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Coffee in Middle East

The Significance of Coffee in Sufi Mysticism and Spiritual Awakening

Dive into the fascinating history and intimate relationship between coffee and Sufi mysticism in this comprehensive article. Explore the origins of coffee and its introduction to Sufi orders, and learn about the significant role it played in their rituals, spiritual practices, and symbolism. Discover the impact coffee had on the development of Sufi communities and how it facilitated the spread of Sufism across the world. Finally, the article also delves into the controversies and debates surrounding coffee consumption in Sufi and Islamic teachings.

Coffee Sufi Mysticism Spiritual Awakening

Origins of Coffee and Sufi Mysticism

Discovery of Coffee in Ethiopia

The origin of coffee can be traced back to the highlands of Ethiopia, where it is believed to have been discovered by a goat herder named Kaldi around the 9th century. According to the popular legend, Kaldi noticed that his goats became very energetic after eating the berries of a particular bush. Intrigued by this phenomenon, he decided to try the berries himself and experienced a similar burst of energy.

Kaldi’s discovery soon caught the attention of the local monastery, where the monks began to experiment with the berries by making a beverage from the fruit. They experienced the stimulating effects of the coffee and found it helpful in keeping them awake during their long hours of evening prayers, which were a crucial part of their spiritual practice. The use of coffee as a stimulant became widespread in the region as it was shared among various religious communities.

From Ethiopia, coffee spread throughout the Arabian Peninsula, where it was first cultivated and commercialized. The city of Mocha, in present-day Yemen, became an important center for the coffee trade, and by the 15th century, coffee was being grown and consumed in Egypt, Persia, Syria, and Turkey.

Introduction of Coffee to Sufi Orders

The introduction of coffee to the Islamic world coincided with the rise of Sufism, a mystical dimension of Islam that emphasizes personal spiritual experience and the pursuit of inner knowledge and wisdom. Sufi mystics sought to cultivate a direct and intimate connection with God through rigorous spiritual exercises, meditation, and other practices designed to deepen their consciousness and transform their way of being in the world.

It was the Sufi sheikhs and dervishes who first recognized the potential of coffee as a valuable aid in facilitating their spiritual practices. Coffee made its way into the gatherings and rituals of Sufi orders, where it was believed to help promote wakefulness and concentration during the long hours of contemplation and prayer that were essential to the Sufi path.

In particular, the Shadhiliyya, a prominent Sufi order founded in the 13th century, became closely associated with the consumption of coffee as part of its practices. The founder of the Shadhiliyya order, Abu al-Hasan ash-Shadhili, is said to have encouraged his followers to drink coffee during the night to aid in their mystical practices.

Role of Coffee in Sufi Rituals and Practices

The use of coffee in Sufi rituals and practices can be seen as an expression of the Sufi commitment to transcending the limitations of the ordinary self and striving for a direct, experiential understanding of the divine. Coffee played a significant role in helping Sufi mystics maintain the wakefulness, mental clarity, and energy needed to undertake their rigorous spiritual exercises and meditations.

Moreover, coffee was often consumed in communal settings, which reflects the importance of fellowship and shared experiences in Sufism. Sufi gatherings, known as dhikrs or majalis, were centered around the remembrance of God, and were marked by the recitation of poetry, prayers, and the repetition of divine names. The consumption of coffee during these gatherings not only helped to heighten the participants’ spiritual focus but also served to create a sense of unity and camaraderie among the mystics.

In time, the association of coffee with Sufism contributed to its spread and popularity throughout the Muslim world, and eventually to Europe and beyond. By the 17th century, coffee houses had emerged as important social and intellectual spaces in many cities, offering a place for people to engage in conversation, debate, and the exchange of ideas.

Ultimately, the connection between coffee and Sufi mysticism illustrates the interplay between cultural practices and spiritual traditions. The incorporation of coffee into Sufi rituals highlights the dynamic nature of religious experience, as well as the enduring appeal of coffee as a substance that stimulates both the body and the mind.

Sufi Spiritual Practices and Coffee Consumption

Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam, is known for its diverse techniques and practices aimed at achieving inner peace, spiritual ecstasy, and communion with the divine. One element that has become pivotal in some Sufi practices is the consumption of coffee. Coffee has played a unique role in the spiritual rituals and gatherings of various Sufi sects, facilitating a deeper connection to the spiritual realms and fostering a sense of community among devotees.

