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