Coffee was once Ḥarām?
Dispelling Popular Myths regarding a Nuanced Legal Issue
This paper attempts to address many misconceptions regarding the coffee controversy, which engulfed the Muslim world in the tenth/sixteenth century. It argues that rather than there simply being an oppositional binary of scholars permitting or forbidding coffee, in fact, a number of other positions can actually be discerned in the legal debate, namely that of recommendation and disapproval. Furthermore, it argues that besides holding the balance of power insofar as being the majority position, jurists who deemed coffee to be a permissible substance resorted to a number of epistemically powerful indicators to refute the prohibitionists, such as experimentation and the testimony of numerous individuals that the drink did not intoxicate or bring about any adverse side effects. In addition, by referring to some important but oft-ignored conventions pertaining to fatwās, the author argues that not all scholars typically labeled as being prohibitionists of coffee may have deemed the drink to be forbidden. Instead, many of them simply based their answers exclusively on the information provided to them by the questioner, in accordance with the legal precept that “the jurisconsult is the prisoner of the questioner.” This paper is unique in its depth and comprehensiveness as it studies all the existing scholarly views on coffee. Furthermore, it provides a detailed study of the proceedings of the Meccan Assembly. Regarding the assembly, I argue that the attending jurists actually disagreed on the drink’s ruling and that the different forms of evidence provided by the prohibitionists are not persuasive from a legal viewpoint.
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