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Argileh vs. Hookah: What’s the Difference?

Everyone loves smoking hookah. Wait, or did we mean everyone loves smoking argileh?

You have probably heard both terms thrown around by different people and groups about waterpipe tobacco smoking. It can be confusing deciphering between the two words, knowing which is the right term to use, and what they even mean.

But you don’t have to be confused — we’re here to help you out so that you know exactly what you are saying when you talk about argileh and hookah. Knowledge is power when it comes to your hookah experience.

So let’s break it down, so we can understand what the real difference is between argileh and hookah.

What Is Hookah?

To really dive into the difference between argileh and hookah, we need to start with understanding what hookah is and where and how it all started. 

Hookah is the most commonly used term in the Western world to refer to the special type of water pipe that comes from India and the Middle East. These pipes consist of a hose or hoses attached to a vase filled with water, and a stem and downstem in the water, leading up to a bowl of flavored tobacco that is lit by coals resting on top of the bowl. 

The special type of tobacco that is used in hookah pipes is called shisha. Shisha is made of chopped tobacco leaves, glycerin, honey or molasses, and flavorings like fruit pieces, spices, and additives. Shisha can only be smoked from a hookah pipe.

Where Did Hookah Originate?

The main difference between argileh and hookah stems from the origins of the hookah pipe. The origins of hookah are a very complicated and debatable history, one that is full of a bit of mystery.

There are three predominant stories about how the hookah was invented and originated, each placing the invention of the hookah in a different part of the world. For the purposes of differentiating argileh and hookah, we only need to tell two of the stories. 

The first of the two stories we will talk about briefly is the Indian origin story of hookah.

Hookah’s Origins in India

Perhaps the most popular of the origin stories is the hookah origin story that places the invention of the hookah in India. Sometime during the 16th century, Portugal began trading large amounts of tobacco with India, during the reign of the Mughal Empire. This tobacco spread inland from the port cities towards central India and grew in popularity.

Eventually the Mughal emperor was gifted some fine tobacco by one of his ambassadors, or so the story goes. But the emperor’s chief physician, Abu'l-Fath Gilani, had concerns about the health effects of tobacco smoking, and wanted to find a way for the emperor to smoke tobacco in a way that would be safer.

So, Abu’l-Faith Gilani created the hookah, to cool and filter the smoke through the water in the vase before passing it on to the lungs, in the hopes that this could filter out some of the toxins. While hookah smoke isn’t actually that much better filtered than other forms of tobacco smoke, hookah smoke is cooler, and can be less of a risk for burning your throat and lungs.

The hookah pipe then spread throughout Indian nobility and aristocracy, eventually spreading to commoners and then throughout the Middle East. 

Hookah’s Origins in Iran

Other people prefer the origin story of the hookah that places the invention of the hookah in Persia. During the early 16th century, Portugal was also trading their tobacco products with Persia. Despite the Shah outlawing tobacco in the 16th century, tobacco smoking was very popular throughout the aristocracy.

Persian smokers' preferred method of smoking was something called a qalyan, which loosely means “bubble up.” Unlike the hookah pipes we know today, qalyan’s have no vase, they instead have the water contained in wood or metal, i.e. whatever the rest of the pipe is made from. 

What’s more for the Iranian origins, Abu’l-Faith Gilani, the chief physician who invented the hookah in the Indian origin story, was a Persian — perhaps he simply introduced the device he knew from Persia to the Indian emperor.

What Is Argileh?

By this point, we’ve been talking all about the origins of hookah pipes, how hookah smoking got its start, and where the origin of hookah really took place, but we still don’t know what argileh is… what's the deal?

Argileh or nargileh is a Persian term that means coconut, i.e. the delicious fruit. Many qalyans were made of wood, and oftentimes were made of coconut. So argileh, or nargileh, is a term that came to also be used to describe qalyans, and later, hookah pipes when they were introduced.

Another term for these argileh style pipes without a glass or acrylic base for the water is “hubble-bubble,” in reference to the sound the bubbling of the hookah makes in the wooden qalyan or argileh.

What Are the Differences Between Argileh and Hookah?

So, then what are the differences between argileh and hookah?

The honest answer: it depends on the context. In many Middle Eastern countries, particularly Iran, the terms are interchangeable and will be commonly exchanged and used to mean a hookah pipe.

In certain contexts however, you may be offered the option between argileh or nargileh and hookah, and that is where the difference comes up. Like mentioned above, the traditional argileh does not have a glass base whereas a hookah does.

If you are offered the option between the two, you are choosing between a one-piece, likely wooden nargileh pipe, or a traditional hookah. Nargileh can be a bit harsher, but they can also impart some wonderfully woody, earthy flavors to your smoke experience if that interests you. 

Which Term Should I Use?

So now that you know the major difference between nargileh or argileh and hookah pipes, you may wonder which term you should use when you are out and about.

In the Western world, the preferred term for hookah pipes is hookah, rather than argileh. In Iran and other parts of the Middle East, you can choose whichever term you prefer, or if you are trying to specify the differences, choose either depending on context.

There is no real right or wrong, and there are many names for the hookah pipes that we all know and love and want to share with each other. Call your hookah whatever you prefer, the hookah experience is about enjoying yourself.

Argileh vs. Hookah: The Takeaways

Deciding what you should call your hookah pipe can feel like a very high pressure situation, and in the hopes of not offending anyone and showing your expertise, you can end up getting stressed about your choice.

But really, there is no pressure — the terms all generally mean the same thing and are relatively interchangeable. Nobody is going to look at you the wrong way for using the term argileh; the smoking community isn’t stuck-up, we’re all about sharing the experience.

If you are really looking to get to the heart of the difference, however, then you know that argileh or nargileh refers to a qalyan, the all wooden or coconut pipes that operate like hookahs.

If you are looking for a place to get your own hookah pipe, then MOB Hookah is the perfect place for you to be. We have a wide selection of our very own hookah pipes, with hundreds of options for every hookah smoker.

We also carry the industry's best shisha brands in the best flavors, and have all of the accessories and replacement parts that you might ever need. 

And for more great hookah articles like this one, take a look at our blog.

Happy smoking! Whether it’s hookah or argileh ;) 


The Hookah: the Indian Water Pipe | Jstor

Hookah Smoking and Its Risks | Verywell Mind

What Is Shisha Smoking? | Young Scot

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