Coffee or Tea? Part 1

Just before I started writing this I was sipping on homemade Turkish Coffee (and yes the “C” is capitalized on purpose…because it deserves it) listening to this:

Coffee has a special place in my life.  A warm comforting place that is connected to so many wonderful memories.  Most of them in Seattle in the famous “intellectual” coffeehouses therein. (Yes I called them coffee houses caus they are more than a shop…pretentious?  I think not tea drinker.)   I think most people just connect to the Internet there and look “intellectual” but that is beside the point.  (Because I’ve done that as well)  However, coffee in my psyche does represent a form of intellectual stimulation and deep talks.  Yes that might be due to the very nature of the beast…the buzz that comes with it.  In Seattle, as most of you might know, it rains a lot…I mean A LOT.  Not in torrential downpours like other parts of the country, but more in what we Seatllites deem as a “nauseating drizzle.”  This is the very cause, ladies and gentelmen, for S.A.D. -Seasonal Affective Disorder.  And also the very reason for L.S.- Liquid Sunshine aka coffee in any of its delicious and invigorating forms.  It will pull the limpest and weakest of flowers through to the spring.

In case anyone asked, I believe that Seattle is birthplace of the modern cafe.  There are some euro influences granted but an American coffee house and specifically a Seattle coffee house is very unique in design and feel.  I used to love to frequent the shops around University of Washington with my laptop in hand and try (keyword try) to write a paper there.  I was always distracted by people watching or conversations with friends or a game of backgammon or chess.  There is just something socially healthy about the atmosphere as opposed to, in my own opinion of course, say a bar.  Both forms of liquids have a strange and magnetic pull on the human being for very different reasons obviously.  But I have yet to see two hipsters beating each others heads in with coffee presses and chess pieces…yet.  And I think this has something intrinsically to do with the nature of coffee itself.  Sure you can drink too much.  Sure you can become dependent and suffer mentally and physically.  Once again obviously no where near the effects of abuse of alcohol and the drama it causes in our lives.  Coffee urges us to sit down and think about things.  It pairs well with contemplation and conversation or just sitting and savoring life (and the coffee of course). If it’s all about the caffeine sir or ma’am, then it’s time to slow down…literally.

Seattle Coffee

Of course the coffee shops of the US offer us 57 different drinks with long presumptuous sounding titles like “double half-caf skinny Carmel macciatto extra hot no foam.”  And by no means am I hating on this.  I have indeed ordered my share of crazy sound coffee drinks and loved every sip.  But here in Turkey there is really only one coffee.  I’m not talking about the fraudulent but will do-in-a-pinch Nescafe.  I’m talking about Turkish coffee.  A small cup of (if made right) slowly brewed fine ground coffee with the grains still in the cup after simmering for a decent amount of time over preferably warm coals or a very slow burner.  It takes time and patience to make.  And the time spent with people when drinking it is just as special as the process of making it.  It is not the staple drink of Turkey (to be discussed later)  but on the other hand, it is something special for guests and holidays or even the end of the day with your family.  Despite the amount of caffeine it injects in your body it’s a very relaxing experience that once again leads to wonderful contemplation (or blog writing) or great conversation.  It’s taste is strong and unique and usually toothachingly sweet.  It leaves an impression on you every time you drink it. (Along with an aftertaste…which isn’t always unpleasant)  I have very special memories of traveling from house to house here in Turkey during the Islamic holidays and talking with friends about anything and everything that seems important in the world.  And then not being able to sleep for two nights.

Turkish Coffee

But alas my favorite historical significance and reason for drinking coffee comes from the Sufis of Yemen – the second residence of coffee after it’s home in Ethiopia.  Sufis are merely Muslims who put a large amount of effort into dealing with the vices of the self and paying close attention to the way things are and how they should be followed.  They devote their lives to learning about Allah and His Messengers and  focusing their love towards God.  They stay up late in the night as was the way of the Prophet Muhammed (peace and blessing be upon him,) in prayer, they remember God much in their words and actions (also in the way of Muhammad pbuh) and dedicate their lives to showing people Islam through action and word.  The Sufis of southern Yemen found out that coffee can be a healthy stimulant in keeping them energetic in their practices.

