Smoke Ban Begs Enforcement
by Sh. G. F. Haddad
BandAR SERI BEGAWAN

A GLANCE at smokers in our midst at any time of the day or night reveals that the ruling of haram ("categorically prohibited") — which is the prevalent ruling today concerning the smoking of tobacco — has yet to sink in. There is still hardly any public stigma attached to the act of lighting up and blasting fumes of junk into our lungs and the lungs of those near us, even — of all places and times — in mosque courtyards before the night mass prayer in the sacred month of Ramadan.

In light of the relentless TV, media and religious campaign against smoking such as, most recently, the Fatwa of the State Mufti: Cigarettes and Smoking (Brunei Darussalam: State Mufti's Office, Prime Minister's Office, 2007), one wonders what is still lulling even some of the mosque-going faithful, let alone members of the Muslim public at large, into a false sense of security concerning this evil.

The usual pretexts rear up to excuse the endurance of the phenomenon of widespread smoking. Habitual smokers find it difficult to quit; education on the dangers of smoking is inefficient; smoking products enjoy widespread marketing.

In the first two cases, solutions are just as worn out: countless smokers have quit, so difficulty is no excuse; education efforts must redouble in homes, schools, mosques and workplaces as in any other emergency scenario. What of the third excuse, legal and commercial factors?

We say cigarettes are haram; but it remains to be seen when more stringent laws will be brought to bear, in line with what we preach, to stem the common availability of this haram product. What is clear is that, unlike some deliberate pro-smoking conspiracy such as the tobacco lobby which has successfully despoiled North American society, our problem seems more like a passive societal status quo. The elephant in the room, or rather the huge toxic cloud is still befogging us only because of sheer inertia.

Perhaps the major historic reason behind the "habitual" mindset is that in former times the Syariah was more lenient with regard to the status of smoking. The latter became categorically prohibited only recently, when the real medical dangers of smoking and the chemical poison contents of cigarettes became common knowledge. Previously, from the time tobacco first penetrated Muslim society five centuries ago until recently, Syariah critiques and counter-arguments revolved mostly around moral harms such as tobacco's supposed potential drug-like intoxication, its encouragement to idle spending, its addictiveness, its indecorousness or the fact that it could become time-consuming and detract from one's religious or other duties.

These were historically the very same issues surrounding coffee (which appeared around the same time) and the greatest jurists of the Four Sunni Schools would pronounce over both items that "there is no harm in either tobacco or coffee" provided one kept one's indulgence of them within proper bounds. Such fatwas are related from major figures — al-Shirwani and Zayn al-Din al-Jawi among the Shafiis; al-Nabulusi, Ibn Abidin and Abu al-Su'ud among the Hanafis; al-Ajhuri, al-Zurqani and al-Dusuqi among the Malikis; and Mar'i al-Karmi among the Hanbalis.

In the medically innocent context of old, the verdict of absolute prohibition was viewed as excessive. Tunisia's prestigious Zaytuna University in the June 1937 issue of its al-Majalla al-Zaytuniyya published the fatwa that "the herb used for smoking which is named tabgh or tambak (tobacco) is pure and does not affect the mind, therefore it is permissible to smoke it by mouth and whoever declares it categorically prohibited has erred. There is no objection to its sale, trade or cultivation". This judgment, although now obsolete and superseded by the fatwa of prohibition, nevertheless contains a useful legal implication which remains to be applied in our time: how can we now call smoking haram on one hand, but continue to treat its marketing and cultivation as halal on the other?

Calling to the necessity of coherence and consistency, the Fatwa of the State Mufti prefaced its persuasive compilation of Syariah and medical scholarship against smoking with this epigraph excerpted from the "Royal Command at the Launching Ceremony of the International Seminar on Tobacco-or-Health" on July 11, 2002: "Economically, there may be many alternatives available, but where health and life are concerned, do we have any alternatives? The answer is clearly 'no'. There are no alternatives as far as health and life are concerned because health and life are all we have.

"Therefore, the issue before us is really quite obvious: (do) we want to survive economically with smoking, which has many alternatives, or (do) we choose (what) has no alternatives, that is: to safeguard health and save lives?"

The implication is clear: it would be hypocritical on our part to broadcast the legal prohibition of smoking products and yet not follow through with the legal prohibition of their sale, trading and crops — however lucrative. At the very least, cigarettes and smoking products should be withdrawn from stores and be made available exclusively in non-halal stores or non-halal sections of supermarkets. More importantly, both public/state and private/corporate enforcement of the smoking ban in all common areas — including building lobbies and all school grounds — must follow through unless we're prepared to say: we prohibit it, but we don't really mean it.

The Brunei Times
Tuesday, April 29, 2008



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