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What Is Shisha Smoking?

Hookah, shisha, argileh, all different words from different cultures and languages that all mean roughly the same thing. If you have ever seen a hookah or shisha lounge and wondered, “What is that?” then this article is for you.

Hookah smoking, aka shisha smoking, has been around for hundreds of years, and is one of the most culturally important smoking methods anywhere in the world. Hookah has played an important role in the social and political world of the Middle East and India for centuries.

Hookah use is now seeing a huge rise in popularity in the United States, Canada, and Europe, bringing the culture and social activities of the East over to the West, especially for college students and young adults.

But if you have never smoked shisha or hookah before, and perhaps have never even seen a hookah in real life, you probably have a lot of questions about shisha smoking. Look no further — here is MOB Hookah’s guide to understanding shisha smoking so that you are ready to join this relaxing tradition.

What Is Hookah, Anyways?

Hookah is a word that is derived from the Arabic word huqqa, meaning vase, and is the name of the specific type of water pipe and flexible hose that is used with it. You can also call these water pipes argileh, goza, narghile, hubble-bubble, or shisha — all are words from different languages that are used to refer to the same types of water pipes.

Shisha is a very special way to smoke tobacco that has been around for centuries and has been crucially important to the culture of the Eastern world.

Smoking a hookah or shisha is different from other water pipes like bongs because of the use of coals to light the tobacco, as well as the use of a hose the mouthpiece through which you smoke.

A hookah involves a bowl of shisha tobacco sometimes just referred to as hookah tobacco, that is then covered with a tin foil wrap with many holes poked into it. You would then place three pieces of lit coals on the foil to provide the heat source for your smoking session.

Hookah smokers then inhale from the hose, which brings air past the charcoals and into the bowl, where it burns the shisha, creating smoke. The smoke is then drawn down the stem, which is connected to the bowl, and into the base or vase, which is filled partway with water. The smoke then is filtered through the water, which cools down the smoke, and then finally through the hose to be inhaled by the user. 

A Brief History of Shisha Smoking

Shisha smoking first came about in the sixteenth century. The prevailing story is that, as the Portuguese began trading more with Indian port cities, these cities began to see a huge influx in imported Brazilian tobacco. This tobacco then spread inland via trade, and slowly became more popular in India.

Eventually, the Mughal emperor was gifted some tobacco by one of his ambassadors. The emperor's chief physician was worried about the health dangers that smoking tobacco carries with it, and wanted to create a smoking method that might be healthier than cigarettes or cigars. The chief physician, Abul-Faith Gilani, created the hookah, which would filter the tobacco smoke through water before inhalation.

From there, the hookah spread amongst the nobility and aristocracy of India, and then through into Syria, and then the rest of the Middle East and all the way to Turkey and Northern Africa.

There are other theories about the origins of the hookah, too — some claim the true origins of the hookah are found in Syria, or even in Ethiopia. 

While we may never know exactly where the hookah came about, we do know that it played an important part in the culture of India and the Middle East for the centuries after its widespread adoption in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

What Makes Shisha Smoking Different From Cigarettes?

At this point, you might find yourself wondering what makes shisha smoking so special? What is so great about hookah that you wouldn’t keep smoking cigarettes instead?

Well, there are a lot of things that separate hookah smoking from cigarettes and cigar smoking. 

Firstly, shisha smoking involves smoking a slightly different form of tobacco, called shisha.

Shisha is a mixture of tobacco leaves, glycerin, molasses or honey, and flavorings like fruits, herbs, syrups, and more. This leads to a wet, sticky, tobacco substance that can only be smoked from a hookah, and it is available in many flavors like chocolate, licorice, and mint.

Then you have the fact that hookah involves smoking from a water pipe instead of directly lighting the tobacco. When you smoke through a water pipe, you filter the smoke through water before inhalation. 

While this doesn’t do all that much to clear the smoke of toxins, harmful chemicals, heavy metals, and carcinogens like Abul-Faith Galani thought, it does do some work to make the smoke less harsh, and cool it down for easier inhalation as compared to the smoke inhaled by cigarette smokers.

Negative health effects apply to any tobacco products, and you should be mindful of health risks associated with nicotine addiction and secondhand smoke.

There is also the social aspect of hookah that cannot be ignored. Hookah is meant to be smoked with a group, as a social event. In Middle Eastern culture, sharing a hookah with someone is a symbol of trust and friendship, and most political and business meetings end with the smoking of a hookah to show these bonds. 

All in all, these make hookah or shisha smoking an experience rather than just an activity. 

You’ve got to try it to believe it.

How Can I Get Started Smoking Shisha?

At this point, you’re probably wondering how you can get started smoking shisha. Well, luckily for you, there are a few easy ways to get yourself into hookah culture.

The first thing you can do is visit a local hookah lounge. There you can purchase a pre-prepared bowl of shisha to smoke in the lounge, and if they’re a good lounge, they’ll tend your shisha for you, and even give you tips and help you out if you let them know you’re a first-timer. 

Hookah lounges and cafes are a great place to try new shisha flavors, meet other shisha smokers, and get tips and tricks from the experts on how and what to smoke. Hookah lounges are also great social spots to meet new, interesting people.

Eventually, if you are a fan of hookah smoking, it is a good idea to get your own set up at home;  it is cheaper to smoke at home over time due to the cost of hookah bars, and you can have your friends over to your place to smoke instead of having to go out anytime you want some shisha.

When you’re ready, you can buy your hookah, shisha, coals, and hoses through MOB Hookah so you have your own setup ready to go in no time. 

We offer many high-quality hookahs, and you can pick up some of the best shisha brands on the market here, too. You can easily get started with a quality setup and all the accessories you need for just under $200.

Shisha Smoking: The Takeaways

Shisha smoking is a centuries-old tradition that is starting to gain traction in the Western world. Shisha smoking is the smoking of special shisha tobacco through a water pipe called a hookah or shisha pipe.

This practice began in India and the Middle East in the 16th and 17th centuries, and spread throughout the world. Shisha smoking is a cultural staple in these regions to this day.

Hookah smoking, or waterpipe smoking, can be a great social activity to bond over and is a wonderfully relaxing pastime to enjoy with friends. Consider going to a local hookah lounge to see what the buzz is all about.

And of course, you can get all the hookah and shisha equipment you could dream of right here at MOB Hookah. We’ve got everything you need to get you started today, or if you’re still looking to learn a little more, our hookah blog has all the info you need. 



The History and Meaning of Hookah | Rakija Lounge

What Is Shisha Smoking? | Young Scot

Hookah vs Shisha: What are The Differences? | Rakija Lounge

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