Monday, November 19, 2007

Change, like Coffee Requires Time to Percolate

If you are battling to get a new idea accepted or a program implemented, go to the nearest coffee shop, order yourself a strong brew and ponder the story of coffee.

Coffee or qahwa (قهوة) is a ninth century Arabic discovery, as legend has it that Eritrean or Ethiopian shepherds noticed the way that the eating of certain beans by their goats caused them to dance, so they tried it and got happy themselves.

The beans were popular in Yemen where coffee was initially chewed and then made into an invigorating drink. The Sufis found a century or two later that a cup of swirling coffee kept them awake and on task for their all-night chanting and swaying ceremonies.

Coffee changed from a religious drink into a social beverage served in coffee houses, with most Muslims viewing coffee as a splendid alternative to alcoholic drinks which were off-limits. But some Muslim scholars, recognizing the intoxicating (or addictive) influence of coffee then decreed that it was in the same category as alcohol and promptly took it off the Muslim menu. This was like a fatwa on coffee and whenever coffee was seen it was seized and burned and coffee drinkers were beaten.

Islamic scholars in Cairo later disputed this ruling that coffee was haram and soon the appetizing liquid was back in the shops.

Traders took the beans to Europe through Venice where in the seventeenth century, Pope Clement VIII baptized it as ‘a Christian drink’ even though there were calls for ‘the Muslim drink’ to be banned. With the Pope’s blessing the popularity of coffee was assured and the rest is history.

Remember as you swill your bottomless cup that coffee, like many other good inventions, only gains acceptance after trials, fatwas and threats of fatwas.

Coffee-Wikipedia (and thanks to them for the coffee photo)
Delancey Place (who pour out some wonderful stories into our inbox receptacles each day) and who got their story from Tom Standage, A History of the World in Six Glasses, 2005, pp. 137-140.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Coffee, the dancing drug, chewed by Yemenis, imbibed by whirling dervishes, deemed halal, haram, fatwa(ed), baptized and blessed. Have another cup.

Read how coffee and coffee customs are a big part of life in the UAE in:
‘Imbibing the Emirates’, Experiencing the Emirates.