The latest Home office statistics make grim reading for the Muslim community: Muslim prisoners have doubled in the last decade to reach a total of between 4000-4500 — amounting to 9% of the total prison population — which is treble our proportion of the total population. One in eleven prisoners is Muslim. This surge in Muslim crime is not being discussed openly within the community, most probably out of a sense of shame. But in reality, we should feel ashamed precisely because we are not discussing these problems openly and confronting them. Shame should impel not prohibit a constructive response.
So what sort of crime is being committed and who is doing it? Sadly, but not surprisingly, over 65% of these prisoners are young men between the ages of eighteen and thirty. This huge figure does not include youngsters under the age of 18 who are in custodial care. We should not forget to add that 10% are women. The sorts of crime committed not only include petty theft but also violent and obscene muggings.  Maqsood Ahmed, the Muslim Advisor to the Prison Service appointed by the government in 1999, says that currently (as of June 2000) 1005 out of the 4003 Muslim inmates have committed crimes related to drug pushing or drug use. So one in four of British Muslim prisoners have been convicted for drug-related offences. 
Muslims and the Global Drug Trade
We need to face facts: Muslim involvement in hard drugs is not confined to Muslims in the West. Of the traditional ‘natural’ drugs, Muslims are heavily involved with the planting, harvesting, refinement, smuggling, and distribution to Europe of heroin and cannabis. While cannabis is the most widely used illicit substance in Europe, heroin, the most deadly drug, is little used in comparison; but it is most associated with social marginalisation and addiction.
Today, Morocco is the world’s largest cannabis exporter, with a crop of 2000 metric tonnes, having had a tenfold increase in production from 1983-1993. While the Moroccan government has made agreements with the European Union (EU) to grow substitute crops and domestic seizures of hash have risen, total production has increased at the same time. There is deep government involvement, going right up to the Royal family; an assertion that can be given some credence because the Ministry of Agriculture produces highly accurate and confidential statistics about the total acreage of hash under cultivation every year. One estimate puts the value of hash exports at two thirds of Morocco’s total exports, or 10% of the country’s income. Most hash enters Europe through Spain, where it distributed by Moroccan and Dutch criminal elements among others.
Of the world’s two major heroin suppliers, Afghanistan overtook Burma as world leader in the late 1990s. In 1999, it supplied 77% of the world’s heroin, a figure which has been publicly acknowledged by the Taliban.  We can also note the increased production and refinement of poppy seed in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.  Hitherto, the drug, in a semi-refined state, has been shipped from Afghanistan through Pakistan to the West.
It was CIA intervention—in support of the Mujahedin who were fighting Soviet oppression in the early 1980s—which was crucial in turning Afghanistan and Pakistan from local suppliers into international ones by providing the necessary political protection and logistical networks. The CIA in co-operation with Pakistan’s Interservices Intelligence supplied arms to the Mujahedin in return for payment in raw opium. It was only after Soviet withdrawal that the US gave serious monies to combat poppy seed production. Pakistan had started the 1980s as a major producer of poppy seed, but government anti-drugs measures have virtually wiped out production (2 metric tonnes) by 1999. 
When the Taliban first captured Kandahar in 1994, they announced a total ban on drugs, but this stance was quickly dropped when they realised that narcotics provided an invaluable source of income and, furthermore, that an outright ban would greatly alienate farmers dependent on the crop. So as Taliban control spread, production rose by a massive 25% up to 1997. ‘Abd al-Rasheed, the head of the Taliban’s anti-drugs control force in Kandahar said in May 1997 that while there was a strict ban on hashish, “opium is permissible because it is consumed by kafirs (unbelievers) in the West and not by Muslims or Afghans.”  In the process of institutionalising and guaranteeing income from the drug trade, the Taliban started to levy zakat on poppy cultivation and charge tolls on the transportation of the poppy residue under armed Taliban guard out of the country.  An increasing number of drug laboratories were set up in Afghanistan. Even if not much drug profit stays in Afghanistan and Pakistan—only about 9% of the total Western street value—this still added up to about $1.35 billion US dollars in 1999.
