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Home Articles Articles al-Shâdhilî and the Story of the Discovery of the Coffee of Yemen

al-Shâdhilî and the Story of the Discovery of the Coffee of Yemen

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The First Mate on the Indian ship said to the Captain: “Go easy on thyself, sir, too much motion will make thee sicker.”

The debilitated Captain answered in a weak voice: “My life will be finished in the time it takes to reach Jiddah.”

The Mate said, “Oh no, sir, I have ordered the ship to change course.”

The Captain said, “Then where are we going?”

The Mate answered, “The nearest harbour to us is the Yemeni town of Mawza‘.”

The First Mate had hardly finished speaking when he heard at the same time knocking on the door, and the Second Mate appeared, saying: “We are now travelling alongside the Yemeni coast, and the watch in the crow’s nest observed a number of huts near the shore.”

The First Mate said, “Then in that case we’re not heading to Mawza‘.  Knowest thou the name of this place?”

His assistant answered, “No sir, the name is not noted on the chart.  These huts were not here when we sailed last year.”

The First Mate said, “That’s odd.  Is this a new village?”

The assistant answered, “It appears to be so.”

The First Mate issued his instructions to anchor the ship near the huts.

Here the Captain spoke up: “Hurry and drop anchor here, so that we can find the medicine for what ails me.”

Finding this strange, the First Mate said: “Medicine? Here? Sir, can we expect to find any medicine in these few huts scattered on the shore?”

The Captain answered firmly, “Wherever man is found, there is found sickness—and medicine.”

The ship anchored not too far from the shore, and the mariners saw a number of men waving their hands in welcome.  As the sailors got into the boats, the inhabitants raced toward them to help them get to the land.  The astonishment of the Mate and the sailors was great when they saw the warmth with which these poor people welcomed them, even though they did not know them.

One of the inhabitants said, “Who are ye, and from whence arrived? And what have ye come here to do?”

The First Mate answered, “We are the sailors of an Indian ship; we were compelled to drop anchor here because our Captain is stricken with a terrible illness. . . He believes that we might find some medicine here.”

One of the men said: “Ye shall find medicine, if Allah wills.  Follow me.”

The mate felt an atmosphere of serenity and faith surrounding him; he looked at the men and said, “Might we know who ye are, and what ye are doing in this remote place?”

The men smiled and said, “We are renunciates; we came here because our preceptor and shaykh, the most learned scholar ‘Ali ibn ‘Umar al-Shâdhilî, decided to settle us in this place that we might devote ourselves exclusively to the worship of Allah.”

The Mate asked, “Where does your preceptor live?”

The man pointed to a solitary hut and said, “There, in that hut.  He awaits you.”

At the door of the hut, Shaykh ‘Alî ibn ‘Umar al-Shâdhilî received the mariners with every hospitality, then admitted them and bade them be seated.  The mariners were impressed by the dignity of the shaykh’s appearance, and by his graciousness and his clear manner of speaking.  He presented them with a hot beverage the like of which they had never tasted before.  They had hardly finished drinking when they felt that their dullness and sea-giddiness had swiftly departed.  The First Mate requested the shaykh to give them some of the beverage that they might offer it to their captain; perhaps it would alleviate the severity of his illness.  The shaykh assured them of the drink and prayed to Allah that it would lessen some of the illness of the captain.

On board the ship, the Captain got the drink and began to feel better that very day.  In the afternoon he was able to come down to the land and visit the shaykh and thank him for his kindness to him and his companions.

The shaykh said, “When thou hast unloaded the merchandise thy ship carries, thou shalt sell it for a good profit, if Allah wills.”

The Captain was impressed by the shaykh’s appearance and faith, and by his counsel, so he unloaded the ship’s cargo.  In the next few days, people came to that place to visit the shaykh; among them were some merchants who had come there from the neighbouring districts on account of the arrival of the ship, and they bought up all of its cargo.

This event occurred in the year 1430.  The ship returned to India, and the Captain and sailors spread the news of the blessed and learned shaykh.  After that, Indian merchant ships began arriving at the place which began expanding as it annexed neighbouring villages, the work of the builders increased, and there were many people from the neighbouring districts.

When Shaykh ‘Alî ibn ‘Umar al-Shâdhilî died, he was buried in the same spot where he had resided.  The inhabitants built a mosque for him.  The place was the town of Mocha (al-Mukhâ), which became famous as the greatest port on the Red Sea for the export of Yemeni coffee.  Coffee houses in Europe, America, and the East were opened and it bore the name “Mocha coffee.”

Coffee in Aden

In the year 1857 ‘Abd al-Qâdir al-Jazâ’irî wrote that Jamâl al-Dîn ibn Sa‘îd was a qâdî in Aden in the middle of the fifteenth century A.D.; while visiting Ethiopia, he was noticing its citizens who had emigrated from Yemen to there, drinking coffee.  One of the times he returned to Aden and his health became bad.  He recalled the drink the citizens had had in Ethiopia, and the vigour they felt after drinking it, so he wrote to one of his friends to send him a quantity of it.  When he got it and drank some, he felt vim and invigoration.  He found that coffee was devoid of the properties of intoxicating drink and narcotics, so he continued to drink it.  The people of Aden imitated their qâdî and became addicted to drinking coffee.

The French traveller and writer La Rocque said that the use of coffee did not spread without opposition from fanatical Muslims who went to extremes in forbidding it.  The ruler of Mecca promulgated a declaration to this effect, which many of the ulama of the holy city corroborated.  However, this prohibition did not last long, and the sultan of Egypt published an edict contradicting the declaration of his deputy in Mecca, ordering the lifting of the ban on the drinking of coffee.

From that time, coffee did not meet with any opposition until the year 1524, when the qâdî of Mecca ordered the coffee houses closed because of the noise that the customers were making.  However, the qâdî who followed him ordered them reopened on the condition that their owners would maintain order.  Once order was established, no other qâdî promulgated any order to close the coffee houses.

From Asâtîr min târîkh al-Yaman (Legends from the history of Yemen) by Luqmân ‘Alî Hamzah (Bayrût: Dâr al-Masîrah, 1986), p. 185-188.


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