Bengali restaurateurs – Can selling alcohol be justified?

Most Bengali restaurants sell alcohol

As a British born Bangladeshi, writes Dilly Hussain, it has always bugged me how the Bengali community has casually accepted and even perceives as “permissible” the selling and profiting from alcohol in restaurants. I have close family and friends who own restaurants that sell alcohol, some of them have beards, “pray five times” and consider themselves as “practising”. But how can Muslim restaurateurs justify the selling and consumption of alcohol in their premises?

Britain’s love of all things “spicy” goes far as back to the Crusades, before Europeans even knew that India existed. By 1612, English merchants enjoyed their first meal in Surat, India. The “spice” of Indian cuisine came from black pepper, cardamom and cumin. It was the Portuguese in 1501 who first introduced “chilli powder” in Europe, which is the hallmark of Indian cuisine today.

When Bangladeshis came over to Britain as economic migrants after World War Two, they gradually took over a trade which hadn’t really established itself but definitely lifted off once they got their hands on it – curry houses. There are more than 10,500 Indian restaurants in Britain, over 90% are owned by Bengali Muslims and 95% of those restaurants are licensed to sell and consume alcohol in their premises.

Selling  and consumption of alcohol

The scriptural evidences from the Qur’an and Sunnah are ample in regards to the prohibition of alcohol. All schools of thought have a consensus on this matter and no difference of opinion exists. However, I still feel obliged to quote just two of the most authentic (among many) references to the Islamic prohibition of alcohol:

“They ask you (O Muhammad) concerning alcoholic drinks and gambling. Say: In them is a great sin.” (Surah Al-Baqarah 2:219)

It was narrated by Anas ibn Malik (ra) that Prophet Muhammad (saw) said: “Cursed are ten people in connection with wine (all alcoholic drinks): the wine-presser, the one who has it pressed, the one who drinks it, the one who conveys it, the one to whom it is conveyed, the one who serves it, the one who sells it, the one who benefits from the price paid for it, the one who buys it, and the one for whom it is bought.” (Al-Tirmidhi no.2776)

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As clearly stated in the hadith above, Islam does not only consider the consumer of alcohol as sinful, but the one who sells and makes profit from it also. A common justification that I’ve heard Bengali restaurant owners use is that its “permissible to sell it to non-Muslims” – does that mean Muslims can sell drugs as long as its to non-Muslims? When I asked these restaurateurs for evidences to prove their “manufactured” opinions, they looked at me with red faces and in utter confusion.

Let’s say for arguments sake that selling alcohol to non-Muslims was permissible, what about the thousands of pounds of profit they make from selling it? How come the same restaurateurs say that selling pork is haraam? There seemed to be a clear double-standard of “picking and choosing” of what’s halal and haraam in Islam.

Then there’s the issue of allowing customers to drink inside the premises, but I guess that’s hardly an “issue” if all the above are “permissible”. I’ve asked many Bengali restaurateurs if they’d allow someone to drink in their homes, they looked at me baffled that I even asked that. Then I asked – what is the difference between your home and your business? Are both not your properties? Again, the confused look usually followed.

Common justifications 

I couldn’t get any “official comments” for this feature because everyone I interviewed made me promise not to mention their names, I will uphold that as a Muslim. However, I will provide the answers I got from restaurateurs about selling alcohol, making profits from it and allowing its consumption on their premises.

1. “I know its haraam, and I pray to Allah for forgiveness. I want to stop selling alcohol but I’m too sucked in. Insh’Allah I will pack it in soon.” 

This is the most honest answer I got, but “I’m too sucked in” usually means that business is doing well!

2. “Allah (swt) and the Prophet Muhammad (saw) only referred to “wine” not any other forms of alcohol.”

So beer, whisky or any form of drugs is allowed because Allah only prohibited wine? An opinion absent of evidence.

3. “We can’t survive without selling alcohol. People will not come to our restaurant.”

Invest in another business which doesn’t involve alcohol, like grill houses and kebab shops.

4. “Insh’Allah I will go Hajj and ask Allah for forgiveness.”

How can you guarantee how long you’re going to live for? Funding a pilgrimage with haraam money is another discussion all together.

5. “If you don’t like this country go back to Bangladesh! Why do you dress and live like a westerner?”

This is the most defensive of all the answers usually said to me in anger.

I asked a national organization called “Guild of Bangladeshi Restaurateurs” which consists of nearly 3000 Bengali restaurant owners for a comment on selling alcohol, they chose not to.

Funding mosques  

The most alarming element of this whole subject, is that many of these restaurateurs have a close involvement in mosque committees. In my own hometown of Bedford, the secretary of the main “Bengali mosque” owns a restaurant that sells alcohol. I know that every Bengali that reads this article, knows of a alcohol selling restaurateur involved in a mosque, either as a committee member, trustee, treasurer, secretary or chairman.

I know of gatherings that are held to discuss mosque issues in restaurants. The only reason I can see that our mosques allow such people to be a part of their committees is financial and political. The financial contributions many restaurateurs give to mosques is substantial, and many perceive this as a “expiation of their sins”.

The lucrative revenue of Indian cuisines also assist mosques when they want extensions to their buildings. With their close ties with politicians who dine at their restaurants they are also utilized to “sweeten” those who can “pull the strings.”

I will end on this note, if Muslims want to sell alcohol in their restaurants (or off licenses) then accept that its a bad deed. Don’t make excuses to justify something that has clearly been prohibited by Allah (swt) and His Messenger (saw). The same goes to our rulers in the Muslim world who allow it under the justification of “tourism revenue” which will strengthens their economies.

Dilly Hussain interviewed over 30 Bengali restaurateurs and they all requested to remain anonymous.

You can follow Dily Hussain on @DillyHussain88

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