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A historic breakthrough in the Islamic alcohol industry was annnounced at a recent gathering of industry experts. Our staff correspondent reports.

The innovative Islamic alcohol industry is estimated to have a potential annual turnover of 150 billion pints of beer. This potential turnover has been growing at some 15% per annum for several years, as many Muslims grow increasingly impatient in expectation of their first halal drink. Now, thanks to the pioneering efforts of a small group of dedicated researchers at the International Institute for Islamic Beer, Muslims across the globe can look forward to spending Friday nights in their local pub just like the kaffirs.

"For many Muslims, access to the kind of social opportunities enjoyed by non-Muslims has not been forthcoming. We believe that by allowing the average Muslim to enjoy a drink down the pub with his non-Muslim friends, a wider variety of job and business opportunities will become available. This can only be good for the Ummah" commented Yaqoob Goldstone, developer of the ground-breaking al-Beer contract.

Using al-Beer, the group of specialists demonstrated how Muslim clients will be able to enjoy their new found freedom. The Muslim (called the "al-Muslim" in the contract documents) first makes an agreement with the bar manager (the "al-Manager") that he will lay down on the floor of the bar facing upwards with his mouth wide open. The al-Manager then fills a specially reinforced glass with an alcoholic beverage. One end of a string is now carefully wrapped around the reinforced glass and the other end is tied to the front door. The al-Manager now appoints an agent, who is not connected with the al-Muslim, and requires the agent to enter the bar after all the other arrangements have been put in place. As soon as the agent enters the bar, the string tips the glass over and empties the contents into the al-Muslim's mouth.

So how easy was it to obtain Shariah approval for the al-Beer contract? "Not too difficult", explains Goldstone. "We asked the Sheikhs whether it is halal to wrap a string around a glass, and they said yes. We asked them is it halal to lay down on a floor, and they said yes. Then we asked them is it halal to open a door, and again they said yes it is halal."

Market commentators say that the main problem with the al-Beer contract at the moment is that the al-Muslim cannot specify which beverage he wants the al-Manager to put in the glass. "For the al-Muslim to specify that he wants an alcoholic drink in the glass would be a contravention of Shariah, and that is haram" explains Dr. Abdul Iwanto, a well known commentator. "On the other hand if the al-Muslim finds that an alcoholic drink accidentally spills into this mouth, then there is no sin upon him. That is the essence of the al-Beer contract."

But how many drinks can the al-Muslim reasonably have before it is no longer possible to see the arrangement as an accident? The specialists have of course foreseen this issue and have placed a limit of six upon the number of accidents that the al-Muslim can have in any one evening. "It's a well established fact that Muslims aren't allowed to get themselves drunk", remarks Iwanto.

Other commentators are not so impressed. At a fringe meeting outside the main conference hall, one complained that the Islamic Alcohol Industry was a contradiction in terms. "We keep on telling them that you can't have Islamic alcoholic drinks but they just don't listen". For his part, Goldstone believes that just as Islamic banking products have opened up a world of financial opportunities to Muslims in the last few years, so too the al-Beer contract will open up the social scene of nightclubs and pub-crawls. He certainly is an interesting character, and seems to have the genuine interests of Islam at heart. We look forward to seeing where his innovative product development takes us in years to come.

May 2002, updated February 2004