Muslims Selling Alcohol in Harlem

February 8, 2007 § 18 Comments

I live in Harlem and I have faced many Muslim corner-store and liquor-store owners – many of them from Yemen – about selling alcohol in the community. The excuses that I have heard are weak and unacceptable for a Muslim, excuses like:

“The Yemeni Business Committee allows the selling of alcohol to non-Muslims…”

I’m not sure how true this is, but I doubt there is any validity to these claims at all. Its frustrating because my neighborhood has a small number of Muslims (West Africans, African-Americans, Yemenis and Palestinian) and two small storefront Senegali masajid that have a very small influence on the community, practically none at all. The majority of the community of Harlem is non-Muslim African-American and alcohol consumption is a very big part of their overall daily activity. And those opposed of the non-Muslim African Americans may complain privately but do not publicly voice any resistance in my neighborhood. In other-words its big business for these store owners.

Similarly on the Left-Coast, a community of Muslims faced the same problems and took action. Imam Zaid Shakir led a movement in California to rid the community of stores selling alcohol as reported by NPR,

“Activists in Oakland, Calif., have long fought the concentration of liquor stores in their communities. Now they have new allies in Muslim groups who say Muslim owners of these liquor stores are hurting the neighborhood and violating religious principles.” (P. Bartolone, NPR) audio2

I personally feel violated by the liquor stores and over the years I have gotten pretty angry at these brothers for selling alcohol in our neighborhood. So much that it is difficult for me to greet them with as-salaam. Their stores – which are conveniently located in the center of the community and situated across from a middle-school – become a hang-out for local youth and hoodlums alike, meanwhile my wife and children are subject to crossing the path of these men standing out in front of the store everyday (though I will admit I have seen them show a greater respect toward covered women).

Nevertheless, throughout my time in Harlem, I have never seriously considered taking forceful action against these men but something must be done. If only there were more Muslims in Harlem, perhaps I should begin a campaign against this kind of conduct by Muslims in our neighborhood, insha’allah.

What do you think?

§ 18 Responses to Muslims Selling Alcohol in Harlem

  • Wellwisher says:


    JazakAllah for raising this issue. I’m very sad to hear that.

    I suggest you prepare a a leaflet in Arabic and English, entitled:


    containing the hadith:

    Hadith – Al-Tirmidhi #2776, Narrated Anas ibn Malik

    Allah’s Messenger cursed ten people in connection with wine:
    1. the wine-presser,
    2. the one who has it pressed,
    3. the one who drinks it,
    4. the one who conveys it,
    5. the one to whom it is conveyed,
    6. the one who serves it,
    7. the one who sells it,
    8. the one who benefits from the price paid for it,
    9. the one who buys it,
    10. and the one for whom it is bought.

    This pamphlet could be distributed to them and to those who purchase the alcoholic beverages. If they have even a grain of love and respect for the Holy Prophet s.a., or even an iota of shame left in them, perhaps, Insha Allah, they will desist.

    May Allah bless you for trying to save all those people from becoming the targets of Rasoolullah’s curse. Ameen.

    Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah transmitted it.

    • Rookaya says:

      Allah’s Messenger would never cursed he made dua for them:

      As I have read and understood the Allah’s Messenger he was kind and peaceful person… Never would he curse anyone.
      If it was stated in the quraan that Allah cursed someone I would understand but the prophet PBUH would never curse someone, he made dua for them.

      He was a good person the best there was and could ever be. Saying things that are incorrect is a grave sin.

      • Wedfew says:

        And the only place Allah cursed someone was in surah Lahab:

        Sura Lahab

        (The Flame)

        No. 111 (Verses 1-5)

        بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
        (1)تَبَّتْ يَدَا أَبِي لَهَبٍ وَتَبَّ
        (2)مَاأَغْنَى عَنْهُ مَالُهُ وَمَا كَسَبَ
        (3) سَيَصْلَى نَارًا ذَاتَ لَهَبٍ
        (4)وَامْرَأَتُهُ حَمَّالَةَ الْحَطَبِ
        (5)فِي جِيدِهَا حَبْلٌ مِّن مَّسَدٍ

        In The Name of Allah, The Beneficent, The Merciful

        1. May the hands of Abu Lahab perish, may he (himself) perish.

        2. His wealth avails him not, neither what he had earned.

        3. Soon will he roast in a flaming fire,

        4. And his wife, the bearer of the firewood,

        5. Upon her neck a rope of twisted palm-fibre.

  • Abdur Rahman says:

    Salaams Abu Sahajj,

    I’m not from Harlem or even America, but my own background has very, very similar problems with alcohol.

    I’m white, English and from the East End of London (a Cockney, if you will) and alcohol abuse is rife. There is also a very large Muslim community, said to be approx 1 million (Allahu Alam). Unfortunately, Muslim-owned stores selling alcohol are not uncommon!

    I remember before I ‘came out of the closet’ as a Muslim. I’d go into off licences (our term for liquor store) and if the owner looked Asian, I’d say ‘there’s no way that person could be a Muslim, they must be a Sikh or a Hindu. Muslims just don’t have anything to do with booze’. I’d get a very strange feeling of pride in Muslims (though at that point, I wasn’t Muslim as such). Like, ‘well, good for you, sticking by your principles’. If I’d known then what I know now! Ya Rabb! Thank you for protecting me from harmful knowledge!

