When the ban on smoking tobacco in public places came into effect in 2007 in many parts of the world, the traditional way of shisha (water pipe) smoking was included in the ban. This surprised many shisha users, as there is an age-old belief that shisha is a ‘safe’ way of smoking. In a report published by the World Health Organization (WHO), shisha smokers may inhale as much smoke in one session as given off by a hundred cigarettes. So, shisha smokers and those sitting around them, are exposed to the same risks as other forms of smoking.

Its other names include the hubbly-bubbly, narghile or the hookah, depending which part of the world it is used in. It is used all over Asia and Africa. As shisha smoking is a social activity, in many villages it is done together as a family, where children are also encouraged to join in. In Arab culture, offering the shisha to a guest is a sign of respect. In the past twenty years, it has become a popular feature of Arab cafés worldwide, as it is associated with Arab culture.

It is thought that the shisha came about in the seventeenth century in India. Emperor Akbar’s Hakim is said to have invented the shisha. The idea was that when smoke passed through the shisha, all of the harmful qualities would be removed. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Contrary to popular belief, even nicotine does not get absorbed in water and gets passed on to the smoker. (Nicotine is a component of tobacco, which is associated with addiction to smoking).

The Shisha apparatus has four main parts to it. The head is where the tobacco is placed. Usually charcoal is used to light the tobacco. Smoke then passes through the body, bubbling into the bowl of water and coming out through the hose to the smoker.

The flavoured tobacco tends to contain about 80 to 85% fruit and 10-15% tobacco. One session usually lasts for about 45 minutes. The ingredients are packed in aluminum foil. Depending on its quality, aluminum foil can react with burning charcoal to give off aluminum fumes, which can cause cancer.

When smoke passes through water, its humidity increases – thus it tends to stay in the lungs for a longer time. This increases the exposure to tobacco pollutants. The main pollutants are tar and carbon monoxide (CO).

According to a report published by the French Anti-Tobacco Agency (as reported in AFP), smoking shisha gives off as much carbon monoxide as 15 to 52 cigarettes, and as much tar as 27 to 102 cigarettes. Even minimal exposure to cigarettes is harmful. Carbon monoxide is poisonous to the red blood cells of the body. This has an effect on the amount of oxygen reaching the vital organs of the body.

Tar is associated with lung cancer. Although a lot more research on the effects of shisha smoking is needed, initial findings in Saudi Arabia and Egypt point toward a link between shisha smoking and different types of cancer.

In a typical shisha session in a café or some other sort of gathering, the shisha gets passed around, so the mouthpiece is shared. This can lead to communicable diseases like Hepatitis C and other viral infections.

Tobacco use will kill one billion people in the twenty-first century, if the current smoking trends continue. In addition to the fact that the smoking habit is unhealthy for the smoker, it is also harmful to other people. Shisha has been discovered to be a major source of pollution in closed and public areas like Shisha Cafes. This is the reason why many countries are observing the ban on public smoking.

Another problem associated with smoking any form of tobacco is that it can be expensive. This is especially true about shisha. Expensive and addictive habits can have a negative impact on a person’s personality and lifestyle. Things can get out of hand and disrupt everyday lives. It can also lead to other more destructive habits.

Looking at the detrimental nature of smoking tobacco, we as Muslims should strictly discourage smoking. Although there is no direct reference in the Quran and Hadeeth against smoking, we have been taught in our religion that we should not harm others in any way. Smoking in any form is regarded as a nuisance by non-smokers.

Our religion asks us to live in a responsible way. This means that a Muslim should care about the use of time and resources – to ensure that he/she does not waste it. The time and money spent on smoking a shisha could be utilized in a more rewarding way.

One of the greatest gifts from Allah (swt) is our health. We should be thankful for this blessing and avoid using things that would put it in jeopardy. The evils of tobacco were unknown almost four centuries ago when Hakim Abul Fath invented the shisha. With the knowledge available about shisha smoking today, it is important that we forgo it.