Originally published in Patheos
America has many famous pastimes from such as baseball, football, and basketball to outdoor activities such as fishing, hunting, and camping. All of these play a part in American culture, bringing a healthy spirit of friendly competition, camaraderie, or physical activity. However there are American pastimes that are not so healthy and contribute little or nothing positive to American culture.
Foremost among these is the consumption of alcohol.
Consuming alcoholic beverages is intertwined with almost every activity in American society. Growing up in an inner-city, lower economic class community I experienced this first hand. A celebration wasn’t a celebration without alcohol. Holidays, sporting events, family functions, weekends in general were normally occasions for drinking.
In my teenage social circle, as with many, drinking was a symbol of manhood and more the more you could drink the more of a man you thought you were. This practice has not changed much from 25 years ago as binge drinking is still far greater among teens who drink than it is among adults. The impact of teenage drinking can be felt in the 5000 alcohol related deaths each year in people under 21 years of age. Additionally, in 2008 more than 190,000 emergency room visits were reported for alcohol related injuries for the same demographic.
Teens get a very mixed message about alcohol use. On the one hand they are told that they have to be responsible and wait until they are older (21 years) before they can drink, but on the other hand teens are bombarded with alcohol advertisements and the hypocrisy of adults and their alcohol use. Teenage boys, who generally love sports, see the alcohol advertisements that flood virtually all sports broadcasts, implicitly promising them social acceptance and access to attractive women. Yet there is very little outcry from American parents to this undue influence on their children.
The impact of adult alcohol use shows very little of the responsibility that is supposed to come with age. The statistics on alcohol use and violent crime are staggering. Alcohol is a factor in a staggering 40% of all violent crimes which totals over a million per year. Additionally 36% of adults under correctional supervision were under the influence when their offenses were committed. The US suffers from the highest rate of incarceration in the world, and clearly, alcohol plays a major role in this. Each year more around 10-15,000 Americans are killed in drunk driving accidents. To put that in perspective, that is more than twice the rate of death for Americans than that of the Vietnam War. The economic damage of alcohol exceeds over 100 billion dollars per year.
There is no question that alcohol use is very dangerous. It is because of this fact that the Holy Prophet Muhammad (SAW) called it the “Mother of all social evils” and why Islam prohibits its use. The Holy Qur’an says concerning alcohol:
“Say: ‘In both there is great sin and also some advantages for men; but their sin is greater than their advantage.’ “ (2:220)
This verse acknowledges that some good can come out of its use, but confirms that its dangers far outweigh whatever advantages it may provide. Much has been made of medical benefits of alcohol in helping to prevent heart disease if used if small quantities. However, the damage that alcohol use does to human health far exceeds this minor benefit. Alcohol is a contributing factor in many deadly diseases including heart disease.
When I was in my teenage years I had begun to drink alcohol quite frequently. Nearly all the trouble I got into was while I was under the influence, as were the majority of the actions that I would later regret. A number of my friends would end up incarcerated for actions they committed under the influence of alcohol. I now believe I was on a fast track to becoming an alcoholic like many others among my friends and family. However, when I accepted Islam in my late teens, I turned away from alcohol for good and was rescued from that fate.
There are many vices where the abusers only hurt themselves, however, alcohol is definitely not one of those as drinkers victimize others at a very high rate. Is it really in the best interest of Americans to have a pastime that does so much harm not only to themselves, but to innocent victims? America would be much better served abandoning useless and dangerous tradition.
By Rasheed Reno