Despite their majority Muslim population, Somalis and Arabs provide the largest market for khat in the world, writes Mohammed Kahiye from Nairobi.
My friend Hussein Ali spends at least one thousand Kenyan shillings, approximately 12 dollars every day in buying khat excluding the catalyst of “marqan,” a Somali name for a hallucinating substance for the chewing of the drug.
If you multiply this amount over 12 months you will get a rough calculation of 4,320 dollars which is around 367,200 Kenyan shillings and believe it or not, with this amount of savings you can make it to Hajj plus Umrah at least once if not twice.
But the only simple answer you get from most chewers whenever you explain to them the Islamic opinion of chewing khat is: “Give me a verse in the holy Qur’an that mentions that khat is haram”. They challenge you from this ignorant point of view.
This plant which is considered as “gold” by eastern Kenyan farmers has for the last few days resulted into a heated debate in the Kenyan parliament following the British government’s decision to ban the plant due to its health hazard to its citizens.
Legislators from eastern Kenya argued that banning khat is a serious economic violation of the horn of Africa’s diplomatic ties with its former colonizer Britain.
Amazingly, in the same Kenyan parliamentary chambers were Muslim politicians (mostly Somalis) from the north-eastern part of the country, but paradoxically the largest exporters of khat in the eastern and central African region.
Despite being among the largest and poorest province in Kenya, one may think it would be the richest due to billions of dollars it generates to the khat industry annually, without forgetting the number of Muslim youth who drop out of school to join the booming business.
One can find all the health hazard associated characteristics of khat in north eastern Kenya. For example the number of mentally-ill population in the region is more compared to other parts of the country, this is evident from a Somali saying “Hadii ad walantahay, wajeer ad”, which means – if you are mentally sick go to wajir which is a town in north eastern Kenya.
In an education report recently released for north eastern Kenya, the area lagged behind the rest of the country, and neither political leaders nor the government has ever come up with a tangible idea to change the mindset of the upcoming young population.
The only time concerned government officials pay a visit to the region is during the electioneering period in which they make empty promises until the next general election.
It is true that nowhere in the holy Qur’an or the hadiths of Prophet Muhammad (saw) has the word “khat” or “miraa” been specifically mentioned, but that does not make it halal. There are several reasons that make khat not just haram but a dangerous drug to human life and as per the hadith of Muhammad (saw) anything that causes more harm than good is haram, and khat would fall under this category.
Khat affects user’s physical health, as it destroys molars, causes hemorrhoids, harms the stomach, decreases the appetite, and damages the kidneys. It is also a big waste of money and for those reasons along with many others, Sunni scholars (with exception of Yemeni scholars) have unanimously prohibited the usage of khat.
During the International Conference for Combating Intoxicants, Narcotics, and Smoking held in Madinah years ago under the sponsorship of the Islamic University, khat was categorized under narcotics.
Sheikhs and judges from Yemen – which is the only Arab country that grows the plant – protested against the consensus decision of the conference, saying that the conferees were unfamiliar with the nature of khat, that they exaggerated in their judgment, and that they were strict in a matter not prohibited in either the Qur’an or the Sunnah. Many Yemenis have been taking it for centuries, including scholars and jurists.
Other Muslim dominated countries that provide a significant market for khat include Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan and Qatar for the significant number of Somalis and Arabs who use it.