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Culture is a determinant of the ways in which people behave and relate to one another. Besides cultural practices which define the way in which people conduct themselves, there are objects which determine the culture of particular peoples around the world. These objects have a long history in the culture. They also carry specific meanings as to why people have them in the first place. While some cultural objects are ceremonial in nature and are only used during special occasions, others are of everyday application used by people in their daily activities. Besides that fact, there are objects that are meant to be used by people of leadership roles such as chiefs, sultans, and priests. These include certain types of head gear and hand-held items such as fly whisks and staffs. This paper focuses on the medwakh which is a smoking pipe common in the Islamic culture and its significance to the people who use it and those who belong to the Islamic culture. It should be known that the paper is focused on what message the medwakh sends to those from inside and outside the Islamic culture.
Medwakh, also pronounced midwakh,- is a smoking pipe of Arabian origin and popular in Al Ain, Abu Dhabi, and the United Arab Emirates. In it a sifted version of Iranian tobacco called dokha is smoked. The dokha is mixed with different herbs and aromatic leafs to add flavor to the mixture. In comparison to the smoke pipes in the Western cultures, the bowl holding the tobacco in the medwakh is a little smaller. To fill it, the medwakh part with the bowl is dipped into a container with dokha flakes. People who use the medwakh may have different tastes as to the materials and the size of the pipe they would like to have. The typical materials to use include glass, plastic, silver, gold, wood, steel, bone, marble, and base metals as per the amount of money and preferences the buyer has. The medwakh can be made to resemble the dromedary camel. The people who make their pipes in this shape often have the symbol that is commonly referred to as the "ship of the desert." Modern medwakhs are crafted with the possibility to split them to allow the ease of cleaning. There are those who make their medwakhs with double stems or double bowls according to their intentions.
While the primary purpose for the medwakh is smoking various kinds of tobacco, it can be used for many other intentions. For example, those who embolden their medwakhs with the falcon found on the UAE's coat of arms show their patriotism and respect for the United Arab Emirates and what it represents. The inventors of both the medwakh and the dokha are believed to be the sailors who sailed in the Caspian Sea. Both were favored by them for their small size and ease of cleaning. There was a period in the Middle East when smoking tobacco was outlawed. During that time, the medwakh became handy as people could mix tobacco with other ingredients to disguise its characteristic odor. People could also smoke tobacco and, when faced with the law, throw away the pipes as they were inexpensive and thus easy to replace. Some medwakhs are carried around as a show of the Islamic culture given that no other culture has this item. The only thing that comes close to it is the smoking pipe in the Western cultures. However, Muslims associate the item with their cultural beliefs since it carries a long history of trade and migration with it. Pictures of Western persons with deep attachment to their pipes (Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, and many others) are akin to Muslims with their medwakhs.
The medwakh is a cultural, not racial item. It should be known at this point that Islam is a culture and not race. Many people make a mistake of thinking that Islam is synonymous with brown people with long beards and head turbans in luxurious clothing. However, Islam is a culture that is embraced by black, white, Chinese and people from other societies. Like the kanzu and hijab, the medwakh is among the items most synonymous with the Islamic culture. Given the large number of variations of how the medwakh can be made, people from all corners of the planet embrace it. Nowadays, it has infiltrated other cultures including the Western ones. Although its usage started in the Middle East, the medwakh can now be found as far away as West Africa and Latin America. However, even in West Africa, the medwakh still stands as the symbol of the Islamic culture. Thus, its significance cannot be wiped away given its presence in the hearts and minds of Islams.
Medwakh and Classes
As stated above, medwakh can be made from very many materials according to the requirements of the users. The most commonly used materials are base metals, gold, silver, plastic, wood, bone, and steel. They differ in their prices with gold and diamond being on the high end as wood and plastic occupy the lower end. Sultans, Emirs and other dignitaries in the Islamic culture often order theirs to be made of expensive materials. Other people who can afford the expensive materials also have theirs made of them. Wood, plastic and base metals are often found among people of lower classes. However, these are not common cases as people may buy medvakh without much importance being placed on the materials. They simply purchase them to smoke their dokha. The Islamic culture, unlike other cultures like the Western ones, places little importance on a person's race, ethnicity and color. This is the same reason why items such as the medwakh are not synonymous with a given race in the Islamic culture. In the Islamic culture unlike the Western ones, people from all background contributed immensely to the development of the culture. For this reason, all people are valued equally. It is shaming that the Western cultures discriminate black and other nonwhite people when they play important roles in their development.
Medwakh and Gender
Although smoking is not prohibited for women in the Islamic culture, it is often regarded that it is socially unacceptable for females to smoke especially in public. This aspect, however, is not exclusive to the Islamic culture; rather, it is common in all societies. Women are rarely portrayed as smokers even in liberal cultures such as Western ones. Therefore, it is not common to see females using the medwakh. In essence, medwakh is a male cultural item. However, unlike the head turban for Sikhs in the Indian culture, medwakhs can be seen among women. It should be known that the Islamic culture, unlike popular opinion, values its females as much as other cultures. However, the differences between cultures come about as a result of the differences in the roles played by men and women. In Western societies, for example, men and women often play similar and confusing roles. The Islamic culture considers male-only roles such as those requiring heavy muscles to be reserved for men only. This is not disrespect. Rather, it is an honor. Unlike Western cultures, the Islamic culture can be shared with women. A picture or scene showing up in the West with a lady smoking a pipe is rarely met without eliciting shocked looks.
It can be concluded that the medwakh is an important part of the Islamic culture at this stage. It carries the history of early Islamic traders to the present. As stated above, it is not simply a pipe in which dokha is placed for smoking. Rather, it carries various meanings to different people. There are cases where particular medwakhs are passed down through generations to symbolize a given aspect of a certain family tree. Such medwakhs mean more than tobacco smoking and culture to such people. Besides these aspects, medwakhs stand as a gift of the Islamic culture to the world. In many cases, each culture has something to offer the world. In the case of the medwakh, the world may realize that it is better than the smoking pipe in the Western culture given the former's modernistic approach. It would look quite weird nowadays to be seen with a smoking pipe. However, the simplistic nature of the medwakh draws no surprised looks.
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