The debate of alcohol present in Islamic poetry is one of ambiguity due to lack of factual evidence. In regard to specific poets, the information lacks even further, especially in relation to specific actions such as drinking. Secular and religious life of a poet can be inferred from the poetry that has been passed down, although there may be language issues when attempting to interpret translations. Looking at the poetry in a generalized format, a reader can assume that there is an abundant amount of proof that Sufis drink because of their ability to describe the moment of being drunk so perfectly and vibrantly, with everyone drinking from the poets to the dregs. Yet the known background of the poet must be taken into account when comparing his life into the life that is portrayed in poetry.
When looking at Hafiz, his background is clearly one of piety, as shown by his name which indicates a person who has memorized the Quran and can recite it perfectly. Hence, knowing that alcohol is illegal in Islam, Hafiz would not have committed hypocritical acts, especially those strictly prohibited in the Quran. The profuse image of wine in his poetry is an image that is both mystical and sensual, with the ambiguity of this image intended so that both levels can be maintained.
Items in poetry can be seen as not just things, but can be thought of as creations of God, derived from God, and ultimately self-manifestations of God. They are items in which He reveals hidden treasures of Divine Love. Thus, wine can represent not only itself (individual identity), but spiritual and sensual matters (divine reality), becoming a bridge from the visible world to the unseen. Becoming a metaphor ti relate to all audiences, wine allows Hafiz to speak of both love and Divine Love without explicit reference to the subject.
Images can have both a secular and religious theme, often crossing from one to the other. Because all have the ability to drink it, wine can be seen as a secular theme. Once a person is intoxicated, s/he becomes without class or color, losing traces of identity because the self is no longer seen, rather an intoxicated individual who has no control over the self. Wine is a religious theme in the same sense because once a person reaches fana, s/he no longer has an identity – gender, class, color, etc. Once in baqa with God, He does not look at the determinants of an identity, but only the piety and obedience of an individual.
This is illustrated even with past poems such as Rabia’s lines of “My cup, my wine, and the drinking companion make three./And I, who long for the Beloved, am Rabia, the fourth.” With these lines, one sees that no traces of gender identity exist as “The cup of joy and felicity is passed round.” She is having union with God with reference to the Christian Trinity after she has lost the self, saying, “If I look, I am seen only by Him/And if I am present, I am seen only with Him.” Yet such a pious woman drinking wine would be preposterous during the times. Thus, wine is used metaphorically in order to relate to an audience that may be of lower class. Malamatis, who may have drank in order to bring blame upon themselves, may have been a part of the audience that this poetry was targeted towards.
Additionally, other Muslims or people that weren’t as religious who drank wine were probably a large portion of the audience as well. Finally, wine was served in Paradise, as described in Sura 76 “… they shall drink a Cup mixed with Kafur.” The description of fine goblets and pouring wine in the Quran provides the perfect path for poets to follow in order to write about the subject. A reference to a flask may be a parallel to Paradise, or enjoying holy food with God. Therefore, without actually indulging in wine, poets could write freely using the tool that clearly prohibited it, but at the same time provided beautiful imagery. Since wine is explicitly prohibited and Sufis were such staunch religious figures, then they most likely stayed away. If higher truths were desirable, then wine was looked on as an obstacle, not a step towards God.
Wine is also used metaphorically to speak of secular love and Divine Love as to avoid clichs (although wine may have become one after being used profusely). Love displays a complete similarity with the wine of the material world. Hafiz’s “The Crier” exemplifies the comparisons between an object of love and wine. This poem can be interpreted in various ways. At face, it seems to be a poem about a woman who has strayed from the right path, which the poet still desires. Yet a closer look shows the elements of wine being mentioned, such as “Vine’s wild daughter” and “foam-crown.”
The association that is drawn between love and wine is the longing for both after separation. Wine has fermentation and its strength of bubbling manifests without any outside stimulation, the “foam-crown” being desired. Love manifests from its own self and also has this overwhelming strength, demanding this uncovering. The poem even runs full circle; the poem is read as being about a woman, then wine, then wine being personified with woman characteristics, a personal interpretation oscillating between the three. In this specific piece, wine/women can also be seen as speaking of Divine Love, with the quality of the forbidden being desired even more because of its hard ability to attain. One has to keep in mind that Hafiz was a court poet where religion was important; the use of wine was carefully constructed in order to appeal to the masses, but at the same time, bring about a message of God’s love.
On the opposite of longing for wine/love, both also have the ability to make a person lose hope in the world. Alcohol is consumed when times are rough; it can also make times rough. Love is appreciated when times are rough; when the heart is broken, times become rough. Hafiz’s “Ghazal 9” demonstrates the former part of both sides: intoxication being preferred when times are rough.
The mood of this poem is very somber, illustrating the hostile and lonely times: “In these times the only untainted companion left/is a clear cup of wine and a book of ghazals.” He seems to let go of personal possessions, clinging on to what is most dear: “Our Hafiz is so drunk on the wine of pre-eternity/that in no epoch will you ever find him sober.” While this poem explicitly mentions wine as the companion, a reader can replace the term with love and extract the same meaning from the poem.
During this harsh period, having someone to love and care for you may be the only “untainted companion.” He can be so drunk on the “love of pre-eternity” (God), that one may never “find him sober.” Simiarly, in Hafiz’s “Ghazal 42,” he writes “With one innocent drink that hurt no one,/I drew such trouble from the ignorant that it’s beyond telling … Don’t ask how this ruby wine destroys heart and faith.”
This illustrates the destructibility of wine and love. Hafiz clearly portrays the destruction that wine had upon his life; wine can also be replaced with love. Paraphrased, it can be read as an innocent love that went wrong which ended up devastating his hope in any further love, as well as faith in relationships. When intoxicated (with love or wine), one can turn a blind eye to the devastations of life and only look at the upside. Yet when the feeling is gone, disaster can result. Wine is a very clear way to demonstrate the intangibility of love’s ability to ruin.