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Being a Real Man in Islam:
Drugs, Criminality and The Problem of Masculinity
by Yahya Birt

June 2000, revised June 2001

We praise Allah and we seek His aid, we seek forgiveness from Him and we affirm faith in Him, and upon Him we are utterly reliant. We shower blessings upon the noble Prophet, the Head of the Prophets and Messengers, and upon his family and his companions and those that followed them in righteousness until the Day of Rising. There is no power or might except Allah, the Exalted and Mighty. I seek refuge in Allah from the accursed Devil. In the name of Allah, the All Merciful and Compassionate.

The Crisis of Criminality in the Muslim Community

The latest Home office statistics make grim reading for the Muslim community: Muslim prisoners have doubled in the last decade to reach a total of between 4000-4500—amounting to 9% of the total prison population—which is treble our proportion of the total population. One in eleven prisoners is Muslim. This surge in Muslim crime is not being discussed openly within the community, most probably out of a sense of shame. But in reality, we should be feel ashamed precisely because we are not discussing these problems openly and confronting them. Shame should impel not prohibit a constructive response.

So what sort of crime is being committed and who is doing it? Sadly, but not surprisingly, over 65% of these prisoners are young men between the ages of eighteen and thirty. This huge figure does not include youngsters under the age of 18 who are in custodial care. We should not forget to add that 10% are women. The sorts of crime committed not only include petty theft but also violent and obscene muggings. [1] Maqsood Ahmed, the Muslim Advisor to the Prison Service appointed by the government in 1999, says that currently (as of June 2000) 1005 out of the 4003 Muslim inmates have committed crimes related to drug pushing or drug use. So one in four of British Muslim prisoners have been convicted for drug-related offences. [2]

Muslims and the Global Drug Trade

We need to face facts: Muslim involvement in hard drugs is not confined to Muslims in the West. Of the traditional ‘natural’ drugs, Muslims are heavily involved with the planting, harvesting, refinement, smuggling, and distribution to Europe of heroin and cannabis. While cannabis is the most widely used illicit substance in Europe, heroin, the most deadly drug, is little used in comparison; but it is most associated with social marginalisation and addiction.


Today, Morocco is the world’s largest cannabis exporter, with a crop of 2000 metric tonnes, having had a tenfold increase in production from 1983-1993. While the Moroccan government has made agreements with the European Union (EU) to grow substitute crops and domestic seizures of hash have risen, total production has increased at the same time. There is deep government involvement, going right up to the Royal family; an assertion that can be given some credence because the Ministry of Agriculture produces highly accurate and confidential statistics about the total acreage of hash under cultivation every year. One estimate puts the value of hash exports at two thirds of Morocco’s total exports, or 10% of the country’s income. Most hash enters Europe through Spain, where it distributed by Moroccan and Dutch criminal elements among others.


Of the world’s two major heroin suppliers, Afghanistan overtook Burma as world leader in the late 1990s. In 1999, it supplied 77% of the world’s heroin, a figure which has been publicly acknowledged by the Taliban. [3] We can also note the increased production and refinement of poppy seed in Tajikistan, Kirgyzstan and Kazakhstan. [4] Hitherto, the drug, in a semi-refined state, has been shipped from Afghanistan through Pakistan to the West.

It was CIA intervention—in support of the Mujahedin who were fighting Soviet oppression in the early 1980s—which was crucial in turning Afghanistan and Pakistan from local suppliers into international ones by providing the necessary political protection and logistical networks. The CIA in co-operation with Pakistan’s Interservices Intelligence supplied arms to the Mujahedin in return for payment in raw opium. It was only after Soviet withdrawal that the US gave serious monies to combat poppy seed production. Pakistan had started the 1980s as a major producer of poppy seed, but government anti-drugs measures have virtually wiped out production (2 metric tonnes) by 1999. [5]

When the Taliban first captured Kandahar in 1994, they announced a total ban on drugs, but this stance was quickly dropped when they realised that narcotics provided an invaluable source of income and, furthermore, that an outright ban would greatly alienate farmers dependent on the crop. So as Taliban control spread, production rose by a massive 25% up to 1997. ‘Abd al-Rasheed, the head of the Taliban’s anti-drugs control force in Kandahar said in May 1997 that while there was a strict ban on hashish, “opium is permissible because it is consumed by kafirs (unbelievers) in the West and not by Muslims or Afghans.” [6] In the process of institutionalising and guaranteeing income from the drug trade, the Taliban started to levy zakat on poppy cultivation and charge tolls on the transportation of the poppy residue under armed Taliban guard out of the country. [7] An increasing number of drug laboratories were set up in Afghanistan. Even if not much drug profit stays in Afghanistan and Pakistan—only about 9% of the total Western street value—this still added up to about $1.35 billion US dollars in 1999.

Poppy seed, either as a raw crop or in its initially refined form as morphine, has until recently been the major source of income in a war-shattered economy both for farmers and the government. Yet despite this economic dependency, it must still be said: the remark of the Taliban official quoted above was hypocritical and cynical. There is not one standard of upright conduct for Muslims and another for non-Muslims: our religion requires us to behave impeccably with both. And far from Muslims being unaffected by Afghani heroin, Pakistan now has the highest heroin addiction rate in the world. In 1979, Pakistan had no addicts, in 1986, it had 650,000 addicts, three million in 1992, while in 1999, government figures estimate a staggering figure of five million.

Nor is the problem confined to Pakistan. Despite one of the toughest anti-drugs policies in the world, where the death-penalty is given for the possession of a few ounces of heroin, Iran officially had 1.2 million addicts in 1998 (off the record, officials admit to the figure being more like 3 million). By 1998, only 42 % of total heroin production was exported out of South Asia; 58% of opiates were being consumed within the region itself. So heroin addiction is not only a Western problem, but also a deeply Muslim one.

