Bahrain’s alcohol ban confined to Muslims only
Non-Muslims to be allowed to drink alcohol in 'specific' places
Bahrain's lawmakers approved a law that will impose a ban on drinking alcohol to Muslims only; allowing non-Muslims to drink in places specified by the government, a local newspaper reported on Tuesday.
In the session where the modification of several articles in the Bahraini penal code was put to vote, Ali al-Saleh, head of the Consultative Council, called upon members not to exaggerate in their interpretation of Islamic laws and to look at the different levels of the issue, the Bahraini daily independent al-Wasat reported.
Saleh’s first deputy, Jamal Fakhro, pointed out that reading the reports written by the assembly’s relevant committees and listening to the conversations of members about the alcohol ban reveals that they focus on the religious dimension of the issue while totally overlooking the civil part.
“They have obviously forgotten that Bahrain is a civil state that is governed by a constitution and that it houses all religions besides Islam, which is the official religion and major source of legislation,” Fakhro said.
The alcohol ban was the subject of heated debate in the council as several members opposed the idea of the ban altogether while others went as far as applying the ban to all residents, Muslims and non-Muslims.
Despite reaching a compromise through restricting the ban to Muslims, liberal members warned of the repercussions of imposing a ban in the first place, especially as far as the country economy is concerned.
“The ban will have a negative impact on investment in Bahrain,” MP Khaled al-Moayed said. “I wonder why religious scholars insist on interfering in politics and economics.”
Liberal groups backed Moayed’s opinion as well as members of the chambers of commerce and industry, who all argued that as an investment-friendly country with a free market economy, Bahrain would suffer if a ban is imposed.
They have obviously forgotten that Bahrain is a civil state that is governed by a constitution and that it houses all religions besides Islam, which is the official religion and major source of legislation
Conservatives vs liberals
For conservatives, rendering the ban partial was too much of a compromise as they called for the law to be applied to everyone.
Mohamed Hadi al-Halwaji, head of the council’s Legislative and Legal Committee, objected to the council’s decision that a ministerial decree, to be issued later, is to determine the places where drinking should be allowed.
“This means involving a Muslim minister in an issue related to drinking alcohol,” he said.
Halwaji also said that the new law is not in line with the statement of the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs and which says drinking is allowed in “private places” not “specific places.”
“This means they should drink in the privacy of their houses, not in public places dedicated for this purpose.”
Abdul-Halim Mourad, council representative for al-Asala Islamic Bloc criticized the new law and scoffed at what he saw as the excuse of the country’s open market.
“This is not an open market. It is an open path to hell.”
After the law is put into force, violators face jail and/or a fine of not more than 200 dinars. The owner of the place in which Muslims are caught drinking will also be penalized if prior knowledge of the offence is proven. Penalties are doubled in case of repetition.
After the Consultative Council, the upper house of the National Assembly, approved the law, it is to be authorized by the Council of Representatives. Afterwards, it should be presented to the King for the final endorsement.
(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid).