The myth and reality about Shisha (hookah): A Harmless fun or A Harmful Sin?


Globalization has given way to all forms of socio-cultural and economic interactions. It has woven together different cultures and ideas from around the world. One of such socio-cultural interactions is the vice called Shisha smoking. Its evil has spread amongst us like wild fire. From the West to the East, it is a slow poison that has permeated the societies, even among the Muslims. In fact, the inculturation crept upon us so subtly that no one really thinks it’s bad. And it has blinded individuals who partake in this new fad to believe that its use isn’t harmful. This evil, this menace, this new fad that I am talking about, this evil of smoking Hookah (also called sheesha, nargeela, argila, ghalyan, as well as hubbly-bubbly) has become insidious. Nowadays, hookah bars and cafes have popped up everywhere, fueled by the growing popularity of hookah smoking among teens and young adults.

Hookah…evil??? But I thought it was harmless….one might say. One contributing factor towards the soaring popularity of the Hookah among the younger generation is the common misconception that because the tobacco passes through water, smoking Hookah is significantly less harmful than smoking cigarettes. A typical online Hookah wholesaler advertises the low-tobacco mixtures and misleadingly describes it as “a special blend of fresh, dark leaves, fruit pulp, honey or molasses, and glycerin. The Shisha is available in a wide variety of flavors, including double apple, strawberry, melon, pineapple, vanilla, pistachio, and rose. This blend contains only 0.5% nicotine and no tar.” Harmless? The device has found its way onto campuses, where student-smokers take delight in using it. To them, it is bye-bye to cigarette, and welcome to hookah. I notice this trend among us any where we go now, peeps feel smoking Shisha makes them big boy/girl.

 What is Shisha?

According to the English Oxford Dictionary, shisha is a pipe with a long flexible tube which draws smoke through water. It is an oriental tobacco pipe with a long flexible tube connected to a container where the smoke is cooled by passing through water. It comes in various types of flavors, ranging from mango, apple, kiwi, mint, guava and coca cola among others. Shisha was originally invented from India in the 15th century and gained most popularity in the Arab world. It is traditionally used for smoking tobacco which is often flavored. Shisha was introduced through Lagos State, when it was still the bustling capital of Nigeria, hosting foreigners, from far and near. At the time, these foreigners were swarming the state for business and unconsciously introducing their cultures and social habits to the natives. The use of shisha has now migrated to many parts of the country and is most common in the northern parts. Wood, coal, or charcoal is burned in the shisha pipe to heat the tobacco and create the smoke because the fruit syrup or sugar makes the tobacco damp. Shisha is often soaked in molasses or honey and mixed with fruit, but it still contains cancer causing chemicals and nicotine. Shisha is made up of four sectional parts; there is a base that is in some measure filled with water, a bowl that holds the tobacco and a hose together with the pipe used for inhaling the smoked.

Let’s see how “harmless” hookah is. Let the facts speak for themselves. Important ideas that will be discussed in the following paragraphs include: social acceptability due to the café and restaurant culture, developments in mass communication and social media, and lack of waterpipe-specific policy and regulations. These ideas would be useful in understanding the reasons why the use of shisha has gained unprecedented prominence.

What science says about hookah?

Mayo Clinic research says: “Although many believe that the water in the hookah filters out all the “bad stuff” in the tobacco smoke, this isn’t true. According to a recent World Health Organization (WHO) advisory, a typical one-hour session of hookah smoking exposes the user to 100 to 200 times the volume of smoke inhaled from a single cigarette. Even after passing through the water, the tobacco smoke produced still contains high levels of toxic compounds, including carbon monoxide, heavy metals and cancer-causing chemicals (carcinogens). “Hookah smoking also delivers significant levels of nicotine (about 70 times more) — the very addictive substance in tobacco. According to a Pulmonologist, Edward Rosenow, M.D., at Mayo Clinic,“One single session (45-minutes) of Hookah smoking will result in the smoker breathing in 100 times more smoke than regular smoking.” The estimated findings go on to show that, on average, a smoker will inhale half a litre of smoke per cigarette, while a shisha smoker can take in anything from just under a sixth of a litre to a litre of smoke per inhale (source: World Health Organization)