I had the pleasure of learning for a brief time from some of the most dynamic and beautiful Muslims I have ever met in Tarim, Yemen which is nestled in the Hadramaut Valley and is generally free from the political and religious strife of the rest of the country. There is a particular weekly event there on every Thursday night after sundown in which the people fill the prayer hall and sing beautiful and timeless poems about the Prophet (pbuh) and Allah.  During these events you will find coffee served to everyone; thousands of people at times.  A very special and unique coffee which I had never tasted up until then (and I called my self a connoisseur…HA!)  It is coffee mixed with ginger and slow roasted from the husks of the beans and served in small cups with lots of sugar.  There is no such of a thing as a vente in these places and for good reason.  Your head would explode.  But it is so delicious and delicate at the same time.  More than the coffee itself, as mentioned above, is the setting, the atmosphere, and the company.  It only adds to a spiritual experience.  It doesn’t take you out of your body and allow you to travel through time and space.  It doesn’t make you speak in tongues.  However what It does do is allow you to feel very human, with needs and desires and tastes.  It allows you to enjoy them and appreciate them. It heightens the awareness to a sustainable level without the mind losing grips on reality.

Yemeni Coffee

So as I drank my Turkish coffee and listened to the beautiful nasheed (spiritual hymn) above, I was taken to a place where I remembered the sights and smells of Seattle and all of my friends there, I savored the beauty of the Turkish styling of the drink and was reminded of the beauty of creation through the singing which reminded me of ginger coffee in the desert of Yemen.  I don’t know many drinks that can do that for me.

This is my argument for coffee.

Tea be continued (ha ha get it!!??  waa waa)

The Good Foot

Al Ghazali's magnum opus-ihya ulum adeen

As this blog will most likely end up being about what ever is on my mind at the time, I figured that we should start off on the good foot and discuss something edifying and enlightening.  It’s not so much something I want to discuss but someone.  That someone is my favorite theologian, philosopher (or anti-philosopher), all around scholar of all the Islamic sciences and most important to me spiritual wayfarer.  This person could be none other than Imam Al Ghazali whose collection of writings, and once again most importantly, his application of them in his life, changed the way many of us view Islam and helped develop and preserve the science of purifying the heart and rectifying it from worldly conditioning.

I don’t really consider my self qualified to speak about Imam Al Ghazali’s achievements and his life so I will share the video of Sheikh Hamza Yusuf giving a talk about Al Ghazali which moved me to tears on at least two accounts.

Sheikh Hamza brought up some obviously important points about Al Ghazali and his lessons. Two of them being:

  1. That most of us are spiritually “asleep at the wheel” because we’ve gotten use to driving 🙂 and that presence of the moment is hard to achieve and maintain in these times but is absolutely necessary.  I personally live my life by this credo and truly believe that in this world, the moment is the only thing that we actually “have.”  Although, I am a long way from manifesting this into action.  Its to easy to sound good.
  2. That we are responsible for doing the work in this life.  Imam Al Ghazali reached a point in his life where he was the top Islamic Scholar of his day and perhaps in the world depending on who you ask.  Sheikh Hamza mentions that Al Ghazali knew literally everything there was to know from a book perspective in his time. He had mastered all the sciences.  He had become the top sought after Scholar/Intellectual and then…he lost his ability to speak.  After delving deeper within himself he realized that he had been relying on his self the entire time.  Although Islam often reminds us that trust is Allah’s alone, and even though he was a scholar of such knowledge, he had internalized through losing the power of the tongue that he must completely trust in Allah and gave everything up in order to free his heart from the vices that exist in all of us.  And once we realize this it is only us who can walk the path.

On the first note, I can’t help but realize how things like video games, movies, TV or at least programs and films that don’t remind us of our place in creation, dull our hearts and make us really unaware of our surroundings.  It’s funny because we always feel as if we are more connected when we are “plugged in” some how, but most of us and this definitely includes me, have a big problem if we don’t have these things at our ready disposal.  We become bored and sometimes even anxious.  personally I’m addicted to the computer…facecrack and the like.  In the video Shiekh Hamza tells about a touching moment where he once told a woman in the Mauritanian desert the names of his family and thought nothing of it after that.  10 years later she asked how each one of his family members were doing…by name.  10 years folks.  To be honest I might forget your name in 10 minuets or shamefully maybe even 10 seconds.  That is presence and Al Ghazali argues that it comes from constantly being aware of and remembering God.

If you have other thoughts about the video I’d love to hear them.  I know this first one is a bit heavy but I spent my morning watching this and then thinking deeply about what was said so I guess it is only right to write it down in the evening.