Is it permissible to drink standing?

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For many Muslims, the notion of drinking standing up is taboo, and many of us have been witness to those who, believing they have to sit down whilst drinking or think they’ll be looked down on if they don’t, awkwardly squat on the ground (often in the middle of a public space!) just to take a few sips. Is this awkward practice what the Prophet intended?

Not at all, and even besides a holistic reading of revelation (which I’ll present shortly) common-sense reasoning tells us that such a practice isn’t exactly becoming of a believer and noble behaviour which the Prophet upholds.

Now some will reductively relate the hadith in Sahih Muslim (by Anas, Abu Hurairah and Sa’eed al-Khudri) that the Prophet forbade drinking whilst standing. But this is the reductive approach I often refer to, since the analysis doesn’t quite end there.

There are many more narrations on the issue:

  • A’ishah relates: “I saw the Messenger of God drink standing and sitting…” (al-Nasa’i) with a similar narration from Amr b. Al-Aas (Ahmad)
  • Ibn Umar relates: “In the Prophet’s time we would walk and eat, and stand and drink.” (al-Tirmidhi)
  • Ibn Abbas relates: “I gave the Prophet Zam Zam water and he drank it standing.” (al-Bukhari)
  • Ali b. Abi Talib once drunk whilst standing and said: “People dislike that one of you should stand whilst drinking, but I saw the Prophet do as you see me doing.” (al-Bukhari, and Ahmad in another variant of the hadith)
  • It is related by Imam Malik (Muwatta’) and others that all four of the righteous caliphs (Abu Bakr, Umar b. Al-Khattab, Uthman b. Affan, and Ali b. Abi Talib) would drink standing.

Bringing all these narrations/points together it becomes quite clear that the prohibitive statement was in a particular context and not a general censure, for the Prophet himself would drink standing and so too did the Companions as habit.

So what is the sunnah – the Prophetic attitude in practical terms?

If you’re standing around with a cup full of liquid, it’d be better for you to take a seat and consume your drink (spillage, burning your tongue on the move etc. are all wisdoms/hikam), but if you’re on the go or taking some quick sips then it’d work to remain standing and be off.

But I’m quite certain awkwardly squatting on the ground to take a few sips isn’t what the Prophet meant, nor does it seem that the vast majority of sahabah and tabi’in take it that way.

But is it wrong?

Well yes, if it makes you look silly or weird (and thus contravening muru’ah, and unnecessarily opening up the believer to mockery)

Note: Obviously, this is not a scholarly treatment of all the hadith on the issue, nor an appraisal of the various positions of jurists, nor many of the (interpretational) possibilities. The intention here is to succinctly identify appropriate behaviour in practical terms, and in context (the many variables of which I haven’t related here).

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