    Wellwisher, yes, I think that this is one possible way. Indeed, it may well work with some. Another possibility (and I guess it’s an individual issue really – whatever works right?) is in keeping the company of one individual and through akhlaq and behaviour teaching them that this is against Islamic values.

    Well, these are just some thoughts…

    Ma’as salama,
    Abdur Rahman

  • Lilla says:

    Well, it’s a difficult issue and one that I feel raises two issues: 1) of being genuine and a faithful muslim, and 2) of assimilating successfully into a foreign culture with different cultural values. Both of these things are important, but it can be difficult to find a balance that sits right with personal beliefs and cultural expectations. tough situation.

  • If they wanna sell Alcohol its realy none of your business! Do they force people to buy it? or drink it? No! Allah gave us a BRAIN to use.

  • Wellwisher says:

    No one forces anyone to buy drugs either. But should shopkeepers be allowed to sell it freely then?

    As you rightly stated, Allah gave us all a brain. Let’s use it.

  • Dr X says:

    No one forces anyone to buy drugs either. But should shopkeepers be allowed to sell it freely then?

    Shopkeepers are not permitted to ‘freely’ sell drugs or alcohol in the U.S. Presumably you’re referring to the sale of illegal drugs. Shopkeepers are not permitted to sell those. They are permitted to sell alcohol if they have state and county licenses to do so and if they follow all of the laws of the jurisdictions in which they sell alcohol.

    Alcohol is not legal for sale in all jurisdictions, but the sale of alcohol is legal in NYC so long as one abides by all relevant laws pertaining to the sale of alcohol. This is a cultural difference to which you can attempt to adjust or not. By and large, Americans do not view consumption of alcohol as illegal, nor is it viewed as sinful by most Christians, Jews or non-believers. We are a religiously pluralistic society and not politically subject to Muslim law, regardless of what you believe.

    In many Christian churches, including mine, wine is one of the species of the Eucharist. The matter of alcohol consumption just isn’t your call in the U.S.

    Hakim raises a different issue which is the question of whether or not a particular business creates not just the perception of a public nuisance in the minds of some people, but a serious public nuisance that can’t be remedied by actions such as arrest for public drunkenness, littering or disorderly conduct around certain business establishments. The complaint must involve far more than an objection to the presence of a legally operating business for which one has a personal dislike and/or a religious objection. There are cases where businesses are closed because, in the end, the conduct around the business is so damaging to the community that closing the business is the only solution. This occurs less often in an urban environment because urban environments emphasize the coexistence of businesses and residences in close proximity to one another. Those who don’t like such arrangements don’t fare living in American cities.

    I sympathize with Hakim’s concerns in this matter and he legitimately raises the possibility of putting pressure on a business to change its operations. So long as this pressure consists of legal means such as verbal persuasion, legal protest or pressure on politicians, this is perfectly acceptable. Citizens may not take the law into their hands by using intimidation, threats of violence, violence, vandalism or by blocking access to a business. The rule of law is the rule we follow and in this country, that law is not religious law. Every immigrant group has had to adjust to a different set of laws and cultural customs they find in America.

  • DrM says:

    I knew some Tabligh Jammat brothers who visited a Yemini liquor store owner, he decided to give up his business after a few months and started practicing again. Personally I don’t do business with any Muslim selling haram products. Use the power of the boycott.
    Ignore the rantings of neocon… “modern pharaoh.”

  • Wellwisher says:

    Dr X, Peace to you

    Thank you for your remarks. I was of course already aware of what you stated. My intention was not at all to try and impose Muslim Law on businesses in the USA or anywhere else for that matter.

    My intention was to remind Muslim businessmen of what their own Prophet said regarding the sale and consumption of alcohol. Perhaps they did not know of certain things he had said and there is no harm in giving them this knowledge so that they can re-evaluate their actions.

    It is up to them, thereafter, to continue to sell alcoholic beverages or to refrain from doing so. If they refrain from doing it, well and good, and if they choose to continue the sale of it despite knowing what their Holy Prophet said, then so be it. The matter would be left at that.

    My proposal is not at all a question of exerting pressure – social or otherwise – on any businessman to change a practice that is legal in the USA. It is a question of providing them with information on their own religious values by peaceful means, and it is left to them to make up their minds freely.

    There is no harm in informing people of their own religious values. And I believe especially so in the Land of the Free.

    Anyone has the right to provide information and advice by peaceful means. And any businessman has the right to accept that advice or reject it.

    I hope I have made myself clear this time.

  • UmmZaid says:

    Salaam ‘alaikum

    It’s a matter of enjoining the good and forbidding the evil with kindness and gentleness amongst *our own selves* not forcing Muslims or others to live by Shari’ah.

