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How Hookahs, Medwaks, and Tobacco Forever Changed the Middle East!

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  #1  
Old February 10th, 2010, 07:20 PM
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Default How Hookahs, Medwaks, and Tobacco Forever Changed the Middle East!

[FONT=Calibri]I was recently asked by a few HP'ers to post something about the history of medwakhs and dokha, and as I looked into it, I found they were directly tied to the Ottoman Empire, hookahs, hookahhouses, Christopher Columbus, coffee, pig lard, medical treatments, death sentences, and social upheaval! I hope I'm not covering things you already were aware of, and I hope it's not too boring! [/FONT]


[FONT=Calibri]To start, no examination of Middle Eastern history would be complete without taking into account the inestimable affect tobacco has played on Middle Eastern society. More than any other commodity, tobacco alone was responsible for a dramatic change in public behavior, and perhaps even greater religious tolerance. To understand completely the changes that tobacco, water pipes, and smoking pipes engendered, one must start with a little tobacco history, and a little Middle Eastern history.[/FONT]




[FONT=Calibri]Tobacco was discovered initially by the Spanish and others in their explorations and conquests of the Americas and the Caribbean Basin. The sailors that manned these ships brought the habit of tobacco consumption back with them to Europe, and by the mid-1500’s tobacco was being freely traded by westerners with the Ottoman Empire, and thus was introduced initially into Turkey, Iran, and northern Syria as a most valuable commodity. Interestingly enough, tobaccos initial primary use was not recreational, but pharmacological. Ottoman physicians, having taken their cue from their non-Muslim European counterparts, were touting tobacco as a most versatile medical treatment. By the end of the sixteenth century tobacco was appearing in the Ottomans medical manuals as a treatment for bites and burns, as an antidote for poison, even as an abortifacient.[/FONT]




[FONT=Calibri]It didn’t take long, however, before tobacco usage transformed into recreational usage. A Palestinian scholar noted in the early 1600’s that tobacco was regularly smoked openly in “gathering places of the people, like markets and streets.” Of course, as tobacco was an expensive import at this time, only the more wealthy townspeople could afford this new past time. Much like coffee, which was becoming popular in the Middle East at about the same as tobacco, it was initially the affluent, privileged, and educated from which the number of smokers rapidly multiplied. Of course, the advantage that tobacco provided over coffee was its ease of local cultivation. As soon as the early 1700’s, the regional merchants were growing their own tobacco in Macedonia, Anatolia, and northern Syria. These crops were supplemented by the highly esteemed imports from Iran, where the tobacco industry had taken root, so to speak, in a spectacular fashion almost from the first year it was introduced. Because of this early self sufficiency with tobacco, the price continued to fall, and tobacco saw a pronounced expansion as a consumable good and as a trade good throughout the entire eastern Mediterranean.[/FONT]




[FONT=Calibri]This commercial success meant that tobacco was now much more accessible to the average Ottoman consumer than coffee. Toward the end of the 17th century tobacco was already cheaper by weight then coffee, and by 1800 the difference was better than threefold. Smoking, not drinking coffee, would quickly become the most affordable diversion of the Ottoman population. Inevitably, hookahhouses were established alongside and sometimes in conjunction with the coffehouses of the day. The hookahhouse became a cultural harbor of sorts, where people could enjoy music, literary recitals, and play games such as chess and backgammon. (Sound familiar?) However, this social freedom was a new phenomenon to the Middle East. Not surprisingly, Muslim moralists looked on with horror, and the ‘first anti-smoking’ campaigns began. And they were brutal.[/FONT]




