Beer and Islam. Two things that go together like… well, like two things that don’t go well together. Or so I thought.
I lived with a few Muslim guys for a year at university who really liked their beer, and my mates and I used to give them a pretty good ribbing. They said that alcohol was a long-tolerated tradition of many Muslim communities and that we were being narrow-minded by sarcastically giving them the “Good Muslim” award at the end of year fines evening. They brought up how Sufi mystics and poets often wrote about their love of wine, and not only as a metaphor for spiritual intoxication. I also had a few Muslim friends who would never dream of touching a drop of alcohol. It was complicated.
This sounds a lot more serious than it actually was - it was good-natured fun, after all - but it did raise an interesting issue: can beer and Islam co-exist?
The answer it seems is a qualified yes. While devout Muslims usually consider alcohol haraam, that is, forbidden, there exists many others who not only enjoy alcohol but make it too, arguing that alcohol has long been a part of Islamic culture. But how does it actually work in Arabia?
Enter Taybeh Brewery, Palestine’s only microbrewery. Run by Christians, its products are enjoyed by Muslims and secular Arabs alike. I found a very interesting article by the Guardian about this little brewery’s seventh annual Oktoberfest, held in its tiny home village on the West Bank.
To add to the bizarreness of the situation, this Oktoberfest, the seventh of its kind, took place not in hip Ramallah but in the remote village of Taybeh, perched picturesquely at 850m above sea level and with a population of just 1,500. Moreover, readers in western countries may wonder why thousands upon thousands of revellers had trekked all that way to attend a beer festival with only one beer on tap.
Secular Palestinians, expats and even leftist Israelis equipped with glasses of Taybeh beer wandered around food and handicraft stands, watched traditional Dabke dancers, modern music, comedy and theatrical performances.
Despite its remoteness and tiny proportions, Taybeh has earned its place on the cultural and social map as being the location of the only Palestinian beer brewery. It has battled the restrictions imposed by the Israeli occupation and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism to become a rare Palestinian business and cultural success story.
This may explain why Taybeh once adopted “Taste the revolution” as its advertising slogan. And, judging by its micro-brewery quality, the revolution tastes pretty good.
For an extremely interesting insight into how beer and Islam co-exists in a country whose largest city, you know, has a religiously-informed ban on all alcohol, this article is recommended reading. It also provides a very interesting perspective into how the issue of alcohol has been dealt with in Islamic cultural and historical writings and how non-Muslims enjoy their tipple while living in Islamic states.
Of course, I’m not going to argue about how a faith that isn’t mine deals with their matters, but from a beer perspective, this is very interesting indeed.