Between 1997-1999, Kabul offered to end poppy seed production—to both the US and the UN—in return for international recognition, which suggests that the Taliban leadership was not serious in the past about ending production but used the whole issue of drug control as a diplomatic lever. [8] Thankfully, the Afghan government seems to have recently changed its public position. In 1999, Amir Mullah Omar Modhammed announced that poppy seed production should be cut by one third. On 28 July 2000, Mullah Omar ordered a complete ban of poppy seed cultivation, and appealed for the assistance of the international community in funding crop replacement schemes. [9] The official figures for 2000 showed a reduction of 28% on 1999, but this was mostly attributable to the terrible drought the country suffered during that period. [10] It has now been confirmed by outside agencies that the Taliban have wiped out the 2001 harvest, as a UNDCP team reported in February that the major growing areas were virtually free of poppies, which was corroborated by the US Drug Enforcement Agency in May. Despite the DEA’s prognosis that the ban will hit farmers hard, the US has pushed for continued UN sanctions because of its campaign to bring Osama bin Laden to trial. [10a]

After being put into its morphine base, either in Pakistan or Central Asia (and previously in Afghanistan), the drug is transported to Turkish laboratories, where it is further refined into heroin. About 80% of Europe’s supply is refined into heroin proper in Turkey, although the Turks are facing increased competition from the Russian Mafia in second-stage refinement and smuggling into Europe (via Eastern Europe and the Baltic). As with Morocco, the Turkish civil and military secret services are heavily involved with the drug trade. This complicity was highlighted by a car-crash in November 1996 involving four people: an extreme right-wing criminal on the run, a high-ranking policeman, a beauty queen, and the only survivor, a parliamentarian of ex-Prime Minister Ciller’s party. About 75% of Europe’s heroin is transported from Turkey in small quantities overland via the Balkan route, which is impossible to police effectively because of the high volume of traffic. [11] Once in Europe, a lot of the heroin is then distributed by significant numbers of European Turks among others, and it is then sold on to the dealers, who sell smaller quantities to users on the street.


Islamic Ruling on Drugs (non-alcoholic Intoxicants)

Ibn ‘Umar (radiya’Llahu ‘anhu) reported that the Messenger of Allah (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “Every intoxicant (muskir) is wine (khamr) and every intoxicant is forbidden. He who drinks wine in this world and dies while he is addicted to it, not having repented, will not be given a drink in the Hereafter.” [12] This hadith is one of the primary texts that prove the prohibition of anything that intoxicates like wine. Ibn Hajar al-Haytami (rahmatu’Llahi ‘alayh), considered to be among the foremost legal authorities of the entire late Shafi‘i legal school, has classified the consumption of hashish (hashisha) and opium (afyun) as an enormity or a major sin. [13] Imam al-Dhahabi (rahmatu’Llahi ‘alayh) defined an enormity as “any sin entailing either a threat of punishment in the hereafter explicitly mentioned in the Qur’an and Hadith, a prescribed legal penalty or being accursed by Allah and His Messenger (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam).” [14] Among those classical authorities who wrote of the prohibition of hashish were Imam Zarakhshi, Ibn Taymiyya, al-Qirafi, Abu Ishaq al-Shirazi and Imam Nawawi (rahmatu’Llahi ‘alayhim). In short, the four legal schools agree that all intoxicants are unlawful, and they include plants that intoxicate under this category of prohibited substances. [15] There is a misconception among Muslim users that although drugs are unlawful, smoking hashish is not so serious. Or they say that at least we don’t drink! They seem to divide drugs into hard and soft drugs: a division that is quite baseless according to Divine law. All drugs are Class A according to our religion.


British Muslims and the Drug Trade

The drug trade in Britain is breaking and shattering young Muslim lives. But to our great shame, we are not only talking about the many Muslim victims of drug use, but the fact that British Muslims are also heavily involved in street level drugs pushing. From the late 1980s onwards, according to Maqsood Ahmed, it appears that Asians replaced Afro-Caribbeans as the main drug pushers on the streets. [16]

However, Maqsood Ahmed says that it is only the small-time Asian street pushers, not the major suppliers, who are being caught and incarcerated. A retired lawyer, Gavin McFarlane, who once worked in the office of the Solicitor for Customs and Excise, confirms the view that the ‘Mr Bigs’ of drug crime are usually never caught. [17]

I am not suggesting that drugs are the only issue relating to crime, but because of the nature of addiction, drugs can do more to destroy the moral will and the social fabric of the Muslim community than any other type of crime. It appears that drug use among Muslim youth matches national levels: we have no more ‘moral immunity’ from drugs than anyone else.

It is instructive to look at the example of NAFAS, a Muslim-run outreach, educational and rehabilitation programme, based in Tower Hamlets in East London, which aims to target drug use among Bangladeshi youth. One NAFAS activist, Abdur Rahman, has worked among Muslims in the area of drugs, crime and mental health issues for the last ten years. I interviewed him in order to get a real sense of what is happening on the street. [18]

In his experience, it is mainly Pakistani and Bangladeshi youth that become involved with drugs, but it effects all the various ethnic Muslim groups. Commonly, the parents of these young men neglected their religious training, and instead left matters in the hands of the madrasas. Their experience in the madrasa has been of rote learning without any understanding, an experience that has left them bored and alienated not only from the madrasa but also from religion itself. Frustrated imams throw the more disruptive kids out of the madrasas onto the streets. Clubbing together in gangs of around 20-30, these young men are listless and bored. The result has very often been the emergence of gang violence and turf wars.

By far the most commonly used drugs are hashish and then alcohol. Heroin is used much less. Most that smoke ‘weed’ (as hashish is known in street slang) will not touch heroin, which is seen as a dirty drug. But the picture is complex, because 90% of those who do use heroin say that their first drug was hashish. Those Muslim youth that do use heroin do not use needles because they see it as a dirty practice. Habitually, those who take heroin also use crack cocaine. According to local police figures for the Borough of Tower Hamlets, 50% of drug offenders referred to drugs agencies are young Bangladeshi men. Of these, 90% are under twenty-five and more than 60% have never received any help to get off drugs. It was in part this last statistic that brought about the founding of NAFAS. There are no figures for young women, but the word on the street is that hashish use is increasing among them as well. Normally such women smoke hashish in the home. Abdur Rahman says that taboos are breaking down. It is becoming more common to see hashish being smoked and alcohol being drunk in the street.

