One of the restrictions during Ramadan, aside from the obvious food/drink/sexual relations, is smoking. And one of the saddest things I have seen in my life is the group of smokers gathering just outside the mosque, craning their necks to hear the adhan (call to prayer) that signifies the end of the fast, waiting to break their fast not with a date, or a glass of water, but with a cigarette.
Smoking has always been a questionable practice from an Islamic perspective — some scholars deem it to be forbidden because it harms the body, while others find it allowable if distasteful. But you wouldn’t know it from walking down the street in any Muslim-majority country. As the pool of customers for cigarettes dries up in the West, the tobacco industry has targeted the developing world, including the Muslim world. In some of these countries, cigarette smoking among men has reached reached alarming proportions.
Also, it’s not just cigarettes. The Middle East has a long tradition of shisha (or hookah) pipe smoking. With the more explicit prohibition on alcohol, shisha pipes are seen as a lesser evil in the context of social activities. Even today in Western countries, the practice has caught on with young people seeking a cultural alternative to bars and clubs where alcohol is served.
When someone who has abstained from food and drink all day chooses to light up rather than satisfy a primal bodily need, you can be pretty sure that person is facing an addiction. And increasingly in Muslim circles (not just in the West but in predominantly Muslim countries as well), scholars and health activists are encouraging Muslims to use Ramadan as an opportunity to kick the habit for good.
Interestingly, new smoking bans in the West may help make it easier to stick to a Ramadan resolution. In London, a smoking ban enacted in July included the city’s many shisha cafes in Arab neighborhoods (though in Vancouver, Canada, shisha cafes were controversially exempted under a similar ban). And anti-smoking campaigns geared towards Muslims are using Qur’anic texts to kick the guilt up a notch.
But it isn’t just addictions to smoking that Muslims should keep in mind. The fast itself directly curbs compulsive eating — no more coffee and Krispy Kremes before lunch! Addictions to television, video games, and other more sublime intrusions into your daily routine can be curbed during a month which mandates a fresh look at who you are and what is needed to nourish your soul.
As for addictions to the Internet — well, that’s one I still have to work on.