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Coffee in Middle East

The Influence of Coffee on Middle Eastern Religious Practices and Rituals

Discover the rich and fascinating history of coffee in the Middle East, from its origins in Ethiopia to its expansion across the Arabian Peninsula. Learn about the role of coffee in the religious practices of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity in the region, and how coffee houses became central to Middle Eastern society. Dive into the ongoing legal and cultural debates concerning the role of coffee in religious practices and how globalization has impacted these traditions. This comprehensive article provides valuable insights into the religious, cultural, and social significance of coffee in the Middle East.

Coffee Middle Eastern Religious Practices

The History of Coffee in the Middle East

Origins of coffee in Ethiopia

The history of coffee can be traced back to the ancient Ethiopian region of Kaffa, from which the word “coffee” is derived. Although several legends surround the discovery of coffee, the most popular one tells the story of an Ethiopian goat herder named Kaldi. Around the 9th century, Kaldi noticed that his goats seemed to be unusually energetic after consuming berries from a particular plant. Intrigued, he tried the berries himself and experienced the same stimulating effect.

Word of the energizing berries quickly spread, and members of the local monastery began using the fruit in a beverage to help stay awake during long hours of prayer. The beverage and its stimulating properties spread across the Ethiopian plateau, eventually reaching across the Red Sea and into the Arabian Peninsula.

While these stories are legendary in nature, there is evidence that coffee was originally consumed as a food in ancient Ethiopia. Tribes would mix the pulp of the coffee cherries with fat to create a nourishing snack, or as a medicinal plant to fight fatigue and boost energy levels. As knowledge of the coffee plant spread, the methods of how these ancient tribes consumed coffee evolved.

Expansion of coffee cultivation to the Arabian Peninsula

Following the spread of coffee from Ethiopia, it is widely believed that the cultivation and commercial trade of coffee started in the Arabian Peninsula, particularly in Yemen around the 14th or 15th century. Sufi monks in the region began to cultivate and drink coffee as a way to stay awake during their long prayer sessions. Coffee beans from Ethiopia were exported to the Yemeni port of Mocha, which later became famous for its coffee trade.

At the beginning of the 15th century, coffee cultivation expanded to other regions on the Arabian Peninsula, such as Saudi Arabia and the Arabian Trucial States, which are now known as the United Arab Emirates. By the 16th century, coffee was a valuable commodity in Persia, Egypt, Turkey, Syria, and North Africa.

Coffee cultivation techniques continued to develop, and the first documented coffee plantations were established in Yemen. The coffee plants thrived in the fertile mountains of the region, and the Arabian coffee trade began to flourish. Unique strains of coffee plants were also developed, leading to distinctive coffee flavors and attributes.

Coffee houses and the role they played in Middle Eastern society

As coffee spread throughout the Middle East, the region’s unique coffee culture began to emerge. Coffee houses, known as “qahveh khaneh,” began appearing in the Ottoman Empire, Persia, and Egypt. The first coffee houses in Istanbul opened in the mid-1550s and quickly became popular social gathering spaces.

These coffee houses played an essential role in the social, political, and cultural lives of the people. They were places where people could discuss current events, share ideas, and even engage in various forms of entertainment, such as poetry readings, musical performances, and chess games.

Coffee houses were often referred to as “Schools of the Wise,” as they were frequented by intellectuals, artists, and influential members of Middle Eastern society. Political discussions and debates were commonplace in these establishments, and many important decisions and ideas were first discussed and developed in these social hubs. They played a significant role in the dissemination of knowledge and the spread of new ideas.

In some cases, coffee houses were viewed with suspicion by political and religious authorities, who saw them as potential breeding grounds for dissent and opposition. There were even instances of coffee houses being temporarily banned in various regions during certain periods of time, due to concerns about the social and political influence they held.