What are the attitudes of these young men to religion? There are some that mock religion openly. “Islam is drab and boring,” they say, “it is only about things you are not allowed to do. There is no fun and laughter. We are young and now is the time for enjoyment.” Others, who have a stronger sense of being Muslim, say they want to practice but argue that the bad environment discourages them. Abdur Rahman says it is easier to reach those who have some religious feeling in them, and that these boys can point to examples where someone they know has come off drugs and has started practising Islam.

There is a real internal problem facing this community and it will not go away if we are merely content to highlight problems within the British criminal justice system, schooling and welfare. However necessary, this critique of the system is only part of the answer. To make myself absolutely clear, I am stressing the fact that the crucial element in any response is moral and religious guidance, which, of course, only the community can provide. This is not just a problem of young Muslim men who have lost their way, but a failure of the whole community to bring them up with Islamic values. We have neglected their spiritual training (tarbiya) and failed to teach them how to live in this world in accordance with the pleasure of Allah (akhlaqiyyat) in a way that makes sense to them. We have even ignored their secular education; so that on the streets of despair turning to drugs seems the best way to make a quick buck or to escape from the pressures of racism, Islamophobia and unemployment.

What we all need in front of us, young and old, is a clear picture of what being a real man in Islam means as opposed to being a fake one. Guidance comes with our comprehension of what religion expects us to do for ourselves, and for others, for the pleasure of Allah Most High. The rest of this essay is devoted to outlining the nature of negative and positive masculinity.


Negative Masculinity

Negative masculinity occurs when a youth misuses his natural qualities of enthusiasm, strength and bravery to satisfy his own desires. He becomes selfish, ignores the rights of others and ends up disobedient to his Lord. He thinks it is cool to follow the lifestyles of the street, and at the rough end this means getting involved in crime. What is even worse, as one young brother said to me recently, is that as corrupt lifestyles become widespread among Muslim youth, it is becomes harder for younger teenagers to see the straight path. There has been a real break down in moral values: besides drugs and crime, drinking and pre-marital sex are no longer taboo among the wildest elements. The negative role models closest to hand now come from within our own community.

Negative masculinity is about showing off, about trying to be ‘hard’, and about using physical strength to humiliate others. The fake man thinks strength should be used to dominate others so that he gets ‘nuff respect’ from his peers and enemies out of a sense of fear. But this is not how true respect is earned: it is really about acting like a loud-mouthed and proud fool. The youthful bully fights to remain leader of his ‘posse’ and, likewise, strives to dominate other street gangs: both perversions are achieved by instilling fear. Yet Islam teaches us that the strong should defend the weak not oppress them.

Negative masculinity is about the obsession to have the right ‘look’: the designer clothes, the most up-to-date mobile phone, the latest trainers, and the flashiest car. But how we appear to others is absolutely immaterial: Allah, who is perfectly Just and All Aware, will judge us by our hearts not our appearance on the Day of Reckoning. Pretending to be someone we are not is only a sign of spiritual emptiness. All this street gear costs a great deal of money: cash that is wasted when it could be used to help the weak and unfortunate. The Muslim community is the poorest in the country, and it can ill afford to waste money on such vain extravagance. Such materialistic excess is showing off for the sake of worldly honour, when the world, in the eyes of our beloved Prophet (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) was worth less than the rotting flesh of a dead goat. [19] But a real man doesn’t need to show off. He knows himself and remains humble and thankful to Allah Most Generous for whatever qualities He has given him.

Negative masculinity is about wasting time and playing around like a child when the corrupted youth already has the strength and intelligence of an adult. He looks out for himself first, neither respecting the wishes of his parents nor serving them, and ignoring the needs of others around him. Many of the criminalised gangs rob and prey on the weakest members of their own community. Instead of being the pride of the community, these lost young men have become its badge of shame.

Negative masculinity is about being a slave to desire. The signs of this slavery are the impulse for instant gratification and the immediate feeling of frustration and anger when desire is not quickly satiated. Servitude to caprice entraps the slave in a cage of restless discontent. Why? Because if we want the latest fashion, one thing can be sure, it will go out of date. Negative masculinity is about being a slave to the capitalist system. The real winners are the moneymen who sell an illusion: the falsehood that people should judge themselves, and judge others, by appearance. But the Prophet (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) taught us to be simple, not to pile up worldly things, but to do good deeds and help others. The only style that truly counts, that rises far above the fickle dictates of fashion, is the way of the Prophet (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam).

In short, the problem of negative masculinity is a spiritual one. Abu Talib al-Makki [20] (rahmatu’Llahi ‘alayh), in his classic work, Qut al-qulub (The Sustenance of Hearts), explains the nature of the soul that commands a person to do evil. “All the [blameworthy] character traits and attributes of the soul derive from two roots: inconstancy (taysh) and covetousness (sharah). Its inconstancy derives from its ignorance, and its covetousness from its eager desire (hirs). In its inconstancy the soul is like a ball on a smooth slope, because of its nature and its situation, it never stops moving. In its eager desire the soul is like a moth that throws itself on the flame of a lamp. It is not satisfied with a small amount of light without throwing itself on the source of the light that holds its destruction. Because of its inconstancy the soul is hurried and lacks self-restraint (sabr). Self-restraint is an attribute of our thinking selves, while inconstancy is the quality…of the [blameworthy] soul. Nothing can overcome inconstancy except self-restraint, for intellect uproots vain and destructive desire. Because of its covetousness, the soul is greedy and eagerly desirous. […] When someone knows the roots of the [blameworthy] soul and its innate dispositions, he will know that he has no power over it without the seeking the help of its Creator and Originator. The servant will not realise his humanity until he governs the animal motivations within himself through knowledge and justice.” [21]


Who is a real man?

