Can the celebration of wine drinking be Islamic? To Ahmed, the answer is: obviously, yes. It is Islamic insofar as this celebration is expressed, for example, in the terms of such classical Sufi metaphors for “the experience of intoxication with the Divine,” as well as the more mundane recognition of wine’s virtues as a social lubricant. The extensive medical literature of the premodern Islamic world attests openly to the latter fact. As the 10th-century physician and philosopher Abu Zayd al-Balkhi put it, “It is wine that provides excellence to society and conversation…and there is nothing that makes possible relations of intimacy and confidence between friends so tastefully and pleasantly and effectively as does drinking wine together.”The whole article is worth reading, actually. But I'm struck by this particularly. "What is Islam?" then becomes a question like "What is America?" It's a surprisingly all-encompassing question without any easy answers. John Wayne, in describing his love for America, dwelt on her physical beauty. Clearly, from his movies, that wasn't all he loved about America. Trying to figure out what America was and what it ought to be is a major theme of many of his movies, especially the Ford productions like The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.
To say that wine drinking is un-Islamic may be akin to saying that the refusal to serve in the military during a period of wartime conscription is un-American. In the view of some citizens, such a refusal may well violate the essence of Americanness, in addition to violating American law; to others, however, this act may rather fulfill and epitomize the requirements of citizenship. By Ahmed’s logic, the refusal to serve in the military is not just American in spite of its opposition to other, contradictory values associated with Americanness, but precisely because of it.
What is America? What does it mean to be an American? It seems as if there are at least some wrong answers, so the question isn't meaningless. It seems as if it might overlap with many of the answers one might give to the question "What is Islam?" That's not a meaningless question either, again because there are at least some wrong answers. A problem is that some of the right answers to the second question are wrong answers to the first, and vice-versa.