There is a verse in the Qur’an which I wish you could clarify for me.
Here are three different translations of the verse 67 in surah 16:
YUSUF ALI: And from the fruit of the date-palm and the vine, ye get out wholesome drink and food: behold, in this also is a sign for those who are wise.
PICKTHAL: And of the fruits of the date-palm, and grapes, whence ye derive strong drink and (also) good nourishment. Lo! therein is indeed a portent for people who have sense.
SHAKIR: And of the fruits of the palms and the grapes – you obtain from them intoxication and goodly provision; most surely there is a sign in this for a people who ponder.
The most urging question that comes to my mind is why Yusuf Ali is using the term “wholesome drink” (beneficial, healthy) whereas the other two translators are using the terms “strong drink” and “intoxication”. Who is in error?
Another question is whether this verse is advocating intoxicants (if we assume Pickthal and Shakir are right). I suspect that, as the Qur’an only says what one can make out of dates and grapes. We can’t derive any positive or negative judgment about alcohol from this verse.
May Peace be with you.
The Arabic word used in the referred verse is “سكر“ (Sakar), which is used for anything that intoxicates. In view of this fact, according to my understanding, Yusuf Ali’s translation is not correct. The other two translations seem to be more accurate.
As for the second part of your question, if we closely consider the true nature of the four signs pointed out in the referred set of verses (61 – 69), we shall see that in these verses, the Qur’an has, in fact, referred to these intoxicants in a negative manner. However, to fully appreciate this aspect, we must take a close look at the complete set of these verses in their right context and then try to understand the message entailed in these verses. A brief explanation of these verses follows, however it would be best that you keep the actual verses in front of view while reading this explanation:
Verse 61 – 64: People should not construe that God is indifferent towards right and wrong from the incidents that generally take place in this world. If God were to punish every wrong immediately, no soul would then be allowed to tarry in the earth. Thus, to carry out the test, God allows ever soul to do what it decides for itself till an appointed time. When this time comes, God’s justice shall become manifest for each soul. Ignoring this fact, the people of Qureish continue to ascribe wrong attributes to God which they are not even willing to accept for themselves. They think that just as God has granted His bounties to them in the life of this world, they shall be the victors in the hereafter as well. These are only their false desires. Whatever they may desire, God shall subject them to His justice on the Day of Judgment. O Prophet, do not fret over the rejection of these people. Remember that it is not the first time that a messenger has been rejected and ridiculed. We have sent messengers among other peoples and when a messenger is raised in a people, Satan would do all that he can to entice those people to reject the call of the messenger and to continue adhering to their baseless ideas, beliefs and practices. They should know that if they continue to make Satan their guide, he shall then land them in a very painful punishment. Your responsibility, O Prophet, is only to clearly deliver the message of God and, thereby, to inform them about the right path, wherein they differed.
Verse 65: They consider the rising of the dead to be far-fetched. Nothing is impossible for God. Do they not see how easily God gives life to a piece of lifeless land by pouring upon it water from the skies? Raising the dead is just as simple for the Almighty.
Verse 66: They remain skeptical about the Day on which the Good and the Evil shall stand distinctly separate from each other. Do they not see how easily God separates the useful from the useless? As an example they should consider how easily God separates clean and wholesome milk for you to drink from blood and other excrement from an animal’s body
Verse 67: God does not create evil. Evil exists because of man’s transgressions. As an example, consider the grapes and dates which provide wholesome food, but from which man starts extracting intoxicants as well.
Verse 68 – 69: It is only through God’s providence that you exist on the earth. God has put creatures on the earth to serve man. Even a bee is put in the service of man. Would God, after all the arrangements that He has made for your continued existence, allow you to wither away as dust and bones and not hold you responsible for your deeds?
The foregoing explanation, should adequately clarify the context and the meaning of the referred verses. Keeping this meaning and context of the verses in perspective, it should be clear that even though the referred verse is not related to the prohibition, or otherwise, of intoxicants, yet it has mentioned intoxicants as unwholesome and as a wrong use of the great blessings entailed in dates and grapes etc.
I hope this helps.
October 16, 2003