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Religious views on smoking

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Religious views on smoking vary widely. Indigenous peoples of the Americas have traditionally used tobacco for religious purposes, while Abrahamic and other religions have only been introduced to the practice in recent times due to the European colonization of the Americas in the 16th century.

Native Americans

Communal smoking of a sacred tobacco pipe is a common ritual of many Native American tribes, and was considered a sacred part of their religion. Sema, the Anishinaabe word for tobacco, was grown for ceremonial use and considered the ultimate sacred plant since its smoke was believed to carry prayers to the heavens. Smoking was chiefly done after the evening meal, in the sweathouse, and before going to sleep.[1] The tobacco used during these rituals varies widely in potency — the Nicotiana rustica species used in South America, for instance, has up to twice the nicotine content of the common North American N. tabacum. Many Native American tribes operate tobacco stores, including on the Internet, where they are usually exempt from taxes and therefore can sell products cheaper than non-Native American dealers.

Abrahamic religions

With the exception of Mormonism, the Abrahamic religions originated before tobacco smoking was introduced to Europe from the New World. Therefore, these religions do not address it in their foundational teachings; however, modern practitioners have offered interpretations of their faith with regard to smoking.

Christianity

Johann Sebastian Bach was known to enjoy smoking a pipe, and wrote poetry on how doing so enhanced his relationship with God.[2] By the turn of the 19th century, smoking was considered an immoral habit by certain Christian preachers and social reformers. Tobacco was listed, along with drunkenness, gambling, cards, dancing and theatre-going, in J.M. Judy's Questionable Amusements and Worthy Substitutes, a book featuring anti-smoking dialogue which was published in 1904 by the Western Methodist Book Concern of Chicago.

Though there is no official canonical prohibition regarding the use of tobacco, the more traditional among the Eastern Orthodox Churches forbid their clergy or monastics to smoke, and the laity are strongly encouraged to give up this habit, if they are subject to it. One who smokes is considered to be polluting the "Temple of the Holy Spirit" (i.e., the body), which has been sanctified by the reception of the Sacred Mysteries (Sacraments). (The view of the body being the "temple of the Holy Spirit" is also common in Protestant circles, and is quoted as a basis against not only tobacco use, but recreational drugs, eating disorders, and other vices which can be harmful to the body.) Furthermore, the Church teaches, a Christian should lead a life of asceticism and not be subject to any passion. In Orthodox cultures, various derogatory terms have developed to describe smoking, such as "incense of Satan". Father Alexander Lebedeff described the Orthodox approach as follows:

You ask, "Are there canons that speak to the issues of … tobacco?" I would ask you, where are the Canons that forbid use of marijuana or snorting cocaine or downloading pornography from the Internet? Obviously, there are none. Does this mean that your innate Orthodox common sense should not be enough to guide you to oranges an lemons what is healthy and what is not? The Canons should not be considered a compendium of answers to all possible questions. God gave us a mind and a conscience and we should use them to determine what is right and what is wrong, whether or not the particular issue has been addressed in the canons or not. Smoking tobacco is a disgusting, filthy, addictive habit that turns the mouth of the smoker into an ashtray. It not only poisons the body of the smoker but pollutes the air that others around the smoker breathe. It is absolutely incompatible with the dignity of the Orthodox Priesthood, diaconate, or monastic state, whether the Canons specifically address it or not.[3]
The Roman Catholic Church does not condemn smoking per se, but considers excessive smoking to be sinful, as described in the Catechism (CCC 2290):

"The virtue of temperance disposes us to avoid every kind of excess: the abuse of food, alcohol, tobacco, or medicine."

Islam

In the 1890s, Shi'a clerics led a revolt against Western tobacco companies operating in Persia. However, their Islamic tobacco protest was motivated by a concern for what would today be called protectionism or economic justice. More recently, such tobacco fatwa (Islamic legal pronouncements) have been issued due to health concerns.

The holy book of Islam, the Qur'ān, does not specifically prohibit or denounce smoking, but gives behavioral guidance:

  • “Don't throw yourself into danger by your own hands...” (el-Bakara 2/195)
  • “You may eat, drink, but not waste” (el-A‘râf 7/31)

Modern Islamic law is drawn from the Qur'ān, other traditional sources, and interpretation (e.g., ijtihad). Given the broad range of Islamic legal thought and different understandings of the health effects of smoking by Islamic scholars, there is a diversity of Islamic opinion about cigarette smoking. Some rulings suggest that smoking is permitted insofar as it may enhance the fulfillment of one's (religiously-ordained) duties. Nonetheless, contemporary rulings tend to condemn smoking as potentially harmful or prohibit (haram) smoking outright as a cause of severe health damage. Arab Muslims tend to prohibit smoking and, in South Asia, smoking tends to be considered lawful but discouraged:[4]