Imam al-Qushayri [22] (rahmatu’Llahi ‘alayh) summaries what the nature of positive masculinity is. In Arabic this is called muru’a or manliness. Conceptually, manliness is closely related to futuwwa or chivalry. Imam al-Qushayri says in his famous Risala, “The root of chivalry is that the servant strive constantly for the sake of others. Chivalry is that you do not see yourself as superior to others. The one who has chivalry is the one who has no enemies. Chivalry is that you be an enemy of your own soul for the sake of your Lord. Chivalry is that you act justly without demanding justice for yourself. Chivalry is [having]… beautiful character.” [23]


The Noble Islamic Youth

In Arabic, fata literally means a handsome and brave youth. In the Chapter of the Prophets (60:21), the term fata is used to describe Abraham (‘alayhi s-salam), who had, with characteristic fearlessness, destroyed the idols of his people, and who was about to be thrown into the fire by them. In his commentary on this verse, Imam al-Qushayri (rahmatu’Llahi ‘alayh) says that the noble youth is one who breaks the idol and moreover that the idol of each man is his blameworthy soul that commands to evil (nafs al-amara bi al-su’). [24] Truly Allah Most High only bestows the title fata to those whom He loves. Youth, in this sense, is not a mere social category but a rank of piety.

Following the use of the word in the Holy Book, fata came to mean the ideal, noble and perfect man whose generosity did not end until he had nothing left for himself. A man who would give all that he had, including his life, for the sake of his friends. Futuwwa has a distinct sense for it means the way of fata or noble manliness, and the remainder of the essay concentrates on outlining these noble precepts.

The way to attain these qualities, to become a true man, is to kill the blameworthy soul, which can also be called our selfish impulses, or ego. The first thing is to learn is not to love the blameworthy soul, but instead to love others more than oneself and to love our Exalted Creator most of all. It is only after struggling to kill the ego that the trials of spiritual struggle, like those of our father Abraham (‘alayhi s-salam) in the fire, become ‘refreshment and peace’ (bardan wa salam). (21:69)


The Chivalry of the Companions

We find many examples of noble manliness among the Companions: the loyalty of Abu Bakr, the justice of ‘Umar, the reserve and modesty of ‘Uthman, and the bravery of ‘Ali (radiya’Llahu ‘anhum). Yet for all their greatness, those men still only partially reflected that supreme example of true manliness, the Prophet (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam). It was their life’s work to emulate him, like it is ours today. As the first young man to embrace Islam, it was ‘Ali (radiya’Llahu ‘anhu), the last of the Rightly-Guided Caliphs, the cousin and son-in-law of our noble Prophet (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) and the Lion of Allah, who came to represent the supreme example of youthful manly perfection. Known for his selflessness, courage, generosity, loyalty, wisdom and honour, he was the invincible warrior of his day. His nobility on the battlefield shines forth like a bright lamp of guidance for us today.

In one battle, ‘Ali (radiya’Llahu ‘anhu) had overpowered an enemy warrior and had his dagger at the man’s throat when the man spat in his face. Immediately Imam ‘Ali (radiya’Llahu ‘anhu) got up, sheathed his dagger, and told the man, “Taking your life is unlawful to me. Go away.” The man was amazed, “O ‘Ali,” he asked, “I was helpless, you were about to kill me, I insulted you and you released me. Why?” “When you spat in my face,” our master ‘Ali (radiya’Llahu ‘anhu) answered, “it aroused the anger of my ego. Had I killed you then it would not have been for the sake of Allah, but for the sake of my ego. I would have been a murderer. You are free to go.” The enemy warrior was profoundly moved by this show of great nobility and so he embraced Islam on the spot.

In another of his battles against the unfaithful, our master ‘Ali (radiya’Llahu ‘anhu) encountered a handsome young warrior who moved to attack him. His heart was full of pity and compassion for the misguided youth. He cried out, “O young man, do you not know who I am? I am ‘Ali the invincible. No one can escape from my sword. Go, and save yourself!” The young man continued toward him, sword in hand. “Why do you wish to attack me? Why do you wish to die?” ‘Ali (radiya’Llahu ‘anhu) asked. The man answered, “I love a girl who vowed she would be mine if I killed you.” “But what if you die?” ‘Ali (radiya’Llahu ‘anhu) asked again. “What is better than dying for the one I love?” he countered. “At worst, would I not be relieved of the agonies of love?” Hearing this response, ‘Ali (radiya’Llahu ‘anhu) dropped his sword, took off his helmet, and stretched out his neck like a sacrificial lamb. Confronted by such nobility, the love in the young man’s heart was transformed into love for the great ‘Ali (radiya’Llahu ‘anhu) and for the One Most Exalted Whom ‘Ali loved.


The Code of Chivalry

In later centuries, a code was drawn up embodying the principles of futuwwa—brotherhood, loyalty, love and honour—that produced a class of spiritual Muslim warriors who protected the boundaries of the Islamic empire. The first caliph to create an order of noble Muslim knights was al-Nasir al-Din (reigned 576-622/1180-1225). They wore a distinctive uniform and were formally linked to the Sufi orders. In Asia Minor for instance, these Muslim knights lived in borderland lodges under the supervision and guidance of a spiritual guide (shaykh al-tasawwuf). It is reported they were hospitable to travellers and ruthless towards any unjust ruler who oppressed the people. The essence of this noble code is timelessly pertinent to us today: it calls us to subdue our egos and fight against injustice.

The code of noble manliness elaborated by the great Imam Sulami (rahmatu’Llahi ‘alayh) in his Kitab al-Futuwwa is offered in a truncated form here. Readers are strongly advised to consult the original work for themselves. [25] Futuwwa is that a young man adheres to the following code:

·        That he brings joy to the lives of friends and meets their needs. The Messenger of Allah (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “When one brings joy with his words into the life of a believer or satisfies his worldly needs, whether small or large, it becomes an obligation upon Allah to offer him a servant on the Day of Judgement.”

·        That he responds to cruelty with kindness, and does not punish an error. When a Companion (radiya’Llahu ‘anhu) asked if he should refuse to help a friend who had refused to help him before, the Messenger of Allah (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said no.

·        That he does not find fault with his friends. The Messenger of Allah (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “if you start seeking faults in Muslims, you will cause dissent among them or you will at least start dissension.” Dhu al-Nun al-Misri [26] (rahmatu’Llahi ‘alayh) said, “Whoever looks at the faults of others is blind to his own faults. Whoever looks for his own faults cannot see the faults of others.”

