Crossing the Boundaries: Hashish Intoxication in Pre-modern Arabic Literature and Law

In: Quaderni di Studi Arabi
Danilo Marino Independent researcher in Arabic language and literature Muscat Oman

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Despite the legal condemnation of mind-altering substances crystallized in formulas such as “everything that intoxicates is like ḫamr and ḫamr is illegal (ḥarām)”, intoxicants are largely represented in the Arabic literary corpus. Wine in particular is even the central topic of the ḫamriyya, a poetic genre describing the liquor and its effects that flourished in the early-Abbasid era. From the Mamlūk period (1250–1517) onward, other non-fermented stimulants based on hemp, banǧ, opium etc. were also included in the poetic imaginary, without nevertheless rising to the status of a literary genre. In other words, while intoxication (sukr) as a literary motif did not cross the boundaries of the moral and socially acceptable, its function as transition was instead meant in the fictional text to mark an emotional shift and negotiate between imagination and reality.

In this article, I propose to work on hashish intoxication as a liminal stage, where the boundaries between rational and irrational, pleasure and pain, conventional beauty and unattractiveness are often blurred. To do so, I will first briefly explore the centrality of the ʿaql in Muslim thought and how sukr not only was considered a threat to the normal functioning of the mind, but also a danger to the divine order. Subsequently, I will focus on hashish and how it challenged the traditional views on intoxication. The central part of the paper will approach hashish consumption as a literary motif. I will extract poems and anecdotes describing the ambiguous psycho-physical experience of hashish from the Rāḥat al-arwāḥ fī al-ḥašīš wa-l-rāḥ of al-Badrī (d. 894/1488), the most comprehensive anthology of texts on hashish within Arabic tradition.

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