THE BLOG
03/30/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Imaginative new definitions for sin in a changing world

The following in on the front page of Motor Authority, a site I check every day. Okay, okay. I've never read it before. It was forwarded to me by the man with whom I live. But wow. Say what you will about the Muslim religion, this has to be the most creative new definition of sin to come along in my lifetime. It brings sin in to a fantastic previously unexplored wonderland realm.

"Saudi Muslim Scholar calls Ethanol Fuel Use a Sin"
Posted Today, 12:22 PM by Kenneth Hall

The use of alcohol-based fuels could be a violation of Islamic precepts

In the Koran the Prophet Mohammed set out clear rules for Muslim interaction with alcohol, forbidding the use, purchase, sale, service, transportation or even manufacture of the substance. And that's the basis a Saudi Muslim scholar is using to call ethanol use by Muslims a sin.

Setting aside the obvious motivation to preserve oil use and production, the religious case against ethanol is a strong one. Fuel ethanol is, by chemical definition, nearly pure alcohol. And it is the same type of alcohol used recreationally the world over.

A scholar at the Saudi Islamic Jurisprudence Academy, Sheikh Mohamed Al-Najimi, is the source of the warning - he's been careful not to call it a fatwa - about the use or involvement with ethanol fuel. The story began with the scholar warning students traveling outside Saudi Arabia not to use ethanol powered vehicles.

Far from a final decision on the matter, however, Najimi has proposed further study on the matter, though he stands by his interpretation. There does remain some room for interpretation, as the scriptural basis for the prohibition appears to be rooted in the intoxicating nature of ethanol, not as a general proscription against its molecular structure.

For instance, ethanol is a necessary element in the production of vinegar, which the Koran notes was a seasoning favored by Mohammed.

Regardless of whether the fuel is contraband for Muslims, however, many other reasons not to use ethanol have been cropping up over the past year. Taking away valuable crop sources, pollution due to fertilizers, harm to the soil, and the lack of a sustainable production model have all come to weigh against the use of crop-based ethanol.

Other methods of production, such as the bacterial sources espoused by Coskata and Mascoma, on the other hand, may yet prove viable, especially as they learn to convert inorganic waste products - trash - into fuel, tapping into a plentiful resource that no one will miss.
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Yes, yes, but you can't make cocktails out of vinegar, bacteria sources or organic waste products.
Or can you?