·        That he is relaxed and openhearted with his brothers. The Messenger of Allah (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “The believer is the one with whom one can be close. The one who is not close and to whom one cannot be close is of no use. The good among men are those from whom others profit.”

·        That he is generous. The Messenger of Allah (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “Paradise is the home of the generous.”

·        That he keeps up old friendships. The Messenger of Allah (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “Allah approves the keeping of old friendships.”

·        That he looks after his friends and neighbours. Ibn Zubayr [27] (rahmatu’Llahi ‘alayh) said, “Someone who eats while his next-door neighbour is hungry is not a believer.”

·        That he is lenient with his friends except in matters of religion. The Messenger of Allah (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “The first sign of intelligence is to believe in Allah. The next is to be lenient with people in affairs other than the abandoning of Truth.”

·        That he permits his friends to use his possessions as if they were their own. We know that the Prophet (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) used to use the property of Abu Bakr (radiya’Llahu ‘anhu) as if it were his own.

·        That he invites guests, offers food and is hospitable. The Messenger of Allah (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “How awful is a society that does not accept guests.”

·        That he respects his friends and shows his respect for them. A man entered the mosque and the Prophet (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) stood up for him out of respect. He protested and the Prophet replied that to be paid respect is the right of the believer.

·        That he is truthful. The Messenger of Allah (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “Say that you believe in Allah, then always be truthful.”

·        That he is satisfied with little for himself and wishes much for others. The Messenger of Allah (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “The best of my people will enter Paradise not because of their achievements, but because of the Mercy of Allah and their quality of being satisfied with little for themselves and their extreme generosity toward others.”

·        That such young brothers love each other and spend time with one another. The Messenger of Allah (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said that Allah Most High said, “The ones who love each other for My sake deserve My love; the ones who give what comes to them in abundance deserve My love. The ones who frequent and visit each other for My sake deserve My love.”

·        That he keeps his word and what is entrusted to him. The Messenger of Allah (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “If you have these four things, it does not matter even if you lose everything else in this world: protect what is entrusted to you, tell the truth, have a noble character, and earn your income lawfully.”

·        That he understands that what he truly keeps is what he gives away. ‘A’isha [28] (radiya’Llahu ‘anha) recounted that someone had presented the gift of a lamb to the Messenger of Allah (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam). He distributed the meat. ‘A’isha (radiya’Llahu ‘anha) said, “Only the neck is left for us.” The Prophet (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) replied, “No, all of it is left for us except the neck.”

·        That he shares in the joy of his brothers. The Messenger of Allah (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “If a person who is fasting joins his brothers and they ask him to break his fast, he should break it.” This refers to a non-obligatory fast, not the fasts of Ramadan.

·        That he is joyful and kind with his brothers. One of the many signs of the kindness and love the Messenger of Allah (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) had for his people was that he joked with them so they would not stay away from him out of awe. The Messenger of Allah (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said “Allah hates those who make disagreeable and sad faces at their friends.”

·        That he thinks little of himself or his good deeds. The Prophet (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) was once asked, “What thing most attracts the anger of Allah?” He replied, “When one considers himself and his actions highly, and worse still, expects a return for his good deeds.”

·        That he treats people as he would wish to be treated. The Messenger of Allah (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “As you wish people to come to you, go to them.”

·        That he concerns himself with his own affairs. The Messenger of Allah (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “One of the signs of a good Muslim is that he leaves alone everything that does not concern him.”

·        That he seeks the company of the good and avoids the company of the bad. Yahya ibn Mu‘adh al-Razi [29] (rahmatu’Llahi ‘alayh) said, “On the day when the trumpet is sounded, you will see how evil friends will run from each other and how good friends will turn toward each other. Allah Most High says, ‘On that day, except for the true believers, friends will be enemies.’”

Allah Most High says, “Surely they were noble youths (fityan) who believed in their Lord, and We advanced them in guidance.” (18:13) Imam al-Sulami (rahmatu’Llahi ‘alayh) comments, “they were given abundant guidance and climbed to His proximity because they believed in their Lord only for their Lord’s sake, and said, ‘Our Lord is the Lord of Heaven and Earth. Never shall we call upon other than Him.’” (18:14) The Imam continues, “Allah dressed them in His own clothes, and He took them in His high protection and turned them in the direction of His beauties and said, ‘And We turned them about to the right and to the left’.” (18:18). The Imam concludes, “Those who enter the path of futuwwa are under Allah’s direction and protection.” [30]

Khwaja ‘Abd Allah al-Ansari [31] (rahmatu Llahi ‘alayh) outlines the three degrees of perfection in futuwwa in his classic work, Manazil al-sa’irin (The Stations of the Wayfarers). “Allah Most High says, ‘They are chivalrous youths who have faith in their Lord, and We increased them in guidance.’ (18:13) The subtle point in chivalry is that you witness nothing extra for yourself and you see yourself as not having any rights. The first degree is to abandon quarrelling, to overlook slips, and to forget wrongs. The second degree is that you seek nearness to the one that goes far from you, honour the one who wrongs you, and find excuses for the one who offends you. You do this by being generous, not by holding yourself back, by letting go, not by enduring patiently. The third degree is that in travelling the path you do not depend upon any proofs, you do not stain your response [to Allah] with [any thought of] recompense, and you do not stop at any designation in your witnessing.” [32] May Allah, Glorified and Exalted is He, bless us, and make us true men, men of nobility and generosity.


The Way Forward

There are no easy solutions, and it is important to remember that Islam condemns those who feel it is enough to recriminate, but not to call towards the truth or to work to change a bad situation. The point is that we all have to pull together, and face up our individual and collective responsibility. It is not just a question of the youth seeing if they measure up to the ideals of positive masculinity, but for all of us to strive to embody the example of the Prophet (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam). It is a duty upon all parents and community leaders to deal wisely with our young men when they fall from the Straight Path, and not to cut them off out of self-righteous disdain or, even worse, indifference.