“Contrary to what many beginning users may think, hookah tobacco use carries many of the same risks as cigarette smoking, including being linked to lung cancer and other lung diseases”, observed John L. Kirkwood, President and CEO of the American Lung Association. Similarly, the American Lung Association states, “Links have been found between water-pipe (hookah) usage and oral, lung and bladder cancer, in addition to heart disease and clogged arteries.” Corroborating the earlier stated sources, the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics notes that, “the water moisture induced by the hookah makes the smoke less irritating and may give a false sense of security and reduce concerns about true health effects.” Again, the Journal of Periodontology submits, “water pipes (hookah) smokers were five times more likely than non-smokers to show signs of gum disease. People who smoked water pipes had five times the risk of lung cancer as non-smokers.”

The spread of communicable diseases is related to the sharing of pipe; saliva passed on from one infected individual to a non-infected individual through an unwashed mouth piece can spread common illness and fluincluting cold virus. Shisha is just a different way of smoking cigarette; only that it is even more damaging than cigarettes. The World Health Organization (WHO) regional office in Cairo estimates that 17 percent of tuberculosis cases in the eastern Mediterranean are attributable to the smoking of water pipes. Na’uzubillah! Cancer of the mouth, lung and bladder…tuberculosis, heart disease, lung disease, gum disease….exposure to toxic compounds like heavy metals, nicotine, tar, arsenic….you name it.

Is there any more evidence one needs to know that smoking hookah is bad for you?

What our Sharia says about Hookah?

1. It’s harmful to yourself:

All these harmful materials collect in the person’s body over time, resulting in a gradual killing of the organs and tissues. These diseases may not appear all at once, but the one who smokes is most likely to suffer from some of them, and his suffering increases, as he grows older. And anything that causes harm to one’s body or to others is haram in Islam.

Allah says: “Do not kill yourself, Allah is Merciful unto you.” (Surat al-Nisa :29)

O ye who believe! Eat not up your property among yourselves in vanities: But let there be amongst you traffic and trade by mutual goodwill; nor kill (or destroy) yourselves; for verily God hath been to you Most Merciful!

“…make not your own hands contribute to your destruction. ..” (Surah al-Baqarah:195)

“And spend of your substance in the cause of God, and make not your own hands contribute to (your) destruction; but do good; for God loveth those who do good.”  (Surah al-Baqarah:195)

The Prophet (Sal Allaahu Alaiyhi wa sallam) said: “There should be neither harming nor reciprocating harm.” (Ahmed, Ibn Majah-saheeh by Albaani)

 2. It is a poison:

Don’t you see that it is a kind of slow poison with which a person kills himself? The statistics show that over 3 million people worldwide die from smoking-related causes each year.

“Whomsoever consumes poison, thereby killing himself, then he will be consuming his poison forever in the fire of Hell and he will abide in it permanently and eternally.” (Bukhaari, Muslim)

 3. It is suicide:

Knowing fully well the harmful effects of hookah, if someone still smokes it, he will be guilty of committing suicide.

“Whoever kills himself with something in this world will be punished with it on the Day of Resurrection.” (Bukhaari, Muslim) 

  1. It is a waste of money and extravagance:

In Islam, extravagance includes spending on something haram. The money that one spends on hookah is therefore a form of extravagance.

“… and do not be extravagant wasters. Those who are extravagant are kinsmen of Satan.” (Surat Al-Israil 17:26-27)

“And render to the kindred their due rights, as (also) to those in want, and to the wayfarer: But squander not (your wealth) in the manner of a spendthrift. Verily spendthrifts are brothers of the Evil Ones; and the Evil One is to his Lord (himself) ungrateful.” (Surat Al-Israil 17:26-27)

5.You will have to answer to Allaah for this:

The Prophet (Sal Allaahu Alaiyhi wa sallam) said: Your body and life have a right over you: Allah Subhaanahu wa Taala has given you this life and this body as an Amanah to you. You are supposed to take care of it and protect it from harm and haram.

