Is Alcohol Filth?
Before answering any fiqh Question, one must 1) determine what the Question means. Then, one must 2) know the relevant fiqh rulings and then 3) apply them to the Question.
Part 1: What does the Question, ‘Is Alcohol Filth?’ mean?
To answer this Question, we must answer the Question, ‘What is ‘alcohol”?
What is alcohol?
As many realize, ‘alcohol’ is a term used for various substances:
1a : ethanol esp. when considered as the intoxicating agent in fermented and distilled liquors
b: drink (as whiskey or beer) containing ethanol
c: a mixture of ethanol and water that is usu. 95 percent ethanol
2 : any of various compounds that are analogous to ethanol in constitution and that are hydroxyl derivatives of hydrocarbons
(Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 10th ed.)
Part 2: What are the relevant fiqh rulings?
After knowing what ‘alcohol’ is, we must know certain fiqh rulings related to filth and its removal to understand whether or not alcohol is filth.
The Criterion for Filth
Every liquid intoxicant is filth (Reliance of the Traveller, e14.1(7)).
Filth Contacting Liquid
When filth contacts a liquid other than water, the liquid is filthified by mere contact, whether the liquid is little or much, whether it changed or not. And it can never be purified (Safinat as-Salah).
Filth Contacting Solid
If filth touches a solid that is pure in itself, with moisture between them, the filth is transferred and that solid is filthified. A filthified solid is purified by removing the filth’s traces’its body, taste, color, and smell’and then flowing unfilthified, unused water over it (The Immaculate Raiment).
Part 3: How are the rulings applied to the Question?
Applying the Criterion of ‘Liquid Intoxicant’ to Alcohol
Any substance that is both liquid and intoxicating is filth, no matter what its name. There may be alcohols, then, that are not filth, and there may be non-alcoholic substances that are filth, because they are liquid intoxicants.
Substances Containing Alcohol
As for substances that contain an element of alcohol, if the substance is a liquid intoxicant, it is filth. If it is not intoxicating, we ask, ‘Did a liquid intoxicant contact it?’ If so, then it is filthified, and it cannot be purified. As for naturally-occurring alcohol in a substance, if that substance is not intoxicating, then it is not filth. There is a world of difference between a) taking ethyl alcohol, or any liquid intoxicant, and inserting it into another liquid, and b) there existing in a liquid ethyl alcohol, or any other substance, that if extracted would become a liquid intoxicant.
Does Cooking Purify?
As for cooking with alcohol that is a liquid intoxicant, since the alcohol in food evaporates upon cooking, one might imagine that that removes the filth. In reality, even though there may remain no body of the alcohol in the food, the food is filthified upon contact with it and is not purified by the evaporation of the alcohol, but only by being washed.
Reviewing the Meanings of ‘Alcohol’
1a : ‘ethanol esp. when considered as the intoxicating agent in fermented and distilled liquors’: Since ethanol is an ‘intoxicating agent’ and is liquid, it is, when on its own, filth. But what if ethanol is one of the compounds that happens to compose another substance? Chemical composition does not concern us. What concerns us is, ‘Is the substance in Question a liquid intoxicant?’ If so, then it is filth. If not, then we then ask the Question, ‘Did the substance in Question come into contact with filth?’ If so, then it is filthified. As for if something (orange juice, for example) happens to contain naturally-occurring ethanol or any substance that if extracted would be intoxicating, it has no bearing as long as that thing itself (the orange juice) is not a liquid intoxicant and has not come into contact with any liquid intoxicant.
b : ‘drink (as whiskey or beer) containing ethanol’: Though intoxicating beverages like whiskey and beer contain ethanol, the presence of ethanol in them does not necessarily make them filth (the ethanol is not inserted into them), but rather their being liquid intoxicants makes them filth.
c: ‘a mixture of ethanol and water that is usu. 95 percent ethanol’: Again, this is filth provided it is a liquid intoxicant.