[FONT=Calibri]These moralists had looked the other way when coffee and coffee houses started gaining popularity, because coffee had at least originated within the Muslim world, and was so expensive that only the elite could partake. Tobacco, however, was introduced from the outside, and this fed a paranoia that these early suppliers were contributing to the “Christian contamination” of the lands of Islam. In 1631 the Egyptian scholar Ibrahim al-Laqani published a dire warning for Muslims who used tobacco. He stated, incorrectly, that bales of tobacco were soaked in wine and/or pig lard, and that any Muslim who used tobacco was essentially committing apostasy. This warning was taken most seriously by the sultan himself, Murad IV, who immediately shut down all the hookah/coffeehouses in Istanbul, and in 1633 smoking became a capital offense. The sultan himself became personally involved, and in secret tours of the city he oversaw the strictest application of his new law. Smokers unfortunate enough to be caught red-handed were executed on the spot. Tobacco supplies and the places that stored them throughout the empire were burned when found, quite often with the owner inside them. This and other persecutions continued until the early 1680’s, when one of the most accomplished religious scholars and Sufi adepts of the time, ‘Abd al-Ghani al-Nabulsi, wrote a treatise in 1682 in defense of the use of tobacco, even though he himself thought that such use showed "moral flaws". This treatise basically stated that the sultanic tobacco laws were in direct conflict with religious law, and that no political authority could solely decide the legality of the matter, or take precedence over religious law. This treatise was quickly and widely accepted, and would stand as a landmark in Islamic law and its view of tobacco for centuries. It was no longer against the law to use tobacco in the Ottoman empire![/FONT]



[FONT=Calibri]Again, up sprang the hookahhouses! They soon became the main bastion of a fun activity that had simply not previously existed. For the last fifty years, people for their own safety had been forced to express their conviviality in private, or in orchards, gardens, and graveyards at the outskirts of town that discreetly offered their open spaces for picnics and other social gatherings. No more! The creation of the hookahhouses, these openly social places, was the first step in the emergence of a very different Islamic society, and stands out as a major cultural achievement. The role of tobacco in all this social evolution cannot be understated. In its accessibility and convenience, it was perfectly suited to the task. Coffee was more expensive, and required elaborate equipment and a larger block of time. Tobacco only needed to be stuffed into a bowl and lit, and could be enjoyed at once. Most important to this success was the pipe, or medwakh. Highly transportable, affordable, easy to operate, and quick to use, the pipe would not be surpassed until the invention of the cigarette, another western commodity. One could smoke a medwakh anywhere, at home, on the move, in the market or streets. The hookah offered all the casual leisure of the coffee culture, which was much more sedentary and luxurious. Gradually the hookah became the preferred smoking apparatus as Middle Eastern society continued to relax and allow itself to enjoy such leisure's. Medwakhs, as always, remained popular with sailors as a hookah was not a viable option on shipboard. This is why the medwakh is still so popular and still etched so firmly today in the culture of certain parts of the Middle East, such as the U.A.E., which were traditionally reliant on sea trade.[/FONT]
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  #2  
Old February 10th, 2010, 07:28 PM
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Default Re: How Hookahs, Medwaks, and Tobacco Forever Changed the Middle East!

Good Job Bassem, this is very well thought out, good enough even, that I would suggest this as a good subject for a college paper perhaps?

It's always good for all of us hookah smokers, to learn some history about the culture and origins of this relaxing and social hobby.
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  #3  
Old February 10th, 2010, 07:31 PM
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Default Re: How Hookahs, Medwaks, and Tobacco Forever Changed the Middle East!

Awesome post, very interesting read. I love stuff like this! +10000
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  #4  
Old February 10th, 2010, 07:38 PM
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Default Re: How Hookahs, Medwaks, and Tobacco Forever Changed the Middle East!

A+ for effort
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  #5  
Old February 10th, 2010, 08:43 PM
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Default Re: How Hookahs, Medwaks, and Tobacco Forever Changed the Middle East!

Fantastic job Bassem!
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  #6  
Old February 10th, 2010, 09:39 PM
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Default Re: How Hookahs, Medwaks, and Tobacco Forever Changed the Middle East!

Thanks for the great reading a lot of stuff I didn't know about tobacco in the Middle East. Great post
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  #7  
Old February 10th, 2010, 10:02 PM
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Default Re: How Hookahs, Medwaks, and Tobacco Forever Changed the Middle East!

Great read, very informative but very captivating.
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  #8  
Old February 10th, 2010, 10:09 PM
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Default Re: How Hookahs, Medwaks, and Tobacco Forever Changed the Middle East!

Usually I pass up posts this size. I'm glad I didn't
Very interesting, really glad you wrote this out Bassem.
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  #9  
Old February 11th, 2010, 12:08 AM
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Default Re: How Hookahs, Medwaks, and Tobacco Forever Changed the Middle East!