Despite any restrictions, coffee’s popularity and significance in Middle Eastern culture continued to grow. Coffee became a symbol of hospitality and a staple of daily life in many Middle Eastern countries. Today, the rich history of coffee in the Middle East continues to shape coffee culture and tradition around the world, influencing the way people enjoy this beloved beverage.

Islam and the Consumption of Coffee

The history of the relationship between Islam and the consumption of coffee is one of passionate debate, curiosity, and contemplation. The introduction of coffee to the Muslim world in the 15th century had a profound impact on the development of religious, social, and political practices. The spread of Islam allowed for the expansion of coffee as central to several customs and rituals in the religion. Despite initial controversies and the opposition from some religious leaders, the Islamic community has contributed to the worldwide popularity of the stimulant.

Islamic legal perspectives on coffee

Islamic law or Shariah is significant in shaping the way Muslims conduct their lives. According to Shariah, an item can be categorized into five classifications: obligatory, recommended, permissible, disliked, and forbidden. Each category is essential in forming a Muslim’s attitude toward an object or action. Hence, understanding the legal Islamic perspective on coffee consumption is the first step in exploring its role in Muslim culture.

In the early days of coffee consumption, it was classified as ‘khamr’ or intoxicant, which is strictly forbidden in Islam. However, after a more in-depth examination of the drink, coffee was later considered ‘mubah’ or permissible. Unlike alcohol, coffee does not alter a person’s consciousness or limit their ability to reason, making it acceptable in the eyes of Islamic law. Shariah also holds that substances created by God and are not harmful are permitted for consumption. Since coffee is a natural substance with several health benefits, it aligns with Islamic legal principles.

The role of coffee in Sufi religious practices

Sufism, the mystical and spiritual dimension of Islam, has had a significant role in incorporating coffee as part of religious practice. Sufi orders throughout the Ottoman Empire were known to enjoy coffee during their nightly meetings, which included recitation of prayers, the study of the Quran, and the practice of spiritual exercises.

Coffee was seen as a way to facilitate a seeker’s connection with the divine. Sufis believed that coffee aided with concentration and focus, which allowed them to stay awake throughout the night in prolonged vigils, enhancing their spiritual experiences, and providing energy during their devotional dance (‘dhikr’). Besides spiritual practices, coffeehouses became a place where people would gather and engage in social interactions and intellectual conversations, contributing to the development of Islamic scholarship in various fields.

Debate over the permissibility of coffee in Islamic law

Despite coffee being considered permissible in Islam, debates around its consumption have persisted for centuries. In the early 16th century, some jurists and religious leaders argued that coffee should be banned due to its potential to lead to intoxication and various health issues.

In Mecca, coffee faced resistance from traditionalists who viewed it as a potential threat to the social fabric of the community. In 1511, the governor of Mecca, Khayr Bey, even went as far as to ban the drink and close coffeehouses in the city. However, this ban was short-lived, as the Sultan of Cairo countermanded the edict, and coffee was reintroduced to Mecca.

Continuing into the 17th and 18th centuries, similar campaigns took place across various Islamic territories, reflecting the differing opinions on coffee within the Islamic world. Some jurists argued for its permissibility based on the concept of al-istihsan (public interest), while others voiced concerns over potential harm, intoxication, and addiction.

In the modern era, most Islamic scholars and jurists agree that coffee consumption is permissible as long as it does not pose harm to an individual’s health and well-being. By evaluating the history, legal perspectives, and religious practices of coffee in the Islamic world, it is clear that despite varied opinions, coffee has played a vital role in shaping social, cultural, and religious customs for centuries.

Coffee in Jewish Religious Practices

Coffee Jewish Religious Practices

Coffee, derived from the Arabic word “qahwah,” has been a staple in Jewish homes and religious practices for hundreds of years. The drink’s evolved role in Jewish religious practices demonstrates its significance to Jewish culture, strengthening the community’s ties to the customs and traditions passed down from one generation to the next. Below are several instances of coffee’s involvement in religious life as it relates to Jewish dietary laws, the Havdalah ceremony, and its transformative impact on Jewish Middle Eastern societies.