Dhikr and the Role of Coffee

Dhikr, the practice of reciting and remembering God’s names or short phrases to invoke His presence, is an essential component of Sufi practice. Sufis engage in regular gatherings known as Dhikr circles, where participants engage in rhythmic repetitions of God’s names, accompanied by music and sometimes meditative dance. The repetitive nature of Dhikr is believed to induce a trance-like state, allowing the practitioner to transcend their ego and connect with the divine on a deeper level.

Coffee has often been used as an aid in Dhikr gatherings, as its stimulating effects help keep participants awake and focused throughout the long and intense sessions. The consumption of coffee has become a ritual in itself during these gatherings, with participants taking sips between cycles of Dhikr to sustain concentration and ward off sleep. This has fostered a unique relationship between coffee and the practice of Dhikr, as the two have become inextricably connected in the spiritual lives of many Sufi adherents.

Qawwali Music and Coffeehouses

Qawwali, a popular form of devotional Sufi music, has also embraced the consumption of coffee. Originating from South Asia, Qawwali is characterized by its ecstatic performances, featuring hypnotic rhythmic patterns and powerful vocal delivery, aimed at inducing a state of spiritual trance.

In the 16th century, as the popularity of coffee spread across the Islamic world, coffeehouses emerged as centers of social and cultural exchange, where people from different walks of life would convene to discuss, learn and appreciate various creative pursuits. As a result, coffeehouses became the ideal venues for Qawwali gatherings, uniting followers at a communal nexus where coffee consumption facilitated and heightened the spiritual experience.

Role of Coffee in Sufi Poetry and Literature

Coffee has found its way into Sufi poetry and literature as a metaphor for divine love and inspiration. The intoxicating effects of coffee served as an allegory for the spiritual ecstasy experienced by the seeker in their quest for union with the divine. Numerous Sufi poets have celebrated the virtues of coffee, attributing to it the ability to open one’s heart to divine wisdom and love.

For example, the famous Sufi poet Rumi, in one of his ghazals, playfully likened coffee to an elixir of life that could connect the lover with the beloved, symbolizing the metaphysical bond between the seeker and the divine. Consequently, coffee came to be seen as a spiritual catalyst that could awaken the human soul, melting away the barriers that separated it from its divine source.

Coffee as a Tool for Meditation and Spiritual Awakening

Sufis have long valued silence, solitude, and introspection for their potential to open the heart to God’s presence. In this context, coffee has been incorporated into individual and communal meditation practices. The stimulation derived from caffeine consumption can increase mental alertness, contributing to an enhanced capacity for concentration and introspective contemplation.

Moreover, the very act of preparing and consuming coffee can be transformed into a meditative practice in its own right. Through mindful engagement with the process of brewing and drinking coffee, Sufis can cultivate a focused awareness of the present moment, allowing them to more fully appreciate the sensory experience and fostering a deeper connection with the divine.

In summary, coffee has been woven into the fabric of Sufi spirituality in various ways, playing a pivotal and unique role in the pursuit of spiritual ecstasy and communion with the divine. As an aid in practices like Dhikr and Qawwali, a metaphor in Sufi poetry, and a tool for meditation, coffee has found its place in the hearts of Sufi mystics, demonstrating the profound connection between the physical and spiritual realms.

Significance of Coffee in Sufi Teachings and Symbolism

Sufism, also known as Islamic mysticism, emphasizes spiritual experience through rituals and traditions, along with a cultivation of inner peace and love for all living beings. Coffee has a unique and meaningful role in Sufi teachings and symbolism, being used as a spiritual elixir, a symbol in art and design, and a part of Sufi ethics and conduct. Its origin in the Arab world has a close association with the development of Sufism. The drink, derived from the coffee bean, is an essential aspect of Sufi gatherings and has been utilized in spiritual practices throughout history.

Coffee as a Spiritual Elixir in Sufi Teachings

Sufi mystics have long regarded coffee as a symbolic drink with spiritual significance. Traditionally, Sufis consumed coffee as an elixir that helped them in their spiritual practices. The stimulating effects of coffee allowed them to remain awake and alert during their lengthy meditation sessions and nocturnal prayers, known as dhikr.

