Angels Tapping at the Wine-Shop’s Door
A History of Alcohol in the Islamic World
A fascinating history of the complexities and contradictions of alcohol consumption in the Muslim world, from the founding of the faith to the present day.
Islam is the only major world religion that resists the juggernaut of alcohol consumption. In many Islamic countries, alcohol is banned; in others, it plays little role in social life. Yet, Muslims throughout history did drink, often to excess—whether sultans and shahs in their palaces, or commoners in taverns run by Jews or Christians.
This evocative study delves into drinking’s many historic, literary and social manifestations in Islam, going beyond references to ‘hypocrisy’ or the temptations of ‘forbidden fruit’. Rudi Matthee argues that alcohol, through its ‘absence’ as much as its presence, takes us to the heart of Islam. Exploring the long history of this faith—from the eight-century Umayyad dynasty to Erdogan’s Turkey, and from Islamic Spain to modern Pakistan—he unearths a tradition of diversity and multiplicity in which Muslims drank, and found myriad excuses to do so. They celebrated wine and used it as a poetic metaphor, even viewing alcohol as a gift from God—the key to unlocking eternal truth.
Drawing on a plethora of sources in multiple languages, Matthee presents Islam not as an austere and uncompromising faith, but as a set of beliefs and practices that embrace ambivalence, allowing for ambiguity and even contradiction.
‘[A] sensitive and nuanced exploration of the inner lives of people with whom, though remote in time and place from us, we would have enjoyed sharing a drink.’ — Asian Review of Books
‘This evocative study delves into drinking’s many historic, literary and social manifestations in Islam.’ — H-Net
‘That Islamic culture makes no room for alcohol is a myth that has long clouded views of and within Islam. Rudi Matthee debunks this myth with the deftness and authority we have come to expect from one of our most accomplished scholars of Islamic cultures. Intoxicatingly good.’ — Christopher de Bellaigue, author of The Islamic Enlightenment and The Lion House
‘Matthee’s fascinating study of wine and wine-drinking in the Muslim world explores not only production and consumption but a rich culture of poetic ecstasy and revelry. Erudite and yet accessible, this outstanding book will find its deserved place within a growing body of sociocultural histories.’ — Abbas Amanat, William Graham Sumner Professor of History Emeritus, Yale University, and author of Iran: A Modern History
‘An excellent and important book covering the entire history of Islam and a very large part of the Islamic world. Drawing on a wide variety of sources, it is engaging and well written throughout.’ — Devin Stewart, Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies, Emory College of Arts and Sciences
‘The first comprehensive engagement with the history of alcohol in the Islamic world, from the early days of the revelation to the nuances of contemporary alcohol policy and practice in major Muslim-majority countries. A novel, timely and compelling contribution.’ — Maziyar Ghiabi, Wellcome Trust Senior Lecturer in Medical Humanities and Politics, University of Exeter
Rudi Matthee is the John A. Munroe and Dorothy L. Munroe Chair of History at the University of Delaware. He is the author of four prize-winning monographs on Iranian history, and the editor or co-editor of another six books. He is currently President of the Persian Heritage Foundation.