The health ministry of Russia’s Chechnya region, which is predominately Muslim, announced that it would ban the sale of energy drinks like Red Bull to children under the age of 18. The move was justified by the health minister’s claim that such drinks were “comparable to beer,” and thus un-Islamic. The ban would be one restriction among many in a country where alcohol can only be sold during certain hours, restaurants are closed during Ramadan, and women must wear headscarves inside government buildings.
The ban raises questions about how energy drinks should be classified, but also whether Chechnya is imposing too many limitations on its citizens. Alcohol is difficult to come by in many predominately Muslim countries because of a Qur’anic ban on “intoxication” — which, of course, raises the question of how “intoxication” is defined. The use of caffeine is restricted or banned by some Christian denominations because it is a drug, although it is both socially acceptable and legal. In this sense, limiting youths’ access to energy drinks could make sense from a religious perspective.
Chechnya, however, is governed by Ramzan Kadyrov, a “strongman” who is often criticized for silencing dissent and ruling the region with an iron fist. So this new ban may have nothing to do with Islamic theology and everything to do with creating a more autocratic state. According to Reuters, Chechyan citizens are growing increasingly angry with restrictions that curtail their rights and often contradict the Russian constitution.
“There are just too many restrictions lately. We are building a small Islamic state in Russia that looks like Dubai,” one woman explained.
Last fall, Human Rights Watch denounced restrictions on women’s dress, saying that women who violated the Islamic dress code had been attacked by paintball guns.
In this context, the energy drinks ban seems less defensible. Perhaps if Islamic officials were really concerned about the intoxicating effects of Red Bull, they could issue a set of recommendations about the drinks. But this just seems like a larger strategy of intimidation and repression, rather than a legitimate religious issue.
Photo from Arne Muesler via Wikimedia Commons.