Is alcohol Halal? What kind of question is that? Any of us that know anything about Islam may be reading this question and thinking that the answer is a straightforward “No”. But it really isn’t as simple as that.
First, we have to be sure that we know exactly what alcohol is. The E-number for alcohol is E1510 which is scientifically known as Ethanol, despite being commonly referred to as alcohol. The part where it starts to get complicated, is when we look into how ethanol is produced. There are two ways of producing ethanol: Yeast fermentation (which is used to make most intoxicating beverages) and Chemical manufacture (made for external use as a disinfectant).
Yeast fermentation is the process in which natural products such as grains (for beer or whiskey) or grapes (for wine) are fermented to eventually create ethanol. Most intoxicating beverages are produced this way, which makes alcohol made using this method Haram. According to Sharia, ethanol is not Halal when given or consumed internally for the sole purpose of causing intoxication.
This is why ethanol produced by chemical manufacture from the petroleum industry raw materials is acceptable by most Scholars, because it is a synthetic alcohol (Iso Propyl Alcohol or IPA) and is used externally in the medical field or manufacturing industry. Examples of products that contain chemically produced ethanol or IPA are antiseptics such as rubbing alcohol, hand sanitisers, industrial or household cleaning agents, wipes etc. Being a pure form of ethanol, IPA evaporates very quickly leaving behind no residue after a few moments.
To summarise, synthetic alcohol for external use is acceptable and fermented alcohol for internal consumption is not acceptable, right? Well… not quite.
What about products that contain residual alcohol. For example, traditional vinegar can be made from alcoholic beverages which can leave some residual ethanol in the final product. Although the final volume of the ethanol may not be high enough to cause intoxication, some people can argue that wine was used to produce the vinegar which isn’t permissible. In such cases, most scholars argue that through the process of Istihalah which means “a substance shifts from one form to another without the possibility of returning to its original form”, it is not possible for acetic acid (vinegar) to return to its original form (ethanol), which makes wine vinegar permissible for use by Muslims.
Additionally, ethanol is sometimes used to extract flavours (e.g. vanilla), colourings or used as a processing aid during manufacturing of consumable products. Generally, Halal certification bodies allow a maximum of 0.5% to 1% ethanol in the final product. It is advisable to discuss allowable ethanol content either with the technical or sharia expert in the Halal certification body.
You can see, there isn’t a one-word answer to the question ‘Is alcohol Halal?’. It all depends on personal preferences and religious interpretation. Always remember that local Halal standards also differ and so will individual preference. Is alcohol Halal or Haram? We will leave you to decide…
The information presented here is for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for professional advice. We reserve the right to update this communication at any given point of time as new information becomes available. Halal Certification Body (HCO) aims to provide regular updates and we advise you to frequently visit this site to get the latest information.