Ask Ali: Is smoking haram? It's a rather hazy subject

Dear Ali: The habit of smoking medwakh pipes has me confused. Isn’t it forbidden, or haram, to harm yourself? So why do some Muslims do it? KG, Abu Dhabi Dear KG: In Islam, it’s believed that God advised not to throw our souls – meaning ourselves – into a harmful situation. This also covers committing […]

Dear Ali: The habit of smoking medwakh pipes has me confused. Isn’t it forbidden, or haram, to harm yourself? So why do some Muslims do it? KG, Abu Dhabi

Dear KG: In Islam, it’s believed that God advised not to throw our souls – meaning ourselves – into a harmful situation. This also covers committing suicide, or killing yourself slowly, such as smoking.

However, in sharia law, there’s no one clear meaning, so it’s not certain if smoking is considered “haram”, like alcohol, sex before marriage or eating pork, subjects that are clearly mentioned as forbidden, or haram, in the Quran. There’s no clear sentence that says medwakh or smoking is haram, which gives room for many Muslims to debate it and argue the point.

This habit was embraced by Bedouins. In the beginning, tobacco was hard to obtain, so it was considered prestigious, and was only available to the leaders and rich people of that time. When it became more affordable, smoking the pipe became part of the lifestyle. Sadly, many consider it related to our culture similar to shisha and think it’s an Arab-originated pipe, but it’s not.

It’s not only the smoking itself but the whole process that’s enjoyed: choosing the pipe, filling it with tobacco, lighting and smoking it, which became a skilful art. The strength of the tobacco means you can’t smoke medwakh for a long period. One inhalation of the smoke is enough to feel its effect. It takes much less time to smoke, compared to cigarettes, but it’s as bad for your health as any other smoking pipe or product.

In some societies and cultures in Arabia, smoking isn’t accepted or appreciated. Back in the day, you wouldn’t do it publicly, especially in front of your parents, respected neighbours or friends.

I believe our Government is on the right track in trying to reduce these habits.

Dear Ali: I read in one of your previous articles that tattoos are considered unlawful in Islam. I’m coming to the UAE soon for work, and have tattoos myself, so I wanted to know how people in your country treat those with tattoos? DP, United States

Dear DP: Yes, it’s true, tattoos are considered taboo and frowned on in our religion. Many Muslims believe it’s haram, and therefore not appreciated by society. Having said that, it doesn’t mean that people will show you their disapproval openly or say anything to you regarding your tattoos. No one has the right to treat you badly because of that, but you must make sure the tattoo isn’t offensive or on your face or a visible area of your body.

I understand that in your culture having a tattoo isn’t a bad thing, but rather a way to express yourself. Here, even if someone has a tattoo, it remains covered and not exposed for everyone to see. Even some Muslims have tattoos, but usually they will cover them.

So if you can cover your tattoo, it won’t offend anyone and you won’t receive negative comments. If covering isn’t possible, however, don’t worry. We are tolerant and would understand your situation. But double-check with your employer, because there are some companies, especially in the field of customer service, that are strict about the “look” of their staff, and if your tattoo is too big and visible, it may affect your career.

Ali Al Saloom is a cultural adviser and public speaker from the UAE. Follow @AskAli on Twitter, and visit www.ask-ali.com to ask him a question.

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