Coffee and its Islamic Origins

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Unbeknownst to many, the word coffee actually has origins in the Islamic world. Before becoming the modern-day English word coffee which you may know and love. Coffee actually originates from the late 16th-century Turkish word, Kahveh, which actually borrowed from the Arabic form, Qahwah. Coffee originates from Ethiopian Muslims in Africa and has travelled all over the continent before making its way to Yemen in the Middle East.

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Just like many of us now who rely on a nice cup of coffee to keep us awake and focused. Sufis used this black brew to keep themselves awake during night prayers and to aid their concentration when chanting the name of God. Coffeehouses could easily be found in major Muslim cities such as Cairo and Aleppo. Eventually, coffee beans made their way to other parts of the globe including larger cities in Europe where it was met with a Haram ban.

Why was coffee banned among Muslims?

Halal and haram are referred to as what is permissible and forbidden for Muslims to use and especially consume. Despite halal being used to demonstrate the permissibility of a range of items, it is commonly used in reference to food and drinks. Drinks aren’t always subjected to the “halal” laws of Islam except with relation to the obviously prohibited alcoholic drinks. However, in the capital of Constantinople or today’s Istanbul, coffee was prohibited or deemed haram for consumption during the 15th-16th century.

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Many conservative Islamic imams and scholars believed that caffeine found in coffee were harmful to humans due to its mind-altering effects. Since it was associated with the Arab word Marqaha, which describes the euphoric feeling one experiences when drinking coffee, many were afraid that coffee might cause its drinkers to be intoxicated. They even compared coffee to narcotic substances like alcohol and drugs.

Therefore, Sultan Murad IV of the Ottoman Empire banned coffee drinking under his rule as it was labelled an immoral activity. He believed by doing so, he would be preventing social decay and any future discord in his empire. Sultan Murad even sentenced all coffee drinkers to death if found guilty.

The Sultan even roamed the streets of Istanbul wearing a disguise to decapitate any transgressors according to some historical accounts. Ironically, Sultan Murad IV was not the only ruler to impose such extreme laws on the black brew. Similar laws were imposed in other Muslim cities such as Cairo where they had strict crackdowns on coffeehouses and coffee bean warehouses. But Sultan Murad IV was considered to be the most vicious and successful in prohibiting the consumption of coffee.

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The eventual overturn of the coffee ban

In due course, coffee was allowed for consumption for Muslims by the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman I after further deliberation among Islamic scholars and leaders. They believed there is inconclusive proof that caffeine in coffee was a hallucinogen or intoxicant. It demonstrated the effects of a mild stimulant and any intoxicating effects experienced were dependant on the consumer. Thus, caffeine or coffee was deemed permissible in Islam.

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Inshirah Majid
Contributing Writer
You can always find Inshirah cuddled at home with a warm cup of tea and a book in hand. Maybe even roaming the streets of a foreign city for any bit of history and architecture. That’s when she isn’t basking in the freshness of nature on her hike. She is also a self-declared foodie and lover of Mother Nature.

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