Umar (ra) was an ideal leader – this much most Muslims know through his reputation as a rightly-guided Khaleefah. But he was a wonderful teacher as well, being aware that, while some teaching methods might work on one student, they might be harmful on another. Or in other words, he went from being harsh, to being merciful, to being commiserating, to being genile, to being serious with people, not randomly, but based on what he felt would be the most effective way of teaching and guiding each individual. So his method of teaching changed based on the needs and the situation of each person he dealt with.

There is another important lesson that we should learn from the above-mentioned story. If one is in a position of authority – as an Imam, a teacher, a counselor, etc. – one should care for all of the individuals for whom one is responsible. For despite being a leader with great responsibilities and with very little, if any, free time, ‘Umar (ra) cared enough about his people to notice the absence of a single individual from his gathering. He then inquired about that individual and made the effort to help him in his time of need. These days, if a Muslim stops attending a gathering, hardly anyone notices that he is missing. And even if others do notice his absence, it is unlikely that they will inquire about his well-being, never mind take any actual steps to help him. Certainly, the indifference that we show to one another is contrary to the true meaning of Islamic brotherhood. And we ask Allah de to guide us, to make us care for one another, and to instill into our hearts the realization that, as Muslims, we are truly brothers unto one another, and that we should treat one another accordingly.[2]

[The Biography of Umar ibn Al-Khattaab (RA) by Dr. ‘Ali Muhammad As-Sallaabee, Vol. 1, p. 428-430]


[1] Tafseer Al-Qurtubee (15/256).

[2] Shaheed Al-Maihraab (pg. 208).

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