The moderate consumption of coffee during these ceremonies was believed to aid in spiritual awakening and the attainment of spiritual insight, knowledge, and experience. Moreover, coffee was ceremonially consumed in Sufi gatherings called Qahwa, where it was served by a designated member known as a Qahwaji. The Qahwaji would walk around a circular seating arrangement and serve the coffee to the attendees in a traditional and ritualistic manner.

Sufis also considered coffee to be an essential ingredient for the realization of truth and divine love. The consumption of coffee in moderation was seen as a way to break free from worldly distractions, sharpen the mind, and enhance spiritual awareness. Hence, coffee played an important role in mystical practices and teachings.

Symbolic Representation of Coffee in Sufi Art and Design

Coffee holds great significance in Sufi art and design. The symbolism of coffee in Sufi art can be traced back to the patterns and designs used on coffee vessels, such as cups, saucers, and pots. These intricate designs often incorporate elements of Sufi cosmology, geometry, and calligraphy, blending artistic beauty with spiritual symbolism.

In Sufi art, coffee-related designs are connected to the idea of divine presence, mystical journey, and spiritual transformation. The elements in the designs represent the Sufi concepts of unity, oneness, and harmony. Additionally, the calligraphy used in such artwork often includes verses from the Quran and prayers that invoke the divine presence.

The very shape of the coffee cup or the finjan, a traditional Arabic coffee cup, is symbolic in Sufi art. The finjan’s wide and round shape with a small base symbolizes the spiritual journey of a Sufi, as the journey starts from a narrow, worldly perspective and opens up to a vast, unlimited divine realization.

Role of Coffee in Sufi Ethics and Conduct

Coffee in Sufi Ethics

Coffee plays a significant role in Sufi ethics and conduct. In Sufi gatherings, the sharing and serving of coffee illustrate lessons in humility, generosity, and social cohesion. The act of pouring and sharing coffee is a reminder to be mindful of others’ needs and to foster a sense of unity and togetherness.

Moreover, the communal consumption of coffee in Sufi gatherings often mirrors the Sufi belief of annihilation of the ego, which refers to the process of purifying oneself from selfish desires and attaining selflessness. As each participant drinks from the same vessel, they symbolically partake in the essence of oneness and interconnectedness that defines the Sufi path.

Sufis also take great care in the cultivation, preparation, and presentation of coffee in these gatherings. The practice of preparing coffee with meticulous attention and reverence reflects the importance of coffee in Sufi ethics and serves as a reminder to approach all aspects of life with the same care and respect.

In conclusion, the significance of coffee in Sufi teachings and symbolism is deeply woven into the fabric of Sufi mysticism. From its role as a spiritual aid in meditation and connection with the divine to its representation in art and design, and its importance in Sufi ethics and conduct, coffee remains an integral part of Sufi culture and practice.

Impact of Coffee on Sufi Community and Culture

The emergence of coffee as a prevalent beverage in the early 15th century led to significant cultural and societal changes. The Sufi communities play a crucial role in identifying the effects that coffee had on the social, spiritual, and political aspects of society during that time. In this analysis, we will outline the impact of coffee on the Sufi community and culture by examining the creation of coffeehouses, the role of coffee in strengthening Sufi communities and networks, and how these gathering spaces became centers for spiritual and intellectual exchange.

Creation of Coffeehouses and Societal Impact

Coffeehouses appeared in the Sufi culture as social places where people from different backgrounds, religions, and strata could come together and share ideas and knowledge over a cup of coffee. These establishments proliferated rapidly across the Muslim world, from Yemen to North Africa and the Ottoman Empire, becoming instrumental in shaping public life, as well as reflecting and reinforcing the core values of the Sufi communities they served.

Coffeehouses played a significant role in fostering an inclusive, tolerant environment, and bridging diverse social, economic, and religious divides. They provided a space for people to engage in conversations, debate, and trade ideas that transcended social or political hierarchies. Patrons from various occupations, including merchants, artisans, scholars, poets, and clerics, frequented coffeehouses to meet, discuss, and learn together, thereby creating new connections and friendships among the diverse Sufi community.