In many parts of the Arabic speaking world, the legal status of smoking has further changed during recent years, and numerous religious edicts or fatawa, including from notable authorities such as Al-Azhar University in Egypt, now declare smoking to be prohibited. The reasons cited in support of the reclassification of smoking as prohibited include Islamic law's general prohibition of all actions that result in harm. For example, the Quran says, "And spend of your substance in the cause of God, and make not your own hands contribute to your own destruction (2; 195)." Additionally, jurists rely on the exhortations in the Koran not to waste money. Greater appreciation of the risks associated with passive smoking, has also led recent jurists to cite the obligation to avoid causing wilful annoyance, distress, or harm to other people.[4]

In practice, at least one recent survey (Abbottabad, Pakistan) found that observant Muslims tend to avoid smoking.[5] A study of young Muslim Arab-Americans found that Islamic influences were correlated with some diminished smoking.[6] Conversely, an Egyptian study found that knowledge of an anti-smoking fatwa did not reduce smoking.[7] Overall, the prevalence of smoking is increasing in Islamic countries.

Judaism

Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan (1838–1933) was one of the first Jewish authorities to speak out on smoking. He considered it a health risk and a waste of time, and had little patience for those who claimed addiction, stating that they never should have started smoking in the first place (Likutei Amarim 13, Zechor le-Miriam 23).

A shift toward health-oriented concerns may be observed in different rabbinic interpretations of Jewish law (halakha). For instance, at a time when the link between smoking and health was still in doubt, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein issued an influential opinion in 1963 stating that smoking was permitted, although still inadvisable. (Igrot Moshe Y.D. II:49)

More recently, rabbinic responsa tend to argue that smoking is prohibited as self-endangerment under Jewish law and that smoking in indoor spaces should be restricted as a type of damage to others. The self-endangerment rule is grounded partly on a Biblical verse that is read as an injunction to watch one's health - "ונשמרתם מאד, לנפשתיכם" [Vi'nish'martem Me'od Li'naf'sho'tey'chem] Deut.  04:15 "And you shall watch yourselves very well..." Similarly, rabbinic rules against damaging others are traced back to Biblical and Talmudic laws.

Famous Ashkenazi Haredi rabbis have called on people not to smoke and called smoking an 'evil habit.' These rabbis include Rabbi Yosef Sholom Eliashiv, Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Shapiro, Rabbi Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz, Rabbi Nissim Karelitz, and Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach. Rabbi Shmuel HaLevi Wosner forbade people from starting to smoke and said that those who smoke should stop doing so. All of these rabbis also said that it is forbidden to smoke in a public place, where others might be bothered by it.[8]

Among important Sephardi Haredi rabbis, Rabbi Ben Tzion Abba Shaul and Rabbi Moshe Tzedaka called on youth not to start smoking.[9]

Other major Ashkenazi rabbis who explicitly forbade smoking include Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg, Rabbi Moshe Stern, and Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Sheinberg.

Bahá'í Faith

The use of tobacco is not forbidden but is discouraged.[10]

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints

The founder of the Latter Day Saint movement, Joseph Smith, Jr. recorded that on February 27, 1833 he received a revelation which addressed tobacco use. It is commonly known as the Word of Wisdom, and is found in section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants, a book canonized as scripture by Mormons. (Section 89) While initially viewed as a guideline, this was eventually accepted as a commandment; consequently, faithful Mormons do not smoke.

References

  1. Early Uses of Indian Tobacco in California
  2. Johann Sebastian Bach (1725). Edifying Thoughts of a Tobacco Smoker.
  3. Lebedeff, Father Alexander (1996), Barnes, Patrick, ed., A Conversation About Modernism, The Dalles, Oregon: Orthodox Christian Information Center, http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/ecumenism/tradmod_intro.aspx, retrieved 2008-02-15 
  4. 4.0 4.1 Ghouri N, Atcha M, Sheikh A. Influence of Islam on smoking among Muslims. BMJ. 2006 Feb 4;332(7536):291-4. PMID 16455732
  5. Hameed A, Jalil MA, Noreen R, Mughal I, Rauf S. Role of Islam in prevention of smoking. J Ayub Med Coll Abbottabad. 2002 Jan-Mar;14(1):23-5. PMID 12043328
  6. Islam SM, Johnson CA. Correlates of smoking behavior among Muslim Arab-American adolescents. Ethn Health. 2003 Nov;8(4):319-37. PMID 14660124
  7. adwan GN, Israel E, El-Setouhy M, Abdel-Aziz F, Mikhail N, Mohamed MK. Impact of religious rulings (Fatwa) on smoking. J Egypt Soc Parasitol. 2003 Dec;33(3 Suppl):1087-101. PMID 15119472
  8. [1]; [2]; [3]
  9. [4]
  10. `Abdu'l-Bahá, Tablet on Purity
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