The word “khamr” in Arabic refers to intoxicants (in general), but also specifically to alcohol. We all know drinking alcohol is haraam–but is alcohol itself najas? People use alcohol in medicine, in lens-cleaners, even in foods. What have scholars said about this?
Summary: Allahu ‘alim, both sides–those that say alcohol is najas, and those that don’t–have strong proofs. Having said that, all four madhahib say alcohol is najas. The main proof–and there are a few proofs–is the ayah:
Translation: O you who believe! Intoxicants and gambling, (dedication of) stones, and (divination by) arrows, are rijs of Shaytan’s handwork; eschew such (filth), that ye may prosper. [Surah Ma'idah, verse 90]
The word Allah uses–rijs–means filth, which is najas by default. Gambling and divination are spirituall najas, and alcohol is physically najas! (Those who say alcohol is not najas use this ayah too–gambling and divination are spiritually najas. If you walk into a gambling machine, you don’t go wash it off! And alcohol is mentioned here too. But the refutal is that it’s common sense that gambling and divination aren’t physically najas.)
Another proof: Abu Tha’labah Al-Khushani asked the Prophet: “We are in a land inhabited by people of the book. Can we eat from their inaa’?” The Prophet (صلي الله عليه وسلم) said: “Don’t eat from them, unless you can’t find an alternative; in that case, wash them and eat from them.” The word used, inaa’, refers to dishes (plates, bowls), utensils (knives, forks, spoons), AND cups! If alcohol wasn’t najas, the Prophet (صلي الله عليه وسلم) wouldn’t have mentioned inaa’, only plates/bowls/etc. and utensils! So the majority of scholars use this proof, too, to say alcohol is najas.
And follow Imam Malik–who says that even though alcohol is najas, if it’s mixed into something–as long as it doesn’t change the colour, smell, or taste of the thing–then that thing is pure.
But don’t cook with it–because there’s a hadith, that “whatever intoxicates in large amounts is haraam even in small amounts.”
Wallahu ta’ala ‘alim.
Abdul-Bary Yahya. Lecture. AlMaghrib. The Purification Act. University of Toronto, Toronto. November 2006.