Coffee in the context of kashrut (Jewish dietary laws)

The Jewish dietary laws, collectively known as kashrut or the rules of keeping kosher, dictate how food should be prepared and consumed. While primarily focusing on animal-derived products, kashrut may apply to seemingly innocent beverages like coffee. The coffee bean itself, coming from the seeds of the Coffea plant’s berries, is considered to be inherently kosher, as are most fruits and vegetables that grow from the ground. However, issues arise once flavorings, additives, and processing equipment come into play.

For instance, if coffee additives like creamers or flavorings contain dairy or by-products derived from meat (like gelatin), these could potentially render the coffee non-kosher if mixed incorrectly. Additionally, the machines with which the coffee is processed may have been used for non-kosher items in the past, leading to the contamination of the output. Due to these concerns, some observant Jews opt for only drinking black coffee, or using certified kosher coffee products and dedicated equipment to prepare their daily brew.

To assist those seeking kosher beverages, organizations like the Orthodox Union and the star-K Kosher Certification provide certification for coffee-related products that meet the necessary standards, assuring their customers that the items they purchase are kosher.

Coffee used in Havdalah, the ceremony marking the end of the Sabbath

Havdalah, which translates to “separation” in Hebrew, is a Jewish religious ceremony that marks the end of the Sabbath and the beginning of the new week. This significant moment, typically observed on Saturday evenings, involves a ritual consisting of blessings over wine, spices, and a flame.

An alternative use of coffee in Havdalah practices is the Ethiopian Jewish community’s storied custom of incorporating coffee into their ceremonies. As it is indigenous to Ethiopia, coffee is substituted for the traditional wine or grape juice, using roasted beans to symbolize the separation between the sacred Sabbath and the everyday working week, and the spices representing the sweetness of the Sabbath rest. Drinking coffee in this manner showcases the unique regional influence and highlights the diversity of customs within the global Jewish community.

Role of coffee in Jewish social and religious life in the Middle East

In the Middle East, coffee has long been an integral part of social interactions, gatherings, and religious life. With the introduction of coffee into the region in the 15th century, Jews from Yemen and other communities embraced this invigorating beverage for its unique ability to both stimulate conversation and serve as a catalyst for community building.

Jewish coffeehouses started to appear, acting as hubs for social events, political meetings, and cultural activities, even being referred to as “schools of wisdom” due to their intellectual nature. For the Baghdadi Jewish community, coffee was a crucial component in the tikkun chatzot, or midnight prayer service, assisting participants in staying awake throughout the vigil.

The melding of coffee with Jewish ritual and culture in the Middle East expresses the importance of creating a shared social experience steeped in tradition that binds the community together. By incorporating coffee into religious practices and gatherings, Jews in the Middle East and around the world acknowledge the prominent role it plays both in enhancing spirituality and in fostering unity.

Christian Rituals and Coffee in the Middle East

Coffee in the context of Orthodox Christian fasting practices

Orthodox Christian fasting practices are an essential aspect of spiritual life in the Middle East. These practices involve abstaining from certain food items and indulgences during specific periods, with the most notable fasting periods being Great Lent and the Nativity Fast. One of the main purposes of fasting is to exercise self-discipline and draw the faithful closer to God.

Coffee, due to its non-alcoholic nature and lack of animal ingredients, is allowed during Orthodox Christian fasting periods. However, its consumption may differ between individuals and communities in the Middle East. While some Orthodox Christians may decide to abstain from coffee or other caffeinated beverages during fasting periods as an additional form of personal sacrifice, others may continue drinking coffee as part of their daily routine.

In some Middle Eastern communities, the preparation and consumption of coffee have become associated with spiritual awakening and reflection. Given its prevalence in daily life and social interactions, coffee may serve as a reminder of the act of fasting and reinforce the essential relationship between the individual’s physical and spiritual being.

