Smoking in Islam

By Basim Ali

Ok let’s get this straight. We all know how wrong smoking is: for you and for those around you (the smoke you exhale has detrimental effects on the health of those who inhale it; they’re called passive smokers). With the modern research proving the harms of smoking every day, there’s no denying that smoking kills. Yes, I said kills.

I don’t think people need to be briefed on the innumerable, proven links that smoking has been shown to have with health complications such as cancer, cardio-vascular disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease etc. It would be like closing your eyes to the very obvious if one chooses to ignore them and hurl his God-gifted, perfectly healthy body into the abyss of smoking.

A pigeon is dripping wet and on top of a tall building and it sees a cat approaching with nowhere to go. So it closes its eyes in fear and hopes that by doing so the cat will go away. But does the cat go away? Of course not! You’re the pigeon when you decide to take up smoking; you choose to take all the risks and start smoking. Do the harms go away?  No. It’s just that one fine day you wake up, you look yourself in the mirror and you realize you’re staring at an addict!

As a person who is going through cancer, believe me you do not want to go through cancer. To most people, cancer seems like a ‘rare’ disease and something they have a one in a million chance of getting. Not really. You’re living your normal life and all of a sudden you have cancer. You were not the least bit prepared for it, and now you’re expected to be okay with the fact that you have a disease which has killed millions. You have to go through chemotherapy and probably radiation if you’re lucky your cancer hasn’t progressed much (otherwise you just wait…). Going through cancer is an extremely painful process. Chemotherapy does weird things to your body making you nauseous, bald, making every inch of your body hurt, and the radiation can possibly cause permanent infertility. You want to risk having to go through all that when you can avoid it? Fine!

Enough about what all of us already know, though. The purpose of this article is to show the Islamic perspective of smoking. I could show you verses of the Qur’an and several ahadith, which prohibit intoxicants, but a lot of people argue that nicotine being a stimulant is not an intoxicant (it does not cause poor judgment). It is a pretty valid point, to be honest. If someone smoked a 100 packs a day, they’d probably die of nicotine overdose before any signs of defective judgment can be spotted.  So here are the rulings of two of our most followed, living Maraji’ regarding smoking:

Sayyid Sistani:
There is overwhelming evidence on the dangers to health posed by smoking. Is it permissible for a non-smoker to take up the habit and a smoker to continue?

If smoking results in an untold damage to the health of the smoker, and that of the unborn child of a smoking woman, it is haraam. And it is so, for the beginner, as well as the compulsive smoker who might not suffer serious damage as a result of stopping smoking. As for him who may be harmed, in any way, as a result of stopping the habit, the right balance between kicking the habit and continuing it should be achieved.

Sayyid Khamenei:
Is smoking ḥarām to start with? And, if one, who is addicted to smoking, gives it up, is it ḥarām to goes back to it after a week or so?

The ruling varies according to the degree of damage resulting from smoking. Generally speaking, it is impermissible to smoke cigarettes in the amount that proves considerably harmful to one’s health. Also, if one knows that upon starting it, he will reach such a level, it is not permissible.

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There has been quite some confusion about smoking, specifically amongst the followers of the Ithna Ashari Imamiyyah. This is because previously many Maraji’ had allowed smoking (for example, Sayyid Khui’). The ruling has now changed, and the above quoted fataawa clearly reflect on this.

Smoking has become the leading cause of various types of cancer and other fatal diseases. This is sufficient to fulfill the criterion set by the fataawa; i.e of  ‘considerable harm’.

Apologetics seem to have pointed out that one of our most esteemed Maraji’ was a chain-smoker himself. Sadly, people have been exploiting this fact for far too long. I accept the fact that he did smoke and also that he did rule that smoking was permissible. But this was only because the harms of smoking were not satisfactorily proven during his lifetime. The first experiment was conducted on dogs in the 1960s, and only now have we collected enough proof to establish links between smoking and other diseases. Smoking was very common in Iran like everywhere else, pretty much like drinking tea. The harms were proven much later on, as was the case with using CFCs, for example. Therefore, based on the principle ‘Everything is permissible until proven otherwise’, smoking was permissible back then. The ruling has now changed. This is the reason most fataawa about smoking do not fail to mention the condition behind the prohibition of smoking. Shaykh Makarem Shirazi further clarified this change in ruling in a fatwa he issued back in 2009 which can be found here.

Frankly, with the tremendous amount of proof we have against smoking, we shouldn’t require a formal prohibition from Islam in order to stop smoking or not to take it up in the first place. Common sense dictates you should keep your body from all harm’s way.

So if you’re already a smoker, you better quit now and if you’re thinking of taking up smoking (or if the bizarre idea every strikes you later on), know that it may be the last mistake you ever make. All over the world, companies that produce cigarettes are required by law to print a warning on the pack about the detrimental health effects of smoking. Of all people where the seller is himself warning the buyer of the product, it would be pretty foolish to ignore his warning and to continue using the product!

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