After the horrible attack on a mosque in Egypt, in which more than 300 Sufi Muslims lost their lives at the hands of Daesh, I decided it was time to explain the connection between Sufism, drugs, spirituality, rebellion, and of course, prohibition. We’d like to think that drug use in the classical Islamic period of 700 AD doesn’t have anything to do with the attack last week by almost 30 ISIS militants, but history paints a different story. Many members of Sufi orders throughout history have been persecuted for their substance use, especially as a pretext by conservative rulers to shutter coffee houses, opium dens, brothels, bars, and other meeting places of potential insurrectionists.
Muslims invented the coffee house as we now know it, and were responsible for coffee finding its way into Christian Europe. But when coffee first made its way from Ethiopia into Yemen and up the Arabian Peninsula, some Muslims challenged its appropriateness. It was clear to early observers that coffee had an effect on people, but legal thinkers had to decide whether these effects qualified as intoxication. More threatening than coffee’s impact on the body, however, was the drink’s social consequence. Like wine drinkers, coffee drinkers tended to assemble in groups. Could the coffee house invite the same troublesome activities that surrounded taverns? Moreover, coffee appeared to assist Sufis in their all-night gatherings, leading some to consider that prohibiting coffee would also aid in the suppression of controversial religious practices and subversive teachings. ~Confession of a Muslim Psychedelic Tea Drinker, Michael Muhammad Knight (VICE.com)
Tens of thousands of people have written about drug use, both recreational and medicinal, in addition to the nature of using. What far fewer have written about is the systematic segmentation of consumers of certain substances as “addicts” or “problematic users.” Drug use goes back as far as we have written records, but the labeling of certain populations as addicted/sick/bad for society is a far more recent practice. In researching to help me understand why and how this designation came about, I was stunned how many commonly held beliefs about substance use and who was using what and why were smashed. Everything from conventional wisdom surrounding The Civil War to how societal markets were shaped by tea, coffee & chocolate. Continue reading →