Today, Hashish is wildly popular in the Middle East, even in places where its criminalization calls for capital punishment, like in Saudi Arabia, whose government beheaded 2 pairs of hashish-smuggling brothers this summer. Usage hasn’t always been so monitored, and since its introduction 2 centuries after the death of the prophet Muhammad, it has been used for reasons ranging from medical and religious, to pure entertainment.
The fact that Hashish was introduced 200 years after the Koran was written could explain why it isn’t an outlawed substance for ingestion and intoxication. Fermented beverages like wine and beer however, are blatantly outlawed. Historically, caliphates interested in curbing substance use would typically focus on alcohol. However, cannabis use was not necessarily “appreciated.” Accounts point to hashish being the drug of choice for the less cultured people of a lower class, perhaps due to its relative inexpensiveness. Most definitely, its use was looked down upon by the ruling class.
Yet early physicians swear by the substance. Muslim doctors ended up finding more medicinal uses for cannabis than the greek texts they poured over, and attempted to emulate. The respected Physician al Razi physician al-Razi (865-925) refers to using hemp leaves as treatment for ear aches, for dandruff and for dissolving flatulence. There is also evidence that early muslim physicians used cannabis to treat asthma, gonorrhea, constipation, and as an antidote for poisoning. Other Arab physicians reported that hashish could be used to stimulate hunger and curve sexual desire over a period of time.
Some early Sufis also used the drug, but for religious means. They considered the gentle herb as a way to an emotional peace and an openness to Allah. Those who introduced it into their Muslim practices helped with its eventual popularity. However, most Sufism is concerned with asceticism, or the denial of self-sensations. All the great sufi masters practice a drug-free life as a way to experience the mysticism.
Hashish has been used for medicine, for entertainment, and for inspiring self-awareness in a religious context. It has been part of Muslim counter-culture for centuries, and today is still very much a part of the counter-culture. Only recently has it become something somewhat socially acceptable to do in public, in small venues, behind closed doors. Even then, the practice itself is oftentimes illegal, like in Egypt, though the police do turn the other way.