Ya Salam: Muslims who Consume Hashish as Part of Their Religious Ritual
Meet Sufi Islam in East Asia: the only stream in the modern Muslim world that still worships Allah by smoking hashish.
Ziv Janisov, Cannabis.com, Israel
This report first appeared in Cannabis.com, Israel.
It is no secret that the issue of cannabis consumption arouses controversy among Muslim clerics throughout the Arab world and beyond, and the issue has also made headlines here in Israel in recent years after the Shura Council expressed its opposition to attempts at lenient legislation in the field of medical cannabis and an end to criminalization.
In general, most Muslim clerics living today unequivocally and firmly rule that the consumption of cannabis for non-obvious medical purposes is "haram" (forbidden), but at the same time, there is a small and rare group of devout Muslim believers who pray in a mosque only after they have taken a few puffs of the sweet grass.
When and where did this unusual practice begin, and where can we find Muslims today using hashish as part of their religious ritual? We checked.
Between myths and facts
Although the origin of the word "hashish" is known in Arabic, and although the culture of cannabis consumption is quite common in many Muslim and Arab countries such as Egypt, Sudan, Morocco and more, it is interesting to discover that there is not a single mention of the cannabis plant or cannabis consumption in Arabic texts that preceded the appearance of the Prophet Muhammad.
This means that, contrary to the reputation of "professional hashniks" sometimes attributed to Arabs, the medicinal uses of the plant in Arab society apparently began only during the ninth century, about two hundred years after the death of the Prophet Muhammad.
The most famous story linking a group of Muslim believers to the consumption of hashish is, of course, the legend of the "Hashishon sect", members of the murderous Shiite sect that operated during the 11th and 12th centuries and at its height controlled a very vast territory, from Persia (today's Iran) to Syria, spreading terror and fear among the neighbors around them.
In the not-too-distant past, it was still customary to attribute intensive uses of hashish to this group, but a later examination by modern researchers negates this conclusion. Today it is more accepted that reports of cannabis use among the cult originated mainly from hostile Sunni groups, which sought to tarnish the hashishis and give them a reputation as a morally rotten society.
So if the members of the hashish don't really consume hashish, where then can we find devout Muslims who smoke cannabis as part of their religious ritual? The answer lies in the Far East, among members of the Sufi order, in Afghanistan and especially Pakistan today.
Shachtas in the courtyard of the mosque
The Sufi Order is a mystical stream of Islam that advocates modesty and asceticism. His followers practice meditation and some even avoid physical pleasures.
Sufism began in the Muslim world at the end of the eighth century, but it was only during the tenth century that it changed from a lone movement to a mass movement, with a large number of sects, or "Sufi orders," operating under the leadership of various sheikhs and clerics.
One of the most prominent Sufi orders was the Order of Sheikh Haidri, active in the 12th century in the Khorasan region (a region in Central Asia, crossing the northern borders of Iran and Afghanistan).
From the letters of the great Muslim explorer Ibn Battuta, one can get an impression of the degree of devotion of the members of the Order:
"Then we walked towards the city of Zarwa, the city of the devout sheikh Ketbar al-Din Khaidar, who leads a group of poor believers who put iron rings on their hands, neck, ears, and they go so far as to put iron rings on their penis so that they cannot perform the mating operation."
According to Khaydri, at midday one day, while hiking among the hills, he came across a plant that he claimed supplied the needs of thirst and hunger, while giving pleasure. He called on his followers:
"The great God has bestowed upon you with special grace the virtues of this plant, which will scatter the shadows that cloud your souls and awaken your spirits."
Khaidri swept up believers who held religious prayers and rituals under the influence of cannabis. Even after his death, followers of Sheikh Khaidar continued to praise the plant's virtues:
"Forget the wine, take Khaidar's glass, this glass smells like amber and sparkles like a green emerald."
Today there are many Sufi Muslim communities around the world and in the Middle East in particular (as can be seen in the exclusive documentation of a cannabis magazine reporter in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan), but most of them seem to have stopped performing ceremonies accompanied by the use of cannabis.
However, there are still a few Sufi populations (mainly in Afghanistan and Pakistan as mentioned) that incorporate cannabis consumption during worship.