Short Answer: Try asking the host not to serve alcohol, or to let you know before they do so you can leave beforehand. Suggest hosting Thanksgiving (or whatever family event) at your house. Above all else, be kind and gracious, and remember that just as alcohol is forbidden for a Muslim, so is being rude and judgmental to people and breaking ties with your family members.
Asalaamu alaykum, and thank you for your question.
Family gatherings are generally a happy, celebratory occasion, and for many families an important part of this festive atmosphere is drinking alcohol together.
But for converts to Islam that come from families or cultures that partake in alcohol consumption during these gatherings, they may be feeling more stress and anxiety than joy and merriment.
They can feel torn between wanting to follow Islamic laws about alcohol and wanting to maintain positive relationships with their loved ones.
Both Drinking Alcohol & Breaking Family Ties Are Forbidden
Allah makes it very clear in the Qur’an that alcohol, given its intoxicating nature, is forbidden for Muslims to consume:
O you who have believed! Intoxicants, gambling, idolatry, and divination are abominations of Satan’s doing. Avoid them, so that you may prosper. Satan’s plan is to stir up hostility and hatred between you with intoxicants and gambling and to prevent you from remembering Allah and praying. Will you not then abstain? (Quran 5:90-91)
There is also a hadith where Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said,
Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day, let them not sit at a table where wine is being drunk (narrated by Ahmad).
Allah is also clear about the necessity of being good to the people in our lives, mentioning family before anyone else:
Worship Allah and do not associate anything with Allah. Show kindness to both parents and with near relatives, orphans, the needy, the neighbor who is related as well as the neighbor who is a stranger, and your companion by your side and the wayfarer, and anyone else under your control. Allah does not love someone who is conceited and boastful. (Quran 4:36)
Since both avoiding alcohol and keeping up family relationships are required by Allah, it is incumbent upon us as Muslims to fulfill both duties to the best of our ability.
My first suggestion is to talk to whichever family member is hosting the gathering.
Explain to them, gently and honestly, that because of your religious beliefs, you are not comfortable being at events where people will be drinking, and if it would be okay if alcohol is not served at the gathering.
If they agree to not serve alcohol, be sure to express sincere gratitude for their kindness and accommodation of your beliefs.
If the hosts deny your request to have an alcohol-free event, you might ask if there would be any portions of the event where alcohol will not be served.
For example, if it is the custom of one’s family to start drinking alcohol after the meal is over, you may decide to attend the beginning of the event and then leave after eating, before the drinking starts.
If you are able, you may also want to offer to host the gathering at your own home.
By doing this, you will be able to have more control over the environment and, as the host, can designate the event as alcohol-free.
If They Insist On Serving Alcohol…
If the hosts insist on serving alcohol and you aren’t able to host the event at your home, you have a few options.
You may decide to respectfully decline the invitation, reiterating that you simply don’t feel comfortable being around alcohol.
If this is the case, I would strongly recommend that you follow up with an invitation for a family event where you can be sure you will fully participate.
This shows that even though you don’t drink, you still love your family and want to spend quality time with them.
There is an opinion that sitting at a table where alcohol is being served is allowed in situations of need, since sitting at a table with alcohol or being at an event with alcohol is not the same thing as personally partaking in alcohol.
One may choose to follow this opinion depending on one’s family dynamics.
If you are fearful (or in some cases, certain) that ties with your family could be harmed if you don’t attend the gathering, this may be something to consider.
Some converts have families that don’t even know they’re Muslim because of fear of negative repercussions, or their families could be actively hostile towards them about their choice of religion; this would be another reason to follow this opinion.
This is related to the following hadith:
Whosoever of you sees an evil, let them change it with their hand; and if they are not able to do so, then [let them change it] with their tongue; and if they are not able to do so, then with their heart — and that is the weakest of faith (al-Nawawi, Hadith 34).
Kindness & Respect Are Paramount
Regardless of what happens, it is essential that you show nothing but kindness and the utmost respect for your family.
Some relatives may feel that your decision to refrain from drinking is a moral judgment on them, or that you are trying to impose your religion on them.
Assure them that there is no judgment and that it is simply a personal choice based on your own religious beliefs.
Even though some of your actions and beliefs may be different now, your love for them has not changed.