Poppy seed, either as a raw crop or in its initially refined form as morphine, has until recently been the major source of income in a war-shattered economy both for farmers and the government. Yet despite this economic dependency, it must still be said: the remark of the Taliban official quoted above was hypocritical and cynical. There is not one standard of upright conduct for Muslims and another for non-Muslims: our religion requires us to behave impeccably with both. And far from Muslims being unaffected by Afghani heroin, Pakistan now has the highest heroin addiction rate in the world. In 1979, Pakistan had no addicts, in 1986, it had 650,000 addicts, three million in 1992, while in 1999, government figures estimate a staggering figure of five million.
Nor is the problem confined to Pakistan. Despite one of the toughest anti-drugs policies in the world, where the death-penalty is given for the possession of a few ounces of heroin, Iran officially had 1.2 million addicts in 1998 (off the record, officials admit to the figure being more like 3 million). By 1998, only 42 % of total heroin production was exported out of South Asia; 58% of opiates were being consumed within the region itself. So heroin addiction is not only a Western problem, but also a deeply Muslim one.
Between 1997-1999, Kabul offered to end poppy seed production—to both the US and the UN—in return for international recognition, which suggests that the Taliban leadership was not serious in the past about ending production but used the whole issue of drug control as a diplomatic lever.  Thankfully, the Afghan government seems to have recently changed its public position. In 1999, Amir Mullah Omar Mohammed announced that poppy seed production should be cut by one third. On 28 July 2000, Mullah Omar ordered a complete ban of poppy seed cultivation, and appealed for the assistance of the international community in funding crop replacement schemes.  The official figures for 2000 showed a reduction of 28% on 1999, but this was mostly attributable to the terrible drought the country suffered during that period.  It has now been confirmed by outside agencies that the Taliban have wiped out the 2001 harvest, as a UNDCP team reported in February that the major growing areas were virtually free of poppies, which was corroborated by the US Drug Enforcement Agency in May. Despite the DEA’s prognosis that the ban will hit farmers hard, the US has pushed for continued UN sanctions because of its campaign to bring Osama bin Laden to trial. [10a]
After being put into its morphine base, either in Pakistan or Central Asia (and previously in Afghanistan), the drug is transported to Turkish laboratories, where it is further refined into heroin. About 80% of Europe’s supply is refined into heroin proper in Turkey, although the Turks are facing increased competition from the Russian Mafia in second-stage refinement and smuggling into Europe (via Eastern Europe and the Baltic). As with Morocco, the Turkish civil and military secret services are heavily involved with the drug trade. This complicity was highlighted by a car-crash in November 1996 involving four people: an extreme right-wing criminal on the run, a high-ranking policeman, a beauty queen, and the only survivor, a parliamentarian of ex-Prime Minister Ciller’s party. About 75% of Europe’s heroin is transported from Turkey in small quantities overland via the Balkan route, which is impossible to police effectively because of the high volume of traffic.  Once in Europe, a lot of the heroin is then distributed by significant numbers of European Turks among others, and it is then sold on to the dealers, who sell smaller quantities to users on the street.
Islamic Ruling on Drugs (non-alcoholic Intoxicants)
Ibn ‘Umar (radiya’Llahu ‘anhu) reported that the Messenger of Allah (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “Every intoxicant (muskir) is wine (khamr) and every intoxicant is forbidden. He who drinks wine in this world and dies while he is addicted to it, not having repented, will not be given a drink in the Hereafter.”  This hadith is one of the primary texts that prove the prohibition of anything that intoxicates like wine. Ibn Hajar al-Haytami (rahmatu’Llahi ‘alayh), considered to be among the foremost legal authorities of the entire late Shafi‘i legal school, has classified the consumption of hashish (hashisha) and opium (afyun) as an enormity or a major sin.  Imam al-Dhahabi (rahmatu’Llahi ‘alayh) defined an enormity as “any sin entailing either a threat of punishment in the hereafter explicitly mentioned in the Qur’an and Hadith, a prescribed legal penalty or being accursed by Allah and His Messenger (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam).”  Among those classical authorities who wrote of the prohibition of hashish were Imam Zarakhshi, Ibn Taymiyya, al-Qirafi, Abu Ishaq al-Shirazi and Imam Nawawi (rahmatu’Llahi ‘alayhim). In short, the four legal schools agree that all intoxicants are unlawful, and they include plants that intoxicate under this category of prohibited substances.  There is a misconception among Muslim users that although drugs are unlawful, smoking hashish is not so serious. Or they say that at least we don’t drink! They seem to divide drugs into hard and soft drugs: a division that is quite baseless according to Divine law. All drugs are Class A according to our religion.
