Drinking alcohol is a pretty bad idea. Even in ‘moderate’ quantities, it’s a known biocide and carcinogen. There are some health benefits, but you can find the very same benefits in grape juice and coffee. Factor in alcohol’s destructive social cost, and you’d be hard pressed to justify its consumption.
Well, people drink it anyway. Somewhere between high school and grad school, alcohol morphed from exciting novelty to faithful social crutch. In the post-graduate world, it’s everywhere—especially at important events. So what’s a teetotaler to do? Here are some tips to navigate these challenges.
1. Know Where You Stand
It’s not my place to tell you what’s Islamically correct when it comes to dealing with alcohol in social situations. But no matter your religious perspective, you must be consistent about where you stand. Repercussions of your inconsistency can make life difficult. People may infer, for example, that you’re using Islam as an excuse to avoid certain people or situations.
2. Be Awesome
If you’re the best at what you do—if you’re irreplaceable—people could care less about what you drink. They will go out of their way to make you comfortable. So one of the best things you can do to improve your ability to navigate unpalatable social situations is to excel in your field. While this doesn’t get you everything you need to network effectively, it certainly goes a long way.
3. Seek Out Natural Allies
Between recovering alcoholics and Mormons, there are plenty of people who don’t booze. After you’ve created relationships with these like-minded groups, together you can request your school administration or employer to host alcohol-free networking events. It’s also easier to request alcohol-free tables at larger networking events.
4. Get Creative
To combat my difficulties networking with people, I founded a silly secret society. I made all the rules and initiated the people I wanted to know. People thought it was hilarious, and the idea of not having alcohol at our ‘events’ made no difference to anyone—we were having too much fun.
To avoid alcohol for one-on-one meetings with new people, I scheduled meetings over breakfast instead of lunch or dinner. Another tactic was to have meetings over coffee (this works especially well if you’re a poor student). To pre-test the reactions of people to some of my tactics, I would anonymously use online forums to query strangers in my field. For example, one interested in finance could go to the Wall Street Oasis forums and get that community’s reaction to alcohol-free tables or to a morning meeting. I would also bounce ideas off of Muslims and non-Muslims who I trust.
These are just examples, and they won’t fit everyone’s personality. The larger point is that there are plenty of halaal (permissible) ways to reach out to people and create meaningful and lasting connections.
By God, it’s not all roses. And it’s natural to dwell on what you can’t do. But despair is from shaytan, and besides, it’s way more fun to create unique solutions to these social difficulties, and as Dr. Sherman Jackson termed it, to ‘craft an alternative modality.’
So take heart. From the benefits to your health, to the benefits to your soul, acknowledge and leverage your advantages. You may have to work a little harder than your peers, but insha’Allah (God-willing) your jihad (struggle) will be well worth it in this life and the next.