Coffee consumption during fasting periods may also be linked to centuries-old monastic traditions in the Middle East. Many monks and nuns, who lead lives dedicated to prayer and contemplation, have cultivated the ritual of coffee drinking as a way to maintain their focus and energy throughout the day. In this regard, coffee could be seen as an aid to spiritual life and growth, particularly during periods of fasting.

Coffee’s role in Eastern Catholic and Orthodox religious ceremonies

Coffee has found its way into the religious ceremonies of Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Christians in the Middle East. Often offered during social occasions in the church or following liturgical services, coffee assumes a role of hospitality and community building.

Many Middle Eastern communities incorporate coffee into religious feasts or festivals, such as Easter celebrations or the commemoration of a saint’s day. Coffee is usually prepared using traditional brewing methods and served alongside other customary food items to promote fellowship among church members.

Coffee may also be present during more solemn occasions, like funerals or memorial services. It can be offered as a sign of comfort and support to those mourning the loss of a loved one or during gatherings after the service. By bringing people together over a cup of coffee, communities can re-affirm their bonds and shared faith in times of sorrow or difficulty.

Social and religious importance of coffee in Christian Middle Eastern communities

The social and religious importance of coffee in Christian Middle Eastern communities cannot be understated. Coffee houses have long served as hubs of cultural exchange and intellectual debate, making them an essential part of communal life. Christian intellectuals, writers, and clergy were known to visit these establishments, using this space as a platform to discuss a wide range of spiritual, theological, and social topics.

Within Christian homes, coffee is also used to strengthen relationships between individuals and families. Preparing and serving coffee is seen as an act of love and hospitality. Guests are often presented with a cup of coffee upon arrival, symbolizing the warmth and generosity of the host.

Additionally, coffee acts as a conduit for communal prayer and religious reflection. In some Middle Eastern Christian communities, families gather over coffee to recite prayers or read scriptures together. By making coffee a central part of these gatherings, spiritual practices become intertwined with daily life.

In conclusion, coffee occupies a special place in the religious and cultural practices of Christian communities in the Middle East. From its role in Orthodox Christian fasting to its presence in religious ceremonies and cultural gatherings, coffee serves as a symbol of hospitality, spiritual contemplation, and community bonding. The rich history and diverse practices surrounding coffee consumption highlight its importance to the fabric of Christian life in the region.

Modern Influence of Coffee on Middle Eastern Religious Practices and Rituals

Coffee has played a significant role in Middle Eastern culture for centuries, shaping the social norms and religious practices of the region. Today, coffee continues to play a substantial role in religious gatherings and ceremonies in the Middle East. This article will explore the modern influence of coffee on Middle Eastern religious practices, focusing on its continuing role in religious activities, its role in interfaith dialogues, and the impact of globalization on these practices.

Continuing role of coffee in religious ceremonies and gatherings

In the Middle East, coffee has long been intertwined with religious practices and rituals. It is believed that the first coffee houses were established in Istanbul and Mecca, where Muslims drank coffee to stay awake during night-time prayers and religious readings. Today, coffee remains an important part of religious ceremonies and gatherings in the region.

In Islamic culture, coffee is often consumed during religious events such as Ramadan, the holy month of fasting. When the fast is broken at sunset, coffee is frequently served with dates and other delicacies to provide sustenance and energy for late-night prayers. In addition to this, coffee is also consumed during other religious occasions such as weddings, funerals, and community gatherings called “diwaniyas” in some parts of the region.

Similarly, in Christianity, coffee plays a role in the rituals of certain denominations. For example, in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, coffee is an integral part of the traditional coffee ceremony, which is often conducted after church services or during social and religious gatherings. During this ceremony, coffee beans are roasted, ground, and brewed in front of guests, signifying the importance of hospitality and community in the Christian faith.