British Muslims and the Drug Trade
The drug trade in Britain is breaking and shattering young Muslim lives. But to our great shame, we are not only talking about the many Muslim victims of drug use, but the fact that British Muslims are also heavily involved in street level drugs pushing. From the late 1980s onwards, according to Maqsood Ahmed, it appears that Asians replaced Afro-Caribbeans as the main drug pushers on the streets. 
However, Maqsood Ahmed says that it is only the small-time Asian street pushers, not the major suppliers, who are being caught and incarcerated. A retired lawyer, Gavin McFarlane, who once worked in the office of the Solicitor for Customs and Excise, confirms the view that the ‘Mr Bigs’ of drug crime are usually never caught. 
I am not suggesting that drugs are the only issue relating to crime, but because of the nature of addiction, drugs can do more to destroy the moral will and the social fabric of the Muslim community than any other type of crime. It appears that drug use among Muslim youth matches national levels: we have no more ‘moral immunity’ from drugs than anyone else.
It is instructive to look at the example of NAFAS, a Muslim-run outreach, educational and rehabilitation programme, based in Tower Hamlets in East London, which aims to target drug use among Bangladeshi youth. One NAFAS activist, Abdur Rahman, has worked among Muslims in the area of drugs, crime and mental health issues for the last ten years. I interviewed him in order to get a real sense of what is happening on the street. 
In his experience, it is mainly Pakistani and Bangladeshi youth that become involved with drugs, but it effects all the various ethnic Muslim groups. Commonly, the parents of these young men neglected their religious training, and instead left matters in the hands of the madrasas. Their experience in the madrasa has been of rote learning without any understanding, an experience that has left them bored and alienated not only from the madrasa but also from religion itself. Frustrated imams throw the more disruptive kids out of the madrasas onto the streets. Clubbing together in gangs of around 20-30, these young men are listless and bored. The result has very often been the emergence of gang violence and turf wars.
By far the most commonly used drugs are hashish and then alcohol. Heroin is used much less. Most that smoke ‘weed’ (as hashish is known in street slang) will not touch heroin, which is seen as a dirty drug. But the picture is complex, because 90% of those who do use heroin say that their first drug was hashish. Those Muslim youth that do use heroin do not use needles because they see it as a dirty practice. Habitually, those who take heroin also use crack cocaine. According to local police figures for the Borough of Tower Hamlets, 50% of drug offenders referred to drugs agencies are young Bangladeshi men. Of these, 90% are under twenty-five and more than 60% have never received any help to get off drugs. It was in part this last statistic that brought about the founding of NAFAS. There are no figures for young women, but the word on the street is that hashish use is increasing among them as well. Normally such women smoke hashish in the home. Abdur Rahman says that taboos are breaking down. It is becoming more common to see hashish being smoked and alcohol being drunk in the street.
What are the attitudes of these young men to religion? There are some that mock religion openly. “Islam is drab and boring,” they say, “it is only about things you are not allowed to do. There is no fun and laughter. We are young and now is the time for enjoyment.” Others, who have a stronger sense of being Muslim, say they want to practice but argue that the bad environment discourages them. Abdur Rahman says it is easier to reach those who have some religious feeling in them, and that these boys can point to examples where someone they know has come off drugs and has started practising Islam.
There is a real internal problem facing this community and it will not go away if we are merely content to highlight problems within the British criminal justice system, schooling and welfare. However necessary, this critique of the system is only part of the answer. To make myself absolutely clear, I am stressing the fact that the crucial element in any response is moral and religious guidance, which, of course, only the community can provide. This is not just a problem of young Muslim men who have lost their way, but a failure of the whole community to bring them up with Islamic values. We have neglected their spiritual training (tarbiya) and failed to teach them how to live in this world in accordance with the pleasure of Allah (akhlaqiyyat) in a way that makes sense to them. We have even ignored their secular education; so that on the streets of despair turning to drugs seems the best way to make a quick buck or to escape from the pressures of racism, Islamophobia and unemployment.
What we all need in front of us, young and old, is a clear picture of what being a real man in Islam means as opposed to being a fake one. Guidance comes with our comprehension of what religion expects us to do for ourselves, and for others, for the pleasure of Allah Most High. The rest of this essay is devoted to outlining the nature of negative and positive masculinity.
written by Yahya Birt
Click to view image: '184347-Blue_hills.jpg'
|Liveleak on Facebook|