Why Stop at Coffee? Let’s Outlaw Smokes, Too!

Name and Place for Tuesday, October 14 (’14)

Bernard Lewis continues his description of the “heinous” introduction of coffee and tobacco into the capital of the Ottoman Empire in Istanbul and the Civilization of the Ottoman Empire.

On the coming of the “fetid and nauseating smoke of tobacco”, Ibrahim-i Pechevi says:


The boys smokin’ the Hookah: Danger Will Robinson!

“The English infidels brought it in the year 1009 (A.D. 1600-1601), and sold it as a remedy for certain diseases of humidity.  Some companions from among the pleasure-seekers and sensualists said: ‘Here is an occasion for pleasure’ and they became addicted. Soon those who were not mere pleasure-seekers also began to use it.  Many even of the great ulema and the mighty fell into this addiction.  From the ceaseless smoking of the coffee-house riff-raff the coffee-houses were filled with blue smoke, to such a point that those who were in them could not see one another.  In the markets and bazaars too their pipes never left their hands.  Puff-puffing in each other’s faces and eyes, they made the streets and markets stink.  In its honour they composed silly verses, and declaimed them without occasion.

Sometimes I had arguments with friends about it.  I said: ‘Its abominable smell taints a man’s beard and turban, the garment on his back and the room where it is used; sometimes it sets fire to carpets and felts and bedding, and soils them from end to end with ash and cinders; after sleep its evil vapour rises to the brain; and, not content with this, its ceaseless use withholds men from toil and gain and keeps hands from work.  In view of this and other similar harmful and abominable effects, what pleasure or profit can there be in it?”

To this the only answer they could give was: “It is an amusement, and moreover a pleasure of aesthetic taste.”  But there is no possibility of spiritual pleasure from this, which could pertain to matters of aesthetic taste.  This answer is no answer.  It is pure pretension.

constantinopleApart from all this, it has several times been the cause of great fires in the high God-guarded of Constantinople. Several hundred thousand people suffered from those fires.  Only this much is conceded, that it is of use for the guarding of galley-slaves, as the guards on the ships can to some extent ward off sleep by using it, and that, by guarding against humidity, it induces dryness.  But it is not permissible, according to reason or tradition, to perpetuate such great damage for such small benefit.  By the beginning of the year 1045 (A.D. 1635-36), its spread and fame were such that they could not be written or expressed” (134-135).

Yip.  Sounds about right.

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