Qahwa, Mocha, and Islam: The History of One of the Most Popular Beverages of All Time15 Nov 2021
The etymology of the word coffee is debated; however, many believe it may be derived from ‘Qahwa’ in Arabic which is connected to the meaning of ‘wine.’ The word “qahwa” was used for wine because it diminished the desire for food, it was naturally used for coffee because it diminishes the desire for sleep. Others suggest that it was named after a region in Ethiopia called Kaffa a home of the plant.
The etymological links are certainly no coincidence since coffee itself is an Islamic invention. Today when we think of coffee we usually associate the beverage with corporations like Costa and Starbucks. However, the earliest documentation of the use of coffee can be traced back to the middle of the 15th century in the Sufi monasteries of Yemen.
The Port of Mocha
As a former barista, I never reflected on the origin of a drink I routinely made for customers, one of the most common of which was, a Caffe Mocha. This certain coffee is a perfect blend of hot chocolate and a caffe latte. Much to my amazement, however, its name is derived from a port city in Yemen named Mocha. This is also no coincidence since the city Mocha is famously known as an early exporter of coffee.
The Sufis Magic Drink
There is considerable evidence which shows that coffee was utilized by Sufis in order to aid them perform their night prayers through the stimulating effect of the drug.
The earliest history of coffee was written by Abd Al-Qadir al-Jaziri. Al- Jaziri writes that:
‘’Abd al-Ghaffar explained that at the beginning of the sixteenth century, while living in Egypt, he first heard of a drink called “qahwa” that was becoming popular in the Yemen and was being used by Sufis and others to help them stay awake during their prayers.’’
“They drank it every Monday and Friday eve, putting it in a large vessel made of red clay…Their leader ladled it out with a small dipper and gave it to them to drink, passing it to the right, while they recited one of their usual formulas, ‘There is no God, but God, the Master, the Clear Reality.”
Coffee was not met with similar enthusiasm as the Sufis. Given that many orthodox Muslim jurists debated whether this substance was permissible in Islam. Some believed that due to its stimulating effect it should be banned alongside intoxicants like wine. To the extent that the Ottoman Sultan Murat III, completely banned its use.
The Routine of Imam al-Haddad
The following passage is from ‘The Daily Litanies of Imam Haddad’ and sheds light on the way in which he drank coffee with the proper intention.
‘’Imam al-Haddad would then have some coffee. he was accustomed to making it himself until he reached old age, when he would seek assistance. Thereafter, he would perform the ablution, or at times he would perform ablution before preparing the coffee. He would make three supplications, reciting the Fatiha after each supplication, before drinking the coffee. The first, with the intention of seeking rectitude for the Muslims, the second for the deceased, especially for the Predecessors (salaf); and the third, he would recite in the following manner: ‘’
‘’Al-Fatiha, with the intention that Allah forgives our sins, covers our shameful acts, rectifies the affairs of the Muslims, safeguards us and you from the evil of the oppressors, the evil of the tyrannical, the evil of the enviers, the evil of the conceited, the evil of the avaricious and the evil of the dictators. And that he has mercy on the Muslims, relives their distress, and cures their sick, and that he gives us the ability to do what he favours and what is pleasing to him and that he grants us a good ending, and he gathers us and you in the uttermost of his mercy with kindness and wellbeing. May the Fatiha reach the presence of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be Upon him).’’
Four useful resources
- The World of Caffeine: The Science and Culture of the World’s Most Popular Drug B. Weinberg and Bonnie K. Bealer.
- Daily Litanies of Imam al-Haddad. (Sakina Publishing).
- Shaykh Yahya Rhodus. The Purpose of Life in a Cup of Coffee. SeekersHub. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cl3C_1X5meQ
- Shaykh Yahya Rhodus. Intentions: Coffee and Beyond. SeekersHub. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G3Aj95WGYYI
1 The World of Caffeine: The Science and Culture of the World’s Most Popular Drug B. Weinberg and Bonnie K. Bealer. p.24.
2 Ibid. p.25
3 Definition of mocha. Available at: www.dictionary.com.
4 The World of Caffeine: The Science and Culture of the World’s Most Popular Drug B. Weinberg and Bonnie K. Bealer. p.25.
5 The World of Caffeine.p25
6 Ibid. p.26
7 Daily Litanies of Imam al-Haddad. (Sakina Publishing). p.18