Interfaith dialogues and the sharing of coffee traditions

sharing of coffee traditions

As coffee is an important aspect of both Islamic and Christian traditions, it can act as a medium for fostering interfaith dialogue and understanding between different religious groups in the Middle East. The sharing of coffee and coffee-related customs demonstrates the similarities between various religious practices and offers an opportunity for communication and connection between followers of different faiths.

One example of this interfaith dialogue is seen in the annual International Coffee Hour event held in Jerusalem. The event, which is organized by a number of religious institutions in the city, brings together members of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian communities to bond over their shared love of coffee and promote understanding and good relations between followers of different faiths.

Furthermore, as people from the Middle East travel or migrate to other parts of the world, they often bring with them their coffee traditions, further promoting interfaith dialogue and understanding through the sharing of these customs.

The impact of globalization and the coffee industry on religious practices in the Middle East

Globalization has had a considerable impact on the coffee industry in the Middle East, leading to greater availability and consumption of coffee across the region. As a result, this increased accessibility has allowed more people to partake in and appreciate the coffee traditions that play a significant role in religious practices throughout the Middle East.

On the other hand, as international coffee chains such as Starbucks and Costa Coffee become more prevalent in the region, there is an ongoing concern that traditional coffee customs may become diluted or commercialized, potentially altering the nature of their connection to religious practices. Some argue that the commodification of coffee by multinational corporations may negatively impact the intimacy and authenticity of the coffee experiences that are integral to Middle Eastern religious traditions.

In conclusion, the modern influence of coffee on Middle Eastern religious practices and rituals is varied, but it continues to play an important role in both Muslim and Christian cultural practices. As people from different faiths come together over a shared love of coffee, interfaith dialogue and understanding are promoted. However, the impact of globalization on the coffee industry presents both opportunities and challenges for the preservation of the region’s traditional coffee customs and their connection to religious practices.


Related articles:

The Role of Coffee in Sufi Rituals and Ceremonies

The Significance of Coffee in Ethiopian Religious Rituals


FAQs on the Influence of Coffee on Middle Eastern Religious Practices and Rituals


How has coffee historically impacted Middle Eastern religious practices and rituals?

Coffee, originating in Ethiopia, was brought to the Middle East in the 15th century. Over time, it became an integral part of social and religious gatherings, encouraging community interactions, promoting discussions, and benefiting collective worship (Topik & Samper, 2012).

What role did coffee play in the development of Sufism (Islamic mysticism)?

Sufism utilized coffee for its stimulating properties, enhancing spiritual practices like dhikr (remembrance of God) with heightened concentration and alertness. Coffeehouses became spaces for Sufi gatherings, fostering spiritual discourse and fellowship (Hattox, 1985).

Were there any conflicts between coffee consumption and religious beliefs in the Middle East?

Yes, during the 16th century, some religious scholars categorized coffee consumption as sinful, associating it with intoxicating substances. This resulted in temporary bans and extensive legal debates among scholars over coffee’s permissibility (Pendergrast, 2010).

How did coffee impact the Islamic tradition of the nightly Ramadan gatherings?

Coffee revitalized the nightly Ramadan gatherings, called taraweeh, enhancing their spirituality and lengthening their duration. The energizing effects of coffee supported extended prayers and allowed participants to engage in late-night religious activities in a state of increased awareness (Topik & Samper, 2012).

What effect did the coffeehouse have on the religious and intellectual landscape in the Middle East?

Coffeehouses became hubs for religious discourse, intellectual conversations, poetry recitation, and artistic expression. They cultivated a dynamic socio-religious atmosphere, influencing the exchange of ideas among diverse groups and directly impacting Middle Eastern intellectual life (Hattox, 1985).

Are there specific rituals within Middle Eastern religions related to the preparation, serving, or drinking of coffee?

Yes, the traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony holds deep spiritual significance. It features a ritualistic preparation process, accompanied by prayers, incense, and blessings. It symbolizes hospitality, respect, and a connection to the divine within local Ethiopian religious practices (Civitello, 2011).