When in doubt give your wife coffee

Gleaned while slowly, tenderly, nursing a big cup of joe in a bookstore:

"[Today's coffee craze, with a Starbucks on every corner is] nothing compared to the popularity it enjoyed in the Middle East during the 1500s.  In Turkey, a woman could divorce her a man who did not provide enough coffee."
The Greatest Stories Never Told, page 31.)

In our case the scenario somehow doesn’t seem all that farfetched, as Shabana’s as much of a caffeine fiend as me.

Never get between either of us and a cup of coffee. 

We’re different types of addicts, though.  Like a true basehead, she physically suffers with headaches when she’s denied her daily dose.  I can function fine without it–or so I tell myself as I eye my mug greedily–but boy do I get frustrated when I have to, and when allowed I consume it in far larger quantities than she does.   So we’re both hooked.  We both chase that dragon .

Back back to Muslims and coffee.  The book also noted that the introduction of coffee initially met fierce resistance on the part of Christendom’s religious establishment, which denounced it as the drink of infidels (i.e., Muslims, who were the first to discover its miraculous properties).  Pope Clement VIII eventually tried it and gave it his blessing, saying, "Coffee is so delicious it would be a pity to let the infidels have exclusive use of it."  (HT: Summa Minutae

The story goes that its powers were first harnessed by Sufi dervishes to stay up longer at night to do zikr (i.e., chants praising God).

It reminds me of when I visited the ancient, walled city of Harrar in Ethiopia in the spring of 1998.  I wandered around this small, winding and overwhelmingly Muslim city–which was an independent Muslim city-state until its conquest by Ethiopia’s Menelic II in the mid-1890s; until its conquest it was a off-limits to non-Muslims (though a few Westerners snuck in, including the British explorer Richard Burton and the French poet Arthur Rimbaud)–with an immense branch of qat in one hand and tasbih in the other (the sight of me garned a lot of  laughs and friendly waves from drivers). 

Several times, I was accosted by passersby who earnestly undertook to  explain in broken English that qat was haram unless you were using it while reciting Quran.  I in turn tried to explain, through with a bright green, tennis ball-sized glob chewed leaves on the right side of my mouth, that as far as I was concerned it was either halal all the time or haram all the time and thanked them for their concern.  (For the record, it didn’t do much to me.  It was, quite appropriately, like a really strong of coffee.  Perhaps that’s because I didn’t consume it after the local custom. Traditionally, one sits with friends, chewing the stuff for hours over potent Ethiopian coffee until a powerful buzz builds.  My walking probably counteracted its affects.)

The stuff’s illegal in the US, though I hear it can be found in modernday speakeasies in Washington DC, which has a large Ethiopian community.

Speaking of Harrar, I still remember the bizarre sight of goats running headfirst towards our car lights in the evening, high on qat leaves that had been discarded in the market that afternoon (like finicky eaters, locals won’t touch day-old qat leaves).

Here’s an interesting article on how the UK is one of the few Western countries to still allow qat, though momentum is building to get it banned.

While researching qat online just now, I came across a hysterically funny observation in an otherwise dry report:

Reports vary
the use of qat as an aphrodisiac:  men report increased sexual performance, though women

  • http://barzakhabound.blogspot.com Yafiah Katherine

    Thanks Svend, I haven’t laughed so much in a long time, especially at that last remark. Err… could it be because it speeds things up?

  • http://www.albaal.blogspot.com Shaykhspeara

    Fascinating post. It is interesting, khat is commonly used by somalis here in sweden as well, although it is illegal and deemed a drug.
    A funny incident with my mother who’s a doctor and her somali patient occurred regarding khat.
    In swedish, katt means cat. Sounds the same as khat-
    My mom asked the somali man (because he was severely malnourished) if he ate khat.
    The man was horrified and repulsed and explained that he does not do such things and that one only eats cow and goat and chicken in somalia.

  • http://www.thisheregarden.com UmmAli

    Great post, mashaAllah. Shaykhspeara I love that story.

  • Abuljude

    When we were in DC last year, our gracious hosts were especially gracious to indulge my espresso habit. Not only am I addicted, but specifically my preference is for Caribou over other brands.
    Conveniently, there is a Caribou at ~ 1700 Pennsylvania Avenue, a stone’s throw from the OEOB. My friend is really a friend, as he double parked for over 5 minutes in front of the store while we ran in to get some. Needless to say, most men of South Asian Muslim background would have second (and third) thoughts about simply sitting in a car so close to the White House…
    Thanks for the story.

  • http://abusinan.blogspot.com Abu Sinan

    I wasnt aware it(Qat) was illegal. It is the national pastime of Yemen, for men at least, and it is readily available here in the large Yemeni community in the DC area.
    In Yemen many houses have Qat rooms where the men will lay, in traditional Arabic fashion, and chew for hours and hours on end.
    I prefer Caribou as well, it is own by Muslims, so I can be pretty sure my money isnt going to fund the occupation of Palestine. Starbucks has suffered from boycotts in the Middle East because they are known to provide funds to the Israelis.

  • Ferria

    This is so unfair. I hope someone in the Muslim world do something about it unless it is going to backfire at us.

  • http://musicalchef.blogspot.com musicalchef

    Very cool!
    I didn’t know Caribou was owned by Muslims. Will have to go there more often.

  • http://bibizaynab.blogspot.com Hajar

    This is hilarious stuff! LOL. Thanks for giving me a laugh. ;)