Imam Ghazali [33] (rahmatu Llahi ‘alayh) reminds us that it was the way of Companions like Abu Darda’ [34] (radiya Llahu ‘anhu) to forgive the mistakes and flaws of his brother. How much more does this apply to our sons? All should feel that your son is my son. The bond of religious brotherhood is like the bond of family. If someone has made a mistake in his religion by committing an act of disobedience, one must be gentle in counselling him towards repentance and starting again. If someone persists in disobedience, Abu Darda’ (radiya Llahu ‘anhu) advised us not to cut him or her off. “For sometimes”, he said, “your brother will be crooked and sometimes straight.” The great saint Ibrahim al-Nakha’i [35] (rahmatu Llahi ‘alayh) said, “Beware of the mistake of the learned. Do not cut him off, but await his return [that is, to the straight path].”

Imam al-Ghazali (rahmatu Llahi ‘alayh) argues that this advice holds even the major sins: we need not cut someone off. It was revealed to the Prophet (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) concerning his kinsfolk that “if they disobey you, say, ‘I am quit of what you do’.” (26.216) Abu Darda (radiya Llahu ‘anhu) referred to this verse when he was asked, “Do you not hate your brother when he has done such and such?” to which he replied, “I only hate what he has done, otherwise he is my brother.” [36] It is not proper to break with the disobedient, but to try and remind them of their duty to Allah Most High and to His creatures.

So any pragmatic measures should be undertaken in this spirit of understanding and patience, because at the heart of any solution is building trust between alienated youths and the community. It is easy enough to make these seven suggestions, but it will take a lot of sincere effort make them a reality by the permission of the All Merciful.

1.   To lobby the Moroccan and Turkish governments directly and indirectly to crack down on drug production and refinement in their respective countries. The fact that the European Union has systematically ignored the complicit involvement of both the Moroccan and Turkish governments in the export of drugs to Europe because of their NATO membership should be made an issue. With regard to Afghanistan, the European Union has recently admitted that it has no political influence there at all, which—in and of itself—is not likely to be a matter of great concern for Muslims. [37] Yet it does mean that European Muslims have to pressurise the EU to work to drop UN sanctions against Afghanistan, and to push for economic assistance to the country, so that viable and sustainable alternatives can be found for farmers in the wake of the enforced ban of 2001.

2.   To discuss openly the problems of criminality and drug dealing and use within the community with a view to understanding the nature of the problem, and coming up with ways to solve it. For instance, research is already being carried out by the community welfare organisation, Khidmat, in Luton, which is undertaking research to understand the nature and scale of drug use in the Asian community. [38]

3.   To appoint English-speaking imams as a matter of priority, and to conduct as many programmes as possible in English and which deal directly with issues facing young Muslims today. Imams should be properly paid, and they should also be expected to take up pastoral youth work outside of the mosque. It is a crime that many of young scholars who have graduated from seminaries based in Britain have not been able to find employment as imams. Their knowledge and training is being wasted. Most ‘imported’ imams are frankly not able to understand or reach out to young Muslims.

4.   To create vibrant and relevant madrasas in our mosques with a full and relevant curriculum up to at least the age of 16 by forging a strong partnership between the ‘ulama’, the mosque committee and the community. There are already many examples of good practice in this area, especially in the Midlands and the North.

5.   To build Muslim-run youth and sports facilities as a badly needed alternative to the street. Where appropriate, such facilities should be incorporated into the mosque-complex. It is important that second generation parents, those who are now in their mid-thirties, get involved with making the mosques more accessible to the youth. If the mosque committees refuse to be co-operative, then it is necessary to work outside of them as the situation has already reached crisis proportions.

6.   To set up drug rehabilitation schemes run by Muslim workers in the major urban areas along the lines of NAFAS in Tower Hamlets in East London and others.

7.   In general terms, to lobby local and central government to put extra funds into helping our community that has the highest unemployment (over 40% for our youth), the poorest educational record, the highest poverty and the highest crime rates. It would be preferable if funds, which are readily available, are channelled through Muslim voluntary organisations. As a community as a whole, we have to be prepared to drop theological and legal differences inherited from the Sub-Continent to work together for the common good.

I end with supplicating our Creator, the All-Merciful that He save our misguided youth from further calamity and turn their hearts and ours towards repentance, that He give us forbearance and wisdom in tackling this problem, and that He may, in His infinite compassion, unite our hearts so that we may work together to solve these many problems. Glory be to our Lord, the Lord of Honour, Exalted above what they ascribe, and peace be upon those who were sent. And all praise is due to the Lord of the worlds. Amin.



[1] Faisal Bodi, ‘Muslim Advisor only one piece in a bigger jigsaw’, Q-News, 311, September 1999, pp. 14-15.

[2] Maqsood Ahmed, interview, 20/06/00.

[3] UN Economic and Social Research Council, World Situation with regard to illicit drug trafficking, p. 6. The Taliban’s Roaving Ambassador, Sayyid Rahmatullah Hashmi, accepted this figure during a lecture given at the University of South Carolina in 2001. This information was taken from a transcript of his talk.

[4] Strategic Studies 1997/8, p. 250; Strategic Studies 1998/9, p. 276.

[5] The authoritative study of CIA involvement in the heroin drugs trade in both Burma and Afghanistan is Alfred McCoy’s, The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade (New York: Lawrence Hill Books, 1991), cited in Boekhout van Solinge, p. 103. It appears that the CIA even worked against United States officials from the Drugs Enforcement Agency during the 1980s, who wanted to stop the creation of a new international drug player.

[6] Ahmed Rashid, Taliban, p. 118.

[7] Ahmed Rashid, ‘Dangerous Liaisons’, p. 28.

[8] An agreement struck in October 1997 between the United Nations Drugs Control Programme (UNDCP) and the Taliban offering potentially $25 million US dollars for a ten-year crop-replacement scheme was allowed to lapse after UN agencies were asked to withdraw in 1998. For further details, see Rashid, Taliban, pp. 123-124.

[9] See Omar Modhammed, ‘Message of the Amir-ul-Mumineen on the occasion of the International Anti-Narcotics Day’, The Islamic Emirate (Kandahar), July 2000, no. 1, p. 1, and ‘Taleban calls for total poppy ban in Afghanistan’, The News International (Jang), 30/7/00, p. 9.