What will you say to Allah when He asks you about it? The Prophet (Sal Allaahu Alaiyhi wa sallam) said: “Your body has a right on you.”

God doth wish to Turn to you, but the wish of those who follow their lusts is that ye should turn away (from Him), far, far away.

“Allaah wants to let you into His Mercy, whereas those who follow the desires want you to drift far away (from the right path).” (Surah an-Nisaa:27)

6. Don’t smoke it and don’t let people smoke it:

It is not only haram for someone to smoke hookah himself, rather it is equally haram to offer it to people, to sell it, buy it, or promote it in any way.

“Help you one another in Al­-Birr and At­-Taqwa (virtue, righteousness and piety); but do not help one another in sin and transgression. And fear Allah. Verily, Allah is Severe in punishment.” (Surah Maidah:2)

7. Do not even sit with those who smoke, even if you don’t smoke yourself:

And if you keep company with those who do smoke, even if you yourself don’t, or even sit with the people who are smoking it, then you are still counted amongst them.

Allah warns us:
“And it has already been revealed to you in the Book (this Quran) that when you hear the Verses of Allah being denied and mocked at, then sit not with them, until they engage in a talk other than that; (but if you stayed with them) certainly in that case you would be one of them. Surely, Allah will collect the hypocrites and disbelievers all together in Hell” [al-Nisaa 4:140]

In the Friday sermon of December 20th, 2013 on “Self Reformation: Breaking Bad Habits”, the Huzoor gave a discourse on further six causes of impediment in reformation of practice with reference to a sermon of Hazrat Khalifatul Masih II (may Allah be pleased with him). He said, “ The fourth impediment to reformation of practice is the correlation between habit and practice. Habit can weaken one’s practices especially if governance is carried out without religious underpinning. Unfortunately the acts that Islam considers as immoral are being practiced in the Muslim world in spite of Muslim governments and in the non-Muslim world certain matters which demand reformation are not considered immoral. The government of a country has a role to play in reformation of practice where religion and government define reformation of practices in the same way. In such situations habits can be broken because of rules and regulations but places where the law does not lend a hand in reformation of practices, weaknesses of practice can become a toxin for the society.”

He continued, “As we see many weaknesses of practice in the developed world which are now spreading everywhere because of the electronic media. Those who are brought up in this environment, being a part of this milieu, habitually adopt some of its weaknesses. Young men and women are unconsciously inclined to these weaknesses and once habits are formed it becomes difficult to shake them off. By way of example those who habitually indulge in intoxication find it very hard to stop. A person can make the sacrifice of accepting One God instead of three and it will never be that having accepted One God, one fine day he will think about three gods. However, a person dependant on intoxication will certainly have withdrawal symptoms. He can give up a life-long creed but giving up a habit of few months or years makes him restless. Hazrat Musleh Maud (may Allah be pleased with him) related that he had an atheistic older uncle who smoked hookah all day. When people who had the habit of smoking hookah came to see the Promised Messiah (on whom be peace) they would go to the older uncle afterwards to enjoy smoking. They had to put up with his nonsensical talk caused by the stimulant. Although people would visit him to smoke hookah, they had to endure hostile words against Islam and Ahmadiyyat. One day an Ahmadi came out of his place deploring himself and said that due to his dependence on hookah he had to listen to things he would never tolerate otherwise. Sometimes habit can disgrace you.”

On the secular level, it is hard to identify all the factors responsible for the global spread of an addictive behavior such as shisha, waterpipe smoking. An addictive behavior tends to spread gradually in the society, unless it is countered by effective policies and regulations. The contributing factors like the introduction of flavored tobacco, social acceptability due to the café and restaurant culture, developments in mass communication, and social media and lack of waterpipe-specific policy and regulations need to be addressed

We need to realize that smoking is haram, whether it is hookah, cigarettes or anything else. It is bad, not just for one’s health, but also for other worldly matters and much worse for the Akhirah. It is our duty to educate ourselves and our close and distant associates; and teach everyone to stay away from it. It is equally important to help those addicted to it to get help. May Allah guide us and enable us to stay on the right path and do only those acts that are pleasing to Him.


Olagunju Abbas