Shout out to Adeel for this. Check this article out from BBC news on the new ban of sheesha in the UK. Ulema have passed fatwas declaring that sheesha is haram here. Those sheesha cafes on Steinway (Queens, NY) might want pay extra attention to this, since the US might follow along just for the heck of it.
By Mukul Devichand
BBC Asian Network
The impending smoking ban in England could spell the end for cafes which practise the ancient habit of shisha.
“I know this is going to sound like a strange description,” said Kate as she inhaled deeply on her shisha pipe.
“But it’s almost the equivalent of being on your own and getting into a lovely fragrant bubble bath.”
She’s a devotee of shisha, the Arabic water-pipe in which fruit-scented tobacco is burnt using coal, passed through an ornate water vessel and inhaled through a hose.
Shisha smoking venues first started appearing in England along the Edgware Road in the 70s, largely fuelled by the Gulf Arab expat community.
Double apple tobacco
The last five to 10 years have seen a rapid growth in the number of cafes across the country, particularly in Manchester and Birmingham. And they are increasingly attracting people from all different backgrounds.
But the party is almost over. On 1 July, Shisha will be included in the ban on smoking in enclosed spaces in England.
Kate, who started smoking shisha as a student in her 20s, described how she has become a regular at Markaz, an upmarket shisha lounge in Bradford serving a mind-boggling array of scented tobaccos: water melon, lime lemon, aniseed and double apple.
The lounge plays host to a huge variety of smokers reclining on the hand-carved Moroccan chairs, from veiled Muslim teenagers to a middle aged white couple.
It seems shisha is crossing the historic racial divide in the town between Asians, who often don’t drink for faith reasons, and whites.
“For myself, I know I’ll lose a place that I can go out with my Asian friends who I can’t go out to the pub with,” Kate said of the impending ban.
Shisha cafes, in which pipes can be shared between friends, are seen as an alternative to the pub for a social night out.
Inside the lounge-like cafes, sweet fragrant smoke fills the air and a fusion of Arabic, Asian and hip-hop music beats in the background. Part of the attraction of shisha is that smoking through a pipe makes the tobacco last longer, and that passing the pipe is a communal activity.
There are now an estimated 600 cafes, lounges and nightclubs across the UK and even dedicated British music acts and DJ collectives with names such as Shisha Sound System. Between 30,000 and 40,000 people come to Edgware Road to smoke shisha every week.
But there is no exemption for shisha in the Health Act 2006, which bans smoking in enclosed spaces. When it comes into force next week, cafes and lounges across England will face closure.
That’s led to a last-ditch legal battle to exempt shisha from the ban, being waged from an office above Shishawi, one of the country’s biggest shisha lounges in London’s Edgware Road.
With neon strip lights, a 24-hour license and a vast cinema screen playing Lebanese pop videos, Shishawi is the mother-ship of shisha cafes. There I met the charismatic leader of the campaign, Ibrahim Nour.
Nour, a former lawyer, bypassed the fruity shisha flavours and ordered a stronger, traditional pipe – one with less scent and more tobacco.
“Of course I have a bigger moustache, so to maintain it you have to smoke the tougher one,” he joked.
“If you look at the impact of taking the shisha out of this culture, you’re talking about disrupting and destroying the whole pattern of community activity.”
He believes the government didn’t consult adequately with the shisha-smoking community, but ministers say they had time to respond as part of the national consultation. And the decision is based on advice from the World Health Organisation, which insists shisha can be as damaging as other forms of smoking.
Despite being a recent addition to British culture, shisha has a long history. Many believe that it originated in India (known there as “hookah”) about a thousand years ago, when more often the shisha pipe was used to smoke opium rather than tobacco.
It is only over the last few hundred years that shisha has become strongly associated with the Arab and Muslim world, which mainly uses flavoured tobacco and is usually smoked by men with a cup of tea.
In the West, that culture has morphed into a liberal face of a Muslim youth culture. Shisha smokers range from groups of teenagers dressed to go dancing, to women wearing the full veil.
The government’s argument that it cannot allow a minority group to damage its health while the majority remains protected, has some Muslim support.
Dr Azzam Tamimi, an Islamist campaigner said, on a recent visit to Shishawi cafe: “I am one of those who believe it is forbidden in Islam to smoke, because it is forbidden to harm yourself. Maybe this will make young people think of something better to do.”
With the ban in force from next week, the current wrangle may have come too late.
Eighteen British shisha cafes have recently closed and 22 more have handed in notices to their landlords.