[10] UNDCP Press Release, ‘Afghan Opium Cultivation in 2000 Substantially Unchanged’, UNIS/NAR/696, 15 September 2000. A recent UNDCP-sponsored crop-replacement scheme in Kandahar province has reduced production by 50% in three districts.

[10a] Kathy Ganon, ‘Taliban virtually wipes out Afghanistan’s opium crop’, The Nando Times, 15 February, []; Barbara Crossette, ‘Taliban’s Ban on Growing Opium Poppies Is Called a Success’, New York Times [Internet edition], 20 May 2001. Given US support of these crippling sanctions, Colin Powell’s release of $43 millions (as of May 2001) in emergency funds for the drought in Afghanistan looks like a token gesture.

[11] Every year, 1.5 million lorries, 250,000 coaches and four million cars use the Balkans route between Asia and Europe. It takes hours, even a whole day, to search an articulated lorry effectively for drugs. The impossibility of stopping the smuggling of heroin into Europe might be noted by the fact that while the amount of heroin seized has gone up, street prices have gone down.

[12] This hadith is reported in all the Sahih Sitta (the Sound Six), Ahmad, Malik and Darimi.

[13] Al-Misri, Reliance, p. 976. Imam Ibn Hajar al-Haytami (d. 974/1567) was the foremost Shafi‘i Imam of his age, who authored major works in jurisprudence, Hadith, tenets of faith, education, Hadith commentary and formal legal opinion. He is recognised by Hanafi scholars, like Imam Ibn ‘Abidin, as a source of authoritative legal texts valid in their own school. (R) I have relied on The Reliance and on T. J. Winter’s biographical appendices in his translations of al-Ghazali. Each note will end with a short reference to these works: (R) or (W) respectively. Other references will name the author’s name in brackets.

[14] Al-Misri, Reliance, p. 652. Imam al-Dhahabi (d. 748/1348) was a great Hadith master (Hafiz) and historian of Islam. He authored over 100 works, some of which were of great length, for instance, Siyar a‘lam al-nubala’ (The Lives of Noble Figures), ran to 23 volumes. (R)

[15] For further detail on classical scholarly authorities see Anon. [Student of Darul-Uloom Bury], Islam and Drugs (Bury, UK: Subulas Salam, n.d.).

[16] Although Abdur Rahman disputes as stereotypical the assertion that young Asians became the main street-dealers in recent times, see below for brief profile of this experienced drug worker.

[17] Gavin McFarlane, ‘Regulating European drug problems’, pp. 1075-1076. He also notes that the drug trade is organised like a mainstream business with three main categories. First, there is the planner or organiser who is like the entrepreneur who puts up the capital. Second, there is the trusted assistant or middle manager that runs the operation. Third, there is the operative at the bottom end that knows little about the whole organisation: these are the dealers who carry the goods, bear the most risk of being caught, and who earn only a fraction of the profit. Also known as ‘camels’, it is they who are most likely to be caught by the police. There is even a level above the capital investor: that of the political overlord, who is either autonomous from the state, or acting on behalf of a complicit state.

[18] Abdur Rahman, interview, 22/6/00

[19] Jabir related to us that the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and give him peace) once passed by a dead and ear-cropped young goat whose carcass was lying in the road, He enquired from those who were with him at the time, “Will any of you like to buy this dead kid for a dirham?” “We will not buy it at any price,” they replied. The Prophet (salla’Llahu 'alayhi wa sallam) then said, “I swear in the name of Allah that in His sight this world is as hateful and worthless as the dead kid is in your sight.” Related by Muslim, and cited in Nomani, Meaning and Message of the Traditions, I: pp. 234-235.

[20] Abu Talib al-Makki (d. after 520/1126) was the author of the Qut al-qulub, the first comprehensive manual of how to tread the Sufi path, which was the direct inspiration for Imam Ghazali’s classic work, the Ihya’ ‘ulum al-din. He was a preacher, ascetic and scholar of the Sacred Law. (R)

[21] Cited in Murata, The Tao of Islam, pp. 271-272.

[22] Imam Abu al-Qasim al-Qushayri (d. 465/1072) was the author of one of the most widely read and respected works on the teachings of tasawwuf and the biography of the saints, the Risalat al-Qushayriyya. He also wrote a commentary on the Qur’an as well as some works pertaining to theology (kalam). (R, also Murata)

[23] Cited in Murata, The Tao of Islam, p. 267.

[24] Imam al-Qushayri, Principles of Sufism, p. 215.

[25] All chains of narration for the Prophetic reports in the Kitab al-Futuwwa go from Imam al-Sulami (d. 412/1021) back to the Prophet (salla’Llahu 'alayhi wa sallam) himself, and are recorded in the index at the back of the English translation. Imam al-Sulami was a Shafi‘i scholar and one of the foremost historians and shaykhs of the Sufis. He authored several important works on Sufism, including a commentary on the Qur’an, and the Tabaqat al-Sufiyya, one of the most famous works on the lives of the Sufis. (R, also Murata)

[26] Dhu al-Nun al-Misri (d. 245/859) was one of the greatest of the early Sufis. He was Nubian in origin and had a great gift for expressive aphorisms, a large number of which have fortunately been preserved. He was the first in Egypt to speak about the states and spiritual stations of the way. (R)

[27] ‘Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr ibn al-‘Awwam (d. 73/692) was the son of a famous Companion of the Prophet (salla’Llahu 'alayhi wa sallam), who led a major revolt against the Umayyad caliph Yazid I following the death of the Prophet’s grandson, al-Husayn. He was widely recognised as caliph before his revolt was crushed. (W)

[28] ‘A’isha (d. 58/678) was the third wife of the Prophet (salla’Llahu 'alayhi wa sallam) and Mother of the Faithful. She was the most knowledgeable of Muslim women in Sacred Law, religion, and Islamic behaviour, having married the Prophet (salla’Llahu 'alayhi wa sallam) in the second year after the Migration, becoming the dearest of his wives in Medina. She related 2, 210 hadiths from the Prophet (salla’Llahu 'alayhi wa sallam) and was asked for formal legal opinions by the Companions. (R)

[29] Yahya ibn Mu‘adh al-Razi (d. 258/871-2) was a great Sufi of Central Asia. As one of the first to teach Sufism in the mosques, he left a number of books and sayings. He was renowned for his steadfastness in worship and his great scrupulousness in matters of religion. (W)

[30] The Way of Sufi Chivalry, p.36.