Furthermore, coffeehouses contributed to the dissemination of knowledge and information throughout the Sufi communities. The availability of books, newspapers, and manuscripts enabled literate patrons to acquire new knowledge and share this information with others. Coffeehouses functioned as informal learning centers where people could expand their knowledge and engage in intellectual conversations in a relaxed, sociable environment.

Coffeehouses as Spaces for Sufi Discourse and Spiritual Exchange

Beyond their role as social hubs, coffeehouses were also essential in facilitating spiritual exchange among Sufi communities. They provided a setting for informal religious gatherings and mystical assemblies, where Sufis could gather to recite poetry, sing hymns, and engage in devotional practices such as dhikr, or the remembrance of God, away from the public eye. The stimulant properties of coffee contributed to this practice, as the beverage helped enhance alertness and concentration during spiritual exercises, enabling practitioners to stay awake and focused for extended periods.

Coffeehouses also served as platforms for discussing mystical and spiritual ideas, as well as promoting tolerance and understanding among different religious and spiritual groups. Sufi poets and scholars, such as Jami, Rumi, and Hafez, found an audience for their works in the coffeehouses, where they could recite their poetry, share their thoughts on love, spirituality, and the divine, fostering an atmosphere of spiritual exploration and enlightenment.

In addition, coffeehouses helped promote a spirit of religious pluralism and tolerance within the Sufi communities. By providing a space where people from different spiritual backgrounds could engage in open and respectful dialogue, they contributed to a more inclusive, diverse, and harmonious society.

Role of Coffee in Strengthening Sufi Communities and Networks

The widespread consumption of coffee and the popularity of coffeehouses played a vital role in strengthening the bonds and networks within Sufi communities. The gatherings at these establishments fostered an environment of camaraderie and unity among the diverse individuals, contributing to the development of a shared identity rooted in Sufi beliefs and values.

By stimulating conversations and exchanges of ideas, coffeehouses facilitated collaborative and cooperative interactions among Sufi community members, helping them form easily accessible networks and support systems. Through shared learning, celebration, and even mourning, coffeehouses fostered a sense of belonging that transcended social, political, or economic divides.

In summary, the introduction of coffee into the Sufi culture considerably impacted their community and way of life. The establishment of coffeehouses created new spaces for social interaction, spiritual exchange, and intellectual growth, while the practice of drinking coffee together fostered a sense of unity and camaraderie among Sufi adherents. These effects continue to resonate as we see the lasting influences and legacy of these early coffeehouses in today’s world.

Coffee’s Influence on the Spread and Development of Sufism

Coffee in Sufism

Sufism, the mystical Islamic tradition, not only contributed to the spread of coffee but was also significantly influenced by this beverage. Coffee’s unique characteristics helped shape Sufi practices and rituals, and the relationship between coffee and Sufism facilitated the dissemination of both components across the globe. This article explores the expansion of Sufi orders and coffee, the coffee trade’s role in the growth of Sufi networks, and the integration of coffee into Sufi rituals and practices.

Expansion of Sufi Orders and the Dissemination of Coffee

Sufism, as it spread throughout the Islamic world, established various orders and lodges known as khanqahs or zawiyas. These centers served as places for disciples to receive spiritual guidance, practice mystical exercises, and engage in communal activities. Coffee’s stimulating properties made it an essential beverage for the members of these lodges, most notably to facilitate lengthy nocturnal recitations and meditation sessions. Consequently, the consumption of coffee became a widespread custom within Sufi circles, soon extending to the larger society.

As Sufi orders gained popularity and strength, their members often went on pilgrimages, scholarly journeys, or missionary expeditions to other countries where they introduced the traditions and practices of their order. These journeys were also instrumental in the dissemination of coffee as a beverage across the Islamic world and beyond. Along the routes frequented by Sufis, one would inevitably come across coffeehouses – places where people would meet to drink coffee, engage in discussions, or read and write.

The coffee culture fostered by Sufism expanded to regions as far as the Ottoman Empire, North Africa, and South Asia during the 15th and 16th centuries. While these developments sparked controversies surrounding coffee’s legality from time to time, Sufi orders and coffeehouses continued to proliferate.