Good article! I was very surprised to hear that tobacco was more expensive then coffee for much of Ottoman history. I always assumed that tobacco got translated to Turkey pretty quickly after the Spaniards started colonizing the new world and it would seem that coffee had to be imported from equally far away places as tobacco but I clearly am missing something.

As to medwaks I suppose it makes sense that sailors were the original market, since like you pointed out, they couldn't be expected to haul around a narghile. Still, I wonder why they didn't end up with cigars or cigarettes like the Europeans did?

As to modern stuff I wonder what are the big makers of dokha and is it basically something just found on the Arabian peninsula and Persia or is everywhere in the Middle East? I assume that dokha is more popular then narghiles and that cigarettes are more popular still but I suppose I don't know for sure. Is dokha more popular with youth or older people? Is it a rural or mostly urban thing? I guess I am just in the dark.
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  #10  
Old February 11th, 2010, 01:00 AM
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Default Re: How Hookahs, Medwaks, and Tobacco Forever Changed the Middle East!

Ah, Hajo! The man for whom it was written-
“The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.”

Dokha usage is still fairly uncommon outside the U.A.E. Recently (2007 I believe) the U.A.E. cracked down on cigarette sales to minors, which started a small explosion in the dokha business. They are now attempting to control dokha sales to minors, but from what I hear, not very successfully. Always more popular with the younger set, more now so than ever. After all, you can snuff, dump, and pocket a medwakh in about 3 seconds. (Trust me, I know this!) Perfect for clandestine underage use, at school, home, or on the street. Urban usage by far outstrips rural, if only due to availibility issues. Ten years ago, there were perhaps 4 or 5 different 'brands' of dokha, rida and rabsha being the best known. Today I can think of at least 10 off hand. Each region now has it's own brand (sometimes two), although a few of the larger distributors have started to support and supply each other, which has certainly broadened the various brands exposure. Aziz was only available in parts of Dubai for the longest time, but recently I've found it far from there, and cheerfully being sold by the 'competition'. The manufacture of dokha is a very haphazard process at best, which can make it frustrating for anyone trying to provide a consistant product on a larger scale. abu Mohamed, Yousef Redha, and bin Khumeri are the three big boys for manufacture and distribution. Each buys the tobacco leaves and other additives from their own unique sources, and literally have guys sitting in the back of the stores or outside in the shade grinding and pounding their proprietary various blends. There's not much accurate measuring that go's on, nor quality control. I guess it's an art, not a science. Each do carry a unique difference, though, that somehow manages to survive the manufacturing process. Redha's the hottest, abu Mohamed is known for being cool and flavorful, and bin Khumeri has the most consistant product. (The McDonalds of dokha, if you will.)

I haven't forgotten about your dokha video, and will provide when opportunity presents.

Last edited by Bassem; February 11th, 2010 at 09:24 AM.
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Old February 11th, 2010, 01:11 AM
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Default Re: How Hookahs, Medwaks, and Tobacco Forever Changed the Middle East!

Awesome read! Thanks for sharing Bassem!
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Old February 11th, 2010, 05:57 AM
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Default Re: How Hookahs, Medwaks, and Tobacco Forever Changed the Middle East!

great job man.. bookmarked lol
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Old February 11th, 2010, 08:31 AM
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Default Re: How Hookahs, Medwaks, and Tobacco Forever Changed the Middle East!

Nice and Interesting read Bassem
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Old February 11th, 2010, 10:08 AM
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Default Re: How Hookahs, Medwaks, and Tobacco Forever Changed the Middle East!

Very nice summary of events. I give this one 5 huge clouds!
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  #15  
Old February 11th, 2010, 03:52 PM
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Default Re: How Hookahs, Medwaks, and Tobacco Forever Changed the Middle East!

Interesting post! I confess that I don't approve of children anywhere smoking anything so I can sympathize with the UAE crackgown on that that sort of thing.

In my travels I haven't run in to much Dokha at all and outside of the KSA and Yemen I haven't spent any significant time on the Arabian peninsula so I guess my lack of knowledge is understandable. What I have seen in terms of Dokha has been restricted to Tunis and a few Iranian cities. It seems that cigarettes are very common in the Arab world (as well as in Turkey, Iran and India) and that really surprises since even the super expensive high end cigarettes taste give a lousy smoke.