[31] Khwaja ‘Abd Allah al-Ansari (d. 481/1088) was a great Persian Sufi and scholar. His most famous work is his Munajat (Intimate Entreaties), written in rhymed Persian prose. His description of the spiritual stations, Manazil al-sa’irin (The Stations of the Wayfarers), in Arabic, was one of the most influential ever written on this subject. (Murata)

[32] Cited in Murata, The Tao of Islam, pp. 267-268, with minor modifications to the translation.

[33] Regarded by the consensus of the scholars as the reviver (mujaddid) of the fifth century of the hijra, Imam Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazali’s (d. 505/1111) most famous work was the Ihya’ ‘ulum al-din (The Revivification of the Religious Sciences), which brought out the inner meaning of Islam practices and ethical ideals.

[34] Abu Darda’ (d. 32/652), one of the Medinan Helpers and a Companion of the Prophet (salla’Llahu 'alayhi wa sallam), was noted for his piety, his wisdom in giving legal judgements, his horsemanship, and his bravery on the battlefield. Before embracing Islam, he gave up commerce to occupy himself with worship. He is particularly esteemed by the Sufis. (W, R)

[35] Ibrahim al-Nakha’i ibn Yazid (d. 96/ 714-5) was one of the great scholarly Successors of Kufa, who was taught by Hasan al-Basri and Anas ibn Malik, and who in turn taught Imam Abu Hanifa.

[36] The various quotes on the subject of brotherly duties are from al-Ghazali, On the Duties of Brotherhood, pp. 60-65, which is one of the forty books that comprise the content of the Ihya’ (see footnote 33).

[37] ‘Drugs problems caused by Afghanistan and Pakistan’, Official Journal of the European Communities, 41 (1998), C178-C209 (98/C 196/112): 81-82.

[38] Faisal Bodi, ‘Crime: an everyday reality in Luton’, Q-News, 311, September 1999, p. 12.



Maqsood Ahmed (Muslim Advisor to the Prison Service), 20/06/00.

Abdur Rahman (NAFAS, Tower Hamlets), 22/06/00.



Anon. [Student of Darul-Uloom Bury], Islam and Drugs (Bury: Subulas Salam, n.d.).

Bodi, Faisal, ‘Crime: an everyday reality in Luton’, Q-News, 311, September 1999, p. 12.

Bodi, Faisal, ‘Muslim Advisor only one piece in a bigger jigsaw’, Q-News, 311, September 1999, pp. 14-15.

Boekhout van Solinge, Tim, ‘Drug Use and Drug Trafficking in Europe’, Tijdschrift voor Economische en Sociale Geografie, 89(1), (1998): 100-105.

Crossette, Barbara, ‘Taliban’s Ban on Growing Opium Poppies Is Called a Success’, New York Times [Internet edition], 20 May 2001.

‘Drug Trafficking Routes in Central Asia’, Strategic Survey 1998/99, p. 276.

‘Drugs problems caused by Afghanistan and Pakistan’, Official Journal of the European Communities, 41 (1998), C178-C209 (98/C 196/112): 81-82.

Ganon, Kathy, ‘Taliban virtually wipes out Afghanistan’s opium crop’, The Nando Times, 15 February 2001, [].

Ghazali, Abu Hamid al-, On Disciplining the Soul & On Breaking the Two Desires, trans. and annotated with an introduction by T. J. Winter (Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society, 1995).

Ghazali, Abu Hamid al-, On the Duties of Brotherhood, trans. by Muhtar Holland (New York: Overlook, 1976).

Ghazali, Abu Hamid al-, The Remembrance of Death and the Afterlife, trans. and annotated with an introduction by T. J. Winter (Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society, 1989).

McFarlane, Gavin, ‘Regulating European drug problems’, New Law Journal, 149(6897), 16 July 1999: 1075-1076.

Misri, Ahmad ibn Naqib al-, The Reliance of the Traveller, rev. edn, trans., ed. and annotated by Nuh Ha Mim Keller (Evanston: Amana, 1994).

Modhammed, Omar, ‘Message of the Amir-ul-Mumineen on the occasion of the International Anti-Narcotics Day’, The Islamic Emirate (Kandahar), July 2000, no. 1, p. 1.

Murata, Sachiko, The Tao of Islam: A Sourcebook on Gender Relationships in Islamic Thought (Albany: State University of New York, 1992).

Nomani, Mohammed Manzoor, Meaning and Message of the Traditions, trans. by Mohammed Asif Kidwai and Shah Ebadur Rahman Nishat, 5 vols (Lucknow: Islamic Research and Publications, 1975-1989), I (1975).

Qushayri, Abu ’l-Qasim al-, Principles of Sufism, trans. by B. R. Von Schlegell (Berkeley, Ca.: Mizan, 1990).

Rashid, Ahmed, ‘Dangerous Liaisons: Drugs are driving politics in Afghanistan and Pakistan’, Far Eastern Economic Review, 161(16), April 16 (1998): 28.

Rashid, Ahmed, Taliban: Islam, Oil and the New Great Game in Central Asia (London: I. B. Tauris, 2000), Ch. 9.

‘Source Countries and trafficking routes: Central Asia and South East Asia’, Strategic Survey 1997/98, p. 250.

Sulami, Ibn al-Husayn al-, The Way of Sufi Chivalry, trans. by Tosun Bayrak al-Jerrahi (Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions International, 1991).

‘Taleban calls for total poppy ban in Afghanistan’, The News International (Jang), 30/7/00, p. 9.

UNDCP, ‘Afghan Opium Cultivation in 2000 Substantially Unchanged’, UNIS/NAR/696, 15 September 2000. [press release].

UN Economic and Social Research Council, World Situation with regard to illicit drug trafficking and action taken by the subsidiary bodies of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (Vienna: UNESRC, 1999), E/CN.7/2000/5