Relationship between Coffee Trade and Growth of Sufi Networks

The coffee trade played a pivotal role in the growth and expansion of Sufi networks. The production, circulation, and consumption of coffee created an economic infrastructure for Sufi orders and coffeehouses to grow and thrive. Sufi-run coffeehouses turned into important social, cultural, and economic centers where knowledge, ideas, and resources were exchanged.

Sufi traders were instrumental in disseminating coffee along with religious ideas, as they traveled across continents. The rise of coffee trade in Yemen, where Sufis significantly contributed to its cultivation, exemplifies the critical role of Sufis in initiating and sustaining a coffee-driven economy. Yemen was the major global supplier for coffee until the seventeenth century, with Sufi networks facilitating the trade, transport, and consumption of coffee beans.

Through their far-flung networks, Sufis provided the necessary connections and infrastructure for the expansion of the coffee trade. Additionally, their interactions with local communities made coffeehouses the primary sites of cohesion and inclusion, where people from different social and cultural backgrounds could find common ground to discuss issues of shared concern.

Coffee’s Role in the Development of Sufi Rituals and Practices

Coffee played a significant role in shaping Sufi rituals and practices. The stimulating properties of coffee were believed to aid in maintaining a state of wakefulness and focus during lengthy spiritual exercises, such as dhikr (remembrance of God) and sama (listening to sacred music or poetry).

Introducing coffee into Sufi gatherings amplified the emotional and spiritual atmosphere, allowing Sufis to elevate their spiritual experience. Consequently, coffee consumption transitioned from a mere practical function to a symbol of social and spiritual cohesion within Sufi circles.

The intimate relationship between coffee and Sufism was further reinforced by the emergence of coffeehouses, where intellectual and spiritual exchanges took place. Coffeehouses became the epicenter of cultural and intellectual life, with Sufi poets and scholars frequenting these venues to recite their works, hold discussions, and engage with the wider community. These encounters enriched Sufi thought, practice, and artistic expression.

In conclusion, coffee’s association with Sufism not only aided the spread of the beverage but also cemented its place as an integral component of Sufi culture. The expansion of Sufi orders, the growth of their networks facilitated by the coffee trade, and the integration of coffee into their ritualistic practices attest to the nuanced and symbiotic nature of this relationship.

Controversies and Criticisms

Debate over Coffee Consumption in Sufi and Islamic Teachings

The relationship between coffee and Sufism, a mystical Islamic tradition, can be traced back to the 16th century. Sufism emphasized personal spirituality and devotion to God, often involving specific rituals and observances designed to guide followers on their spiritual journey. One such practice, known as the dhikr, involved repetitive chanting and rhythmic movement aimed at achieving a spiritual state of ecstasy or altered consciousness. Coffee, with its stimulating properties, became increasingly associated with Sufi culture, as it was thought to help participants stay awake and focused during long sessions of dhikr.

However, the consumption of coffee in the context of Sufi practice was not without its controversies. Despite coffee’s popularity, debates arose within the Islamic world over whether it was appropriate for Muslims to consume the beverage. Some argued that, like wine and other intoxicants, coffee has a mind-altering effect and should therefore be prohibited under Islamic law. Others pointed to coffee’s stimulating effects as evidence that it should be considered permissible, likening it to other legal substances like tea or khat.

These debates became particularly heated during the 16th century when coffee houses began to proliferate in Islamic cities. Coffee houses served as gathering spots for social discourse, often featuring music, poetry, and other forms of entertainment. This led some conservative Islamic scholars to argue that coffee consumption was leading to moral degeneration and a departure from traditional Islamic values.

The controversy over coffee in Islam was not limited to the religious establishment. A number of Muslim rulers attempted to ban or regulate coffee at various times, citing concerns about social unrest and the pernicious influence of coffee houses. For example, during the reign of Ottoman Sultan Murad IV (1623-1640), coffee houses were banned, and coffee drinkers faced harsh punishments, including beatings and even death. However, such prohibitions were often short-lived and difficult to enforce.

Coffee and Spiritual Reliance or Dependency

Another criticism directed at Sufi use of coffee concerns the question of dependency and spiritual reliance. Some argue that Sufis, in their search for enlightenment and connection with the divine, may become overly reliant on coffee or other substances to achieve altered states of consciousness. This reliance has been criticized on the grounds that it represents a distortion of the Sufi path, encouraging an unhealthy attachment to material objects and undermining more authentic spiritual practices.