2 : ‘any of various compounds that are analogous to ethanol in constitution and that are hydroxyl derivatives of hydrocarbons’: As for this definition of alcohol, there is nothing in the definition that determines whether or not such compounds are filth. Being a hydroxyl derivative of a hydrocarbon does not necessitate being a liquid intoxicant nor negate being a liquid intoxicant. So what remains, then, is to determine what substances from this group are liquid intoxicants. Whoever researches this would be doing a great service. If anyone finds anything, please send us the referenced results. Good leads include poison control departments and (I believe) references in organic chemistry. To help, below is a chart of various alcohols and their common usages:
Types of Alcohol
Methyl (wood alcohol, methanol)
By destructive distillation of wood. Also by synthesis from hydrogen and carbon monoxide under high pressure.
Solvent for fats, oils, resins, nitrocellulose. Manufacture of dyes, formaldehyde, antifreeze solutions, special fuels, plastics.
Ethyl (grain alcohol,
By fermentation of sugar, starch, or waste sulfite liquor. Synthesis from ethylene or acetylene. Direct hydration of ethylene.
Solvent for products such as lacquers, paints, varnishes, glues, pharmaceuticals, explosives. Also as “building block” in making high-molecular-weight chemicals.
By hydration of propylene from cracked gases. Also as by-product of certain fermentation processes.
Solvent for oils, gums, alkaloids, resins. Making acetone, soap, antiseptic solutions.
As a coproduct of air oxidation of propane and butane mixtures.
Solvent for lacquers, resins, coatings, films, waxes. Also as brake fluid, in manufacture of propionic acid, plasticizers.
By fermentation of starch or sugar. Also by synthesis, using ethyl alcohol or acetylene.
Solvent for nitrocellulose, ethyl cellulose, lacquer, urea-formaldehyde, urea-melamine plastics. Diluent of hydraulic fluids, extractant of drugs.
By synthesis from carbon monoxide and hydrogen at high pressure, then distillation from products formed.
Solvent for castor-oil-base brake fluids. Substitute for n-butyl alcohol in making urea resins.
By hydration of 1-butane, formed in petroleum cracking.
In making other chemicals such as methyl ethyl ketone. Solvent in nitrocellulose lacquers. Production of brake fluids, special greases.
By hydration of isobutylene, derived from petroleum cracking.
In perfume making. As wetting agent in detergents. Solvent for drugs and cleaning compounds.
By fractional distillation of fusel oil, a coproduct of ethyl alcohol manufacture by fermentation.
Solvent for many natural and synthetic resins. Diluting brake fluids, printing inks, lacquers. In medicinal products.
By oxidation of ethylene to glycol. Also by hydrogenation of methyl glycolate made from formaldehyde and methanol.
Deicing fluid, antifreeze, brake fluid. In production of explosives. Solvent for stains, oils, resins, enamels, inks, dyes.
As co-product in manufacture of ethylene glycol.
Solvent for dyes, resins. Antileak agent. In gas drying. Softening agent in adhesive printing inks.
Co-product in manufacture of ethylene glycol.
Air disinfectant and dehumidifier. Production of resins, plasticizers.
1-, 2-, 3-propanetriol)
From treatment of fats in soap making. Synthetically, from propylene. By fermentation.
In alkyd resins, explosives, cellophane. Tobacco humectant.
By condensation of acetaldehyde and formaldehyde.
In synthetic resins. As tetranitratein explosives. Also as drug for treatment of heart disease.
By reduction of sugar, usually corn sugar, with hydrogen.
In foods, pharmaceuticals, in chemical manufacture. Conditioning agent in paper, textiles, glue, cosmetics. Source of alcohol in resin manufacture.
By catalytic hydrogenation of phenol. By catalytic air oxidation of cyclohexane.
Intermediate in making chemicals used in nylon manufacture. Stabilizer and homogenizer of soaps, synthetic detergents. Solvent.
By synthesis from benzene and ethylene oxide.
Principally in perfumes.
And Allah knows best.
By: Shaykh Faraz Rabbani