    Abu Sahhaj, there *are* bodega owners in Manhattan, the BX, and other places who have gotten rid of alcohol, cigs, and lottery in their stores and been able to keep up, financially. I say this b/c when you talk to them, they always say, “I have to feed my family and no one will come to my store if I don’t sell beer / cigs / lotto.” It *can* be done, but it may mean that you’re not making as much $ as before. Or you can see some bodega owners getting creative, offering a deli counter or something else in place of liquor that draws in other customers to make up for those you lose.

    Finally, the Muslim community that is not a part of this must find avenues to be more active in the community in other ways: volunteering in the hospital, showing up at community board meetings, and so forth, so that people have a positive alternative image to look at when they think of “Muslims.”

  • Raed says:

    Dr. X / Wellwisher Salam to you

    I fully agree with Wellwisher on the matter. it is shocking to me how so money from the Muslim community will use the excuse of living in a land that does not obey Muslim law to partake in dealings of the things that are clearly forbidden in Islam.
    The US laws do not forbid the sale of alcohol, that is true. the US laws also do no forbid gambling and prostitution like the state of Nevada. Does this mean that a Muslim can participate in these dealings due to the face that they life in a country that allows them to do so.
    I believe one is a Muslim first, regardless of where they may be living and in what society.
    Take Amsterdam for example, the use of drugs in that city is permitted by law, does it mean that some Muslim brothers are free to take part in selling these drugs by fronting the argument that it is in face permissible by the laws of this country?
    whets even more troubling is that Muslims today have this issue, and as time goes on with new generations of Muslims growing up believing what their fathers are taking part in is ok they will push the line on other issues prohibited in Islam. Today its liquor tomorrow it might be something else.

  • Dirty Butter says:

    Baptists have traditionally abstained from drinking alcohol, or selling it. I say traditionally, because many who are in our denomination see nothing wrong with either practice.

    Refraining from association with alcohol, however, is an important tenet of Islam. So I cannot imagine that shop owners could rationalize selling alcohol in their stores. I’m sorry to hear that they do.

  • Wellwisher says:

    Dear Dirty Butter,
    Peace be with you

    Moral teachings in different religions are essentially the same. When the British Government was considering including Religious Studies in the national primary and secondary school curricula, they consulted various religious leaders on how they should tackle this new subject from as objective an angle as possible. Most religious clerics voied their opinions on how to go about teaching the beliefs of the different religions in the UK.

    However, the Imam I follow spoke differently. He proposed that they leave aside the teaching of beliefs, for they would never be able to please everyone in all the multitudinous sects and sub-sects of each and every religion at once. Someone out there would always object to something or other, and say that his or her beliefs had been wrongly portrayed at school.

    He suggested they go for the moral teachings, instead, for moral teachings are almost always identical – or very similar – in all revealed religions.

    No one, whatever the religion, condones or teaches lying, stealing or murdering; or displaying negative values such as greed, lust, envy, etc., to name but a few. These are values common to all members of the beautiful rainbow of humankind.

    The Government considered all the views put to them and decided to go half-way: teaching some beliefs and some moral precepts of the main religions practised in the United Kingdom. The beliefs cause divisions between people: children are now being taught that God is One, or Three-in-One, or 33 thousand; so divisiveness becomes inevitable, and that is a shame. But the moral teachings unite and create a sense of ‘sameness’, for want of a better word.

    As you rightly hinted, we are indeed going through troubled times. In both Christians and Muslims, morality is fast being eroded away; ungodliness, lust, corruption and double standards are regrettably the order of the day all over the world. So it’s always nice to see people find common ground on issues of mutual concern. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us here. Solving the problem starts by confronting it, and we are thankful to Brother Hakim for having pointed one of these problems out through this thought-provoking post.

  • bebop says:

    the muslim law on not drinking alcohol is a silly rule because all human beings have a certain amount of alcohol in there body. you eat bread which has yeast in it you eat fruit n suger which then ferments in the gut[ fact] is if you know anything about medical biology then you should know that you have alcohol in you weather you like it or not

  • “the muslim law on not drinking alcohol is a silly rule because all human beings have a certain amount of alcohol in there body. you eat bread which has yeast in it you eat fruit n suger which then ferments in the gut[ fact] is if you know anything about medical biology then you should know that you have alcohol in you weather you like it or not”

    silly .. ( please watch ur tongue ) first when they say alcohol is forbidden they didn’t mean that we don’t use at all . of course a lot of things in life have alcohol that don’t mean that we don’t have to use it .. our Islam is easy religion .. and it will not say don’t do something without a reason .. cos u now a medical alcohol is good .. and there is lot of benefit of using it and our religion didn’t forbidden that sort of alcohol .. but the one that is forbidden the one how cause fatal disease and that make people have illusion and make them do a lot of bad thing that effect the society badly .. and thats why alcohol is prohibited in our religion .. because it have a negative side effect .. like the west society how suffering from it

  • Wedfew says:

    So wrong the prophet never cursed…

  • Shaiba Afzal says:

    Assalaam Aleikum

    I am wanting to know if the Prophet (SAW) curses non muslims when they are selling alcohol in their shop?
    Also if muslims are allowed to buy products from an off lience shop and the owners of the shop are non muslims?

    It would be great to you could answer my questions.

    Many Thanks
    Shaiba Afzal

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