Is it permissible to consume products that have alcohol used as solvents and such?
Many food products abroad may not contain animal derived ingredients and one can verify this by it being listed as vegetarian, but alcohol is used as a solvent- not as a flavoring- in many products and it's not always easy to find out. Is it permissible to consume products that have alcohol used as solvents and such?
The legal ruling for this issue and its like is based on two matters; istihlak and istihala and likewise on their effect on removing a substance's najasa [impurity] and on rendering it permissible for consumption.
Meaning of istihala:
Istihala means the [chemical] transformation of a substance's properties resulting in the removal of its impure nature. Scholars have unanimously agreed that alcohol is deemed pure if it spontaneously transforms into vinegar.
The majority of Hanafi and Maliki scholars as well as in an opinion stated by Imam Ahmed, maintained that any impure substance — apart from alcohol which has spontaneously turned into vinegar — is deemed pure if it has undergone istihala. This is because the impure nature of such a substance:
- is transformed and completely changed;
- Islamic law bases the description of impurity on the presence of certain properties;
- its description as an impure substance no longer applies due to transformation in its essence;
- in analogy to the case of the purity of wine vinegar from alcohol; the purity of deer blood that is converted into musk; purity of a blood clot that is converted into a piece of flesh [during gestation).
This is the opinion implemented for fatwa.
As for istihlak, it means that the percentage of alcohol in a certain substance is so negligible that it does not lead to intoxication, even if a person drinks large amounts of it. A beverage is deemed prohibited for consumption if the percentage of alcohol in it leads to intoxication whether a person drinks little or large amounts of it. This meaning corresponds to the hadith narrated by Jabir (may Allah be pleased with him) in which the Prophet (pbuh) said, "Any beverage that intoxicates when taken in large quantities is unlawful both in small and large quantities." [Recorded by Abu Dawud and al-Nisa'i. IbnHibban declared it authentic from the hadith of Jabir (may Allah be pleased with him)]. The meaning of this is that it is forbidden to drink any beverage that intoxicates when drunk in small amounts because drinking small amounts that do not intoxicate may lead to drinking large amounts that do. However, it is lawful to drink beverages that have been mixed with minute quantities of an intoxicating substance, and which do not intoxicate even if drunk in large amounts. This does not come under this noble hadith and its like.