The mafia enjoys a certain level of popularity within pop culture. It is constantly being glorified in movies (think of The Godfather series), television shows, video games, books, etc.
When it comes to the West, the focus is usually on the Italian mafia, but other cultures seem to have their own personal preferences, such as with the the Yakuza in Japan.
This infatuation with the mafia is quite intriguing, especially from a sociological perspective. These hardened criminals are being portrayed and seen as not only being daring and “cool” but also as heroes, perhaps even saints.
It actually says a lot about the societies that are smitten with such figures, as the mafia is basically centered around traditional values, such as respect and obedience for the patriarchal authority and hierarchy; a strong sense of loyalty and devotion towards the other members of their mafia “family“; solidarity within the tribe; an anarchic approach to the centralized State (in favor of decentralized power, centered around charismatic figures); a sense of economy which is not based on capitalistic entrepreneurship but rather on premodern razzia; and so on.
Thus, this great admiration for the mafia in the postmodern world is effectively an unspoken admission of a nostalgia for tradition.
This, of course, would most certainly not be our perspective, as Muslims.
Let us explore a well-enforced Islamic prohibition—that of the consumption of alcohol—and how, when attempted in the West, it led to societal problems and eventually the rise of the modern mafia.
A Prohibition as a Proof of Prophethood
Wine and alcohol are ubiquitous in all cultures of the world, besides Islam.
Despite the obvious and well-known ills that are associated with the consumption of alcohol—from issues pertaining to mental health and addiction, to drunken violence and deaths resulting from drunk drivers—it is simply not recognized as something evil. And this doesn’t only apply to secular societies. Even the so-called major world religions seem to be completely incapable of recognizing it for the evil that it is.
In the Bible, for example, we read a proposition that is very permissive and easy-going (Proverbs, 31:6-7):
Let beer be for those who are perishing, wine for those who are in anguish! Let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more.
In fact, there’s an apocryphal story, from which a lesson may still be gleaned. The story goes that, in the 10th century, Vladimir the Great opted for Christianity for the Russian people over Islam exclusively due to Christianity’s soft stance in relation to alcohol consumption. (The love of Russians for vodka is, of course, cliché.)
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It was the same in the Arabia of Jahiliyyah (the days of ignorance, i.e., the pre-Islamic period). During the era of our Prophet ﷺ, wine and alcohol were an integral part of their social life. It was celebrated in poetry and was an essential part of their events and festivities.
Yet Islam opposed it, very strongly. Isn’t this proof of the sincerity of the blessed final Prophet, Muhammad ﷺ? Think about it. Who would attempt to try and “create” a “cult” for “his own benefit” by enforcing a prohibition against something that was so crucial for society? Imagine a politician seeking to become the ruler of a country today while trying to ban something like the internet, or motor vehicles, or something similar. (Even mainstream ecologists don’t want to ban cars outright, just to make them more eco-friendly—there’s still that sense of compromise.)
There are many Qur’anic verses (see 2:19, 4:43, 5:90) pertaining to the issue, but let’s just take a look at how Muslims wholeheartedly embraced the ruling of prohibition.
We read in Sahih al-Bukhari, 2464:
Anas (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated:
I was the cupbearer of the people in the house of Abu Talhah, and in those days drinks were prepared from dates. Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) ordered somebody to announce that alcoholic drinks had been prohibited. Abu Talhah ordered me to go out and spill the wine. I went out and spilled it, and it flowed in the streets of Madinah. Some people said, “Some people were killed and wine was still in their stomachs.” Thereupon the Divine revelation came:– “There is no blame on those who believe and do righteous deeds as to what they have consumed [before this prohibition].” (5.93)
While most societies can’t even push or persuade people to reduce the amount of alcohol they consume, let alone completely outlawing alcohol, here you have Islam prohibiting it and the consumers themselves destroying the bottles of their own volition immediately thereafter.
This is a social revolution that was brought about by Islam. Muslims are, on average, incomparably more immune to this evil than all others, and this is due to the innate persuasive truth of Islam.
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But what happened when the secular West tried to do the same?
A Failed Secular Experiment
The Shari’ah succeeded in exorcising one of the most ancient and universal evils of humanity. The secular world, however, has not been so successful, as demonstrated by the Prohibition era in the United States (1920-1933).
There were always attempts to ban alcohol in the West, from the perspective of public morality and health, from both individuals and groups. Within the US, it was the so-called “temperance movement” of the 19th century. Then, at the beginning of the 20th century, the political class, implying both Republicans and Democrats, became conscious of the fact that something should be done about it through the law.
This was the reason behind the ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment in 1919.
Despite the initial success, the American people simply couldn’t give up their alcohol. This ended up created a parallel economy of “bootlegging,” i.e., illegal smuggling. Alcohol was manufactured and sold to the masses illegally.
It is due to this that the modern mafia or organized crime came into being.
The term “organized crime” didn’t really exist in the United States before Prohibition. Criminal gangs had run amok in American cities since the late 19th-century, but they were mostly bands of street thugs running small-time extortion and loansharking rackets in predominantly ethnic Italian, Jewish, Irish and Polish neighborhoods.
In fact, before the passing of the 18th Amendment in 1919 and the nationwide ban that went into effect in January 1920 on the sale or importation of “intoxicating liquor,” it wasn’t the mobsters who ran the most organized criminal schemes in America, but corrupt political “bosses,” explains Howard Abadinsky, a criminal justice professor at St. John’s University and author of Organized Crime.
But the underworld power dynamics shifted dramatically with the onset of Prohibition and the overnight outlawing of every bottle of beer, glass of wine and shot of booze in America. With legitimate bars and breweries out of business, someone had to step in to fuel the substantial thirst of the Roaring Twenties. And no one was better equipped than the mobsters.
In other words, Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky, etc.,—all of the most iconic gangsters—were made possible because the US attempted to achieve through secular law what Islam succeeded in doing through the Shari’ah.
In fact, many (if not most) of the postcolonial Islamic societies are obviously not very keen on enforcing Shari’ah, which means that Muslims don’t drink alcohol even when the Shari’ah is not State-enforced.
On the other hand you have secular law, which, even when it is enforced by the secular State, far from achieving its aims, it leads to such social dysfunctionalities that crime itself becomes more complex and rationalized, like the secular State itself.
The secular Prohibition in the US didn’t even have the desired effects, yet it gave rise to the mafia. Whereas the Shari’ah has been “prohibiting” alcohol for centuries without ever witnessing any kind of rise of a criminal class that is fetishized within pop culture.
Doesn’t this prove the superiority of the Shari’ah over secular law?
Doesn’t this prove that you can’t successfully enforce a material law without also including a spiritual dimension to it?
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Alhamdulillah for Islam
They can never achieve it with secular laws. Because Secular laws ensure freedom and ban is a restriction, which is totally against the secular constitution. It reminds me of Sir Mohammad Iqbal,He writes
“Tumhari Tehzeeb Apne Khanjar Se Ap Hi Khudkushi Kare Gi
Jo Shakh-e-Nazuk Pe Ashiyana Bane Ga, Na Paidar Ho ga” (English Translation:Your civilization will commit suicide with its own dagger(knife)The nest built on the weak branch will not be permanent, stable)