The tobacco industry attempted to reinterpret Islamic teaching and recruit Islamic scholars in a bid to undermine the prohibition on smoking in many Muslim countries, an investigation has shown.
Evidence from archived industry documents from the 1970s to the late 1990s shows that tobacco companies were seriously concerned about Islamic teaching. In 1996, an internal document from British American Tobacco warned that, because of the spread of "extremist views" from fundamentalists in countries such as Afghanistan, the industry would have to "prepare to fight a hurricane". BAT and other companies, which were losing sales in affluent countries where anti-smoking measures had been introduced, devised strategies to counter this perceived threat to sales in places such as Egypt, Indonesia and Bangladesh, which have large populations of young people who smoke.
The industry was concerned that the World Health Organisation was encouraging the anti-smoking stance of Islamic leaders. A 1985 report from tobacco firm Philip Morris squarely blamed the WHO. "This ideological development has become a threat to our business because of the interference of the WHO ? The WHO has not only joined forces with Moslem fundamentalists who view smoking as evil, but has gone yet further by encouraging religious leaders previously not active anti-smokers to take up the cause," it said.
"A Moslem who attacks smoking generally speaking would be a threat to existing government as a 'fundamentalist' who wishes to return to sharia law," says one of the archive documents. It adds: "Our invisible defence must be the individualism which Islam allows its believers ? smoking and other signs of modern living should encourage governments to a point at which it is possible quietly to suggest their benefits."
It adds: "With Islam we might ask what other aspects of modern living are similarly open to extremist demands for prohibition under strict interpretation of sharia: motion pictures, television, and art depicting the human being? Use of electronic amplification by muezzin calling from a minaret? The education of women?" the document says.
The earliest fatwa against tobacco was in 1602, but many scholars believed smoking cigarettes or taking tobacco in water pipes or other forms was harmless until evidence of the dangers to health began to emerge in the mid 20th century. Jurists pronounced that tobacco use was makrooh (discouraged). In many Islamic countries, a harder line was taken, with smoking prohibited on the grounds that the Qur'an does not permit self-harm or intoxication.
The WHO negotiated the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, starting in 1999, in response to what it describes as the "explosive increase in tobacco use". The convention, which outlines strategies intended to reduce demand, was adopted in 2003.
A report in 2000 from the Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (Cora) department at BAT after the first international negotiations said: "It appears that the WHO's efforts to link religion (specifically Islam) with issues surrounding the use of tobacco are bearing fruit ? We will need to discuss separately how we might understand and manage this aspect in line with the Cora strategy."
? Courtesy: The Guardian