As to dokha making being an art rather then a science I certainly agree in that having seen moassel being made my small scale producers like Shooting Star it's apparent that Western style QA is substituted with artisan like care and lots of labour intensive processes.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bassem View Post
Ah, Hajo! The man for whom it was written-
“The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.”

Dokha usage is still fairly uncommon outside the U.A.E. Recently (2007 I believe) the U.A.E. cracked down on cigarette sales to minors, which started a small explosion in the dokha business. They are now attempting to control dokha sales to minors, but from what I hear, not very successfully. Always more popular with the younger set, more now so than ever. After all, you can snuff, dump, and pocket a medwakh in about 3 seconds. (Trust me, I know this!) Perfect for clandestine underage use, at school, home, or on the street. Urban usage by far outstrips rural, if only due to availibility issues. Ten years ago, there were perhaps 4 or 5 different 'brands' of dokha, rida and rabsha being the best known. Today I can think of at least 10 off hand. Each region now has it's own brand (sometimes two), although a few of the larger distributors have started to support and supply each other, which has certainly broadened the various brands exposure. Aziz was only available in parts of Dubai for the longest time, but recently I've found it far from there, and cheerfully being sold by the 'competition'. The manufacture of dokha is a very haphazard process at best, which can make it frustrating for anyone trying to provide a consistant product on a larger scale. abu Mohamed, Yousef Redha, and bin Khumeri are the three big boys for manufacture and distribution. Each buys the tobacco leaves and other additives from their own unique sources, and literally have guys sitting in the back of the stores or outside in the shade grinding and pounding their proprietary various blends. There's not much accurate measuring that go's on, nor quality control. I guess it's an art, not a science. Each do carry a unique difference, though, that somehow manages to survive the manufacturing process. Redha's the hottest, abu Mohamed is known for being cool and flavorful, and bin Khumeri has the most consistant product. (The McDonalds of dokha, if you will.)

I haven't forgotten about your dokha video, and will provide when opportunity presents.
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  #16  
Old February 12th, 2010, 01:54 AM
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Default Re: How Hookahs, Medwaks, and Tobacco Forever Changed the Middle East!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Hajo Flettner View Post
Good article! I was very surprised to hear that tobacco was more expensive then coffee for much of Ottoman history. I always assumed that tobacco got translated to Turkey pretty quickly after the Spaniards started colonizing the new world and it would seem that coffee had to be imported from equally far away places as tobacco but I clearly am missing something.
Actually, coffee was solidly established in the Middle East, mostly centered in Egypt, by the 11th century. There's some pretty interesting evidence that up until the 9th century, the only coffee tree's that existed in the world were to be found in what is today Ethiopia, in a region that was known as 'Kaffa'. The Ethiopians were the first to harvest and consume the coffee bean, but not as a drink. They would grind the bean much as we do today, combine it with animal fat, roll it into balls, and consume it thusly. They also made a wine from the fermented crushed beans. (I imagine that was a heady drink!) The Egyptians brought coffee beans and plants into Egypt in the early 10th century and soon established a healthy method of cultivation. Coffee was then spread through the rest of Middle East by Islamic pilgrims, and by the 13th century could be found pretty much everywhere from Turkey to Egypt. By the 1500's a lucrative trade in roasted beans had been established with European traders, but it was illegal to export viable beans or plants from the Middle East, and the punishment was death. It wasn't until the 17th century that some enterprising Dutch traders managed to successfully smuggle coffee plants from the Middle East to Java, where the plants thrived. The Dutch also tried to restrict the availability of viable beans and plants, but in the early 18th century coffee made it's way to Brazil, and then spread from there.

So indeed, Hajo, while your distant ancestors were kind enough to gift my ancestors with the tobacco plant, I'd say the return gift of the coffee bean made for an equitable exchange!
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Old February 12th, 2010, 09:28 PM
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Default Re: How Hookahs, Medwaks, and Tobacco Forever Changed the Middle East!

Now this sort of thing is what makes HP so awesome! I can learn about all sorts of cool stuff that I don't see anywhere else. I had no idea about coffee being used as anything other the a hot or iced drink i'm used to.

As to trades, yes that is indeed equitable.

What I am wondering is what old school dokha was like back when it was used by Ottoman sailors? I assume that it was rather different since it seems everything else was.
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