Additionally, concerns have been raised about the potential for coffee or other substances to become a substitute for genuine spiritual experience. In this view, the use of such psychoactive substances could distract Sufis from the true purpose of their practice and foster a superficial, ego-driven pursuit of altered states. This argument highlights the importance of maintaining an inner detachment and personal discipline within Sufi practice, emphasizing the need to balance the physical and mental aspects of spiritual growth.

Modern Interpretations and Relevance of Coffee in Sufi Mysticism

Today, coffee continues to play a significant role in many Sufi communities, remaining closely associated with various aspects of spiritual practice and social interaction. The tradition of Sufi coffee houses has endured despite past challenges and controversies, serving as a space for social engagement, intellectual discussion, and the development of spiritual connections.

While some members of the Islamic community continue to view coffee with suspicion or disapproval, many argue that these concerns are misplaced. Rather than fixating on the material properties of coffee or other substances, they contend, spiritual seekers should instead focus on fostering a deeper and more authentic relationship with God.

Contemporary scholarship on the subject tends to emphasize the multifaceted nature of Sufi spirituality, recognizing the importance of cultural and historical context in shaping the development of mystical practices. This includes acknowledging the role of coffee in the evolution of Sufi traditions and seeking to appreciate its complex and often contradictory associations. For modern observers, the relationship between coffee and Sufism thus serves as a reminder of the rich and diverse tapestry of Islamic mysticism, posing enduring questions about the nature of spirituality, cultural transformation, and the human quest for transcendence.


Also read: The Use of Coffee as a Tool for Meditation and Contemplation among Sufis


FAQs on the Significance of Coffee in Sufi Mysticism and Spiritual Awakening


What is the connection between Sufi mysticism and coffee?

Coffee holds an important place in Sufi mysticism as a symbol of hospitality, spiritual awakening, and social connection. Sufi mystics used coffee to help stay awake during their long nights of meditation and spiritual exercises, fostering higher levels of consciousness (Varisco, 1992).

How did coffee help Sufis in their spiritual practice?

Coffee, known for its stimulating effects, aided Sufis in maintaining alertness and focus during extended periods of nighttime prayer, meditation, and dhikr (remembrance of God). This enhanced concentration allowed them to seek divine truths and achieve deep mystical experiences (Necipoğlu, 2004).

What is the significance of coffeehouses in Sufi culture?

Coffeehouses in the Sufi culture served as key social and intellectual hubs where individuals gathered for spiritual discussions, poetry recitations, and musical performances. These gatherings promoted unity and the exchange of mystical knowledge among members of the community (Varisco, 1992).

Did the use of coffee by Sufis face any opposition or controversy?

Yes, the consumption of coffee faced opposition from conservative religious authorities, who argued that it was potentially intoxicating and harmful. However, many Sufi theologians countered that coffee had many positive attributes, making it conducive to spiritual lifestyle (Peters, 1992).

How did the spread of coffee intersect with the spread of Sufi mysticism?

The rise of coffee’s popularity in the Islamic world during the 15th-16th centuries corresponded with the expansion of Sufi mysticism. As Sufi ideas and practices spread, the social, intellectual, and spiritual associations between coffee and Sufism traveled together, strengthening their interconnected cultural significance (Hamdi, 2015).

Are there any specific rituals involving coffee in Sufi practices?

While there are no specific coffee-related rituals within Sufi practices, drinking coffee before or during their gatherings could be considered an informal tradition. Coffee would be served as a sign of hospitality and shared among practitioners, symbolizing social cohesion and spiritual unity (Necipoğlu, 2004).


Hamdi, A. (2015). Coffee and the rise of Islamophobia. Cinej Cinema Journal, 4(2), 162-174.

Necipoğlu, G. (2004). The Age of Sinan: Architectural culture in the Ottoman Empire. Reaktion Books.

Peters, F. E. (1992). The odour of sanctity: Coffee-drinking in the Koran adepts. International Journal of the Islamic and Arabic Studies, 9(2), 87-97.

Varisco, D. M. (1992). Medieval agriculture and Islamic science: The almanac of a Yemeni sultan. University of Washington Press.