Coffee — The Wine of Islam
Most modern coffee-drinkers are probably unaware of coffee's heritage in the Sufi orders of Southern Arabia. Members of the Shadhiliyya order are said to have spread coffee-drinking throughout the Islamic world sometime between the 13th and 15th centuries CE. A Shadhiliyya shaikh was introduced to coffee-drinking in Ethiopia, where the native highland bush, its fruit and the beverage made from it were known as bun. It is possible, though uncertain, that this Sufi was Abu'l Hasan 'Ali ibn Umar, who resided for a time at the court of Sadaddin II, a sultan of Southern Ethiopia. 'Ali ibn Umar subsequently returned to the Yemen with the knowledge that the berries were not only edible, but promoted wakefulness. To this day the shaikh is regarded as the patron saint of coffee-growers, coffee-house proprietors and coffee-drinkers, and in Algeria coffee is sometimes called shadhiliyye in his honor.
The beverage became known as qahwa — a term formerly applied to wine — and ultimately, to Europeans, as "The Wine of Islam." It became popular among the Sufis to boil up the grounds and drink the brew to help them stay awake during their night dhikr. (Roasting the beans was a later improvement developed by the Persians.)
The Shadhili Abu Bakr ibn Abd'Allah al-'Aydarus was impressed enough by its effects that he composed a qasida (poem) in honor of the drink. Coffee-drinkers even coined their own term for the euphoria it produced — marqaha. The mystic and theologian Shaikh ibn Isma'il Ba Alawi of Al-Shihr stated that the use of coffee, when imbibed with prayerful intent and devotion, could lead to the experience of qahwa ma'nawiyya ("the ideal qahwa") and qahwat al-Sufiyya, interchangeable terms defined as "the enjoyment which the people of God feel in beholding the hidden mysteries and attaining the wonderful disclosures and the great revelations."
The Shadiliyya dervishes were active in the world; it is said that Shaikh Abul Hasan ash-Shadhili, the founder of the order, was reluctant to take on a student who did not already have a profession. It soon became apparent that coffee's benefits could be extended to the workday and the local economy as well. The southern Arabian climate was ideal for coffee cultivation, and the ports of Yemen, particularly the port of Mocha, became the world's primary exporters of coffee.
Coffee's use spread to Mecca, where, according to an early Arab historian,
it was drunk in the Sacred Mosque itself, so that there was scarcely a dhikr or mawlid where coffee was not present.
...to be continued...
from Serving the Guest: A Sufi Cookbook