Kazak Kronicle #4

Muslim Entrepreneurs

June 6

Imagine a nice restaurant that didn’t serve alcohol. I’m listening to a professor discuss a nice restaurant in Kazakhstan that doesn’t serve alcohol. Yes, I wrote that correctly. She’s a scholar who studies Islamic restaurants and is highlighting a successful eating establishment at one of the high-end malls I have visited named Rumi. They don’t serve booze. Interesting.

Now, I’ll come out and admit my bias. I’m a fan of the idea. Many of you know that I don’t drink. I don’t drink for a reason: one is too many and a thousand is not enough. My father drank too much. I have family members who have drank too much. I think we have an alcohol epidemic in the country (USA) and nobody seems to want to talk about that at a level that matters. Alcohol abuse is a serious, serious problem, and the Muslims seem to have a decent response to the problem. No booze in restaurants. Imagine.

She’s also talking about how the restaurant does this intentionally. Islam has a prohibition against alcohol. I don’t think that all Muslim adhere to that prohibition, but the restaurant in question has a reputation for paying its taxes, having reputable business practices, and, this is probably the most important, serving good food. It sees itself as an alternative place to dine, where people can gather, especially after the fast-breaking at Ramadan.

The scholar has told us that since the Soviet Union collapsed-and the USSR had a problem with too much vodka- there has been a decrease in alcoholism and an increased emphasis in healthier lifestyle. I asked if there has been a concerted effort by the government to discourage alcohol use and she suggested it was quite the opposite: the government makes money on alcohol licensing. People drink less not because the government has talked them out of it but because their religion encourages a modest and healthier lifestyle.

I find this fascinating. I have thought that we need a Marshall Plan to deal with our alcohol problem. When I was in a 28-day rehab program for marijuana use-I know it sounds ridiculous- many of the young men and women had access to this expensive program because the health care reforms of the Obama administration allowed young people to stay on their parents’ insurance longer. Though some of these young people had had several admissions to deal with their problems, they did avail themselves of this treatment and in some cases, got the help they needed.

Perhaps the government is not the answer to the problem. If the experience in the USSR increased stress and encouraged excessive drinking and this excess has declined without the stress and militaristic environment that regime fostered, then perhaps government doesn’t need to actually intervene in the lives of alcoholics and addicts, but can spend more of its efforts on creating a society and culture that has less stress and complication that can lead to too much drinking.

Here’s the takeaway: People around here seem to be drinking less. They do so because they are under less stress. They also do so because their religion encourages a modesty and a wholesomeness that is family friendly. Entrepreneurs have taken advantage of this new reality and value system and seem to be capitalizing on it. Go figure.

I want to eat at Rumi. I hope I can get my debit card working before then.