Who Invented Hookah?
Hookah smoking has blown up in popularity in the Western world over the last two decades, especially amongst younger people in the United States. In fact, nowadays, you can find a handful of hookah lounges and bars in almost every state in the country, and in larger cities, they’re everywhere.
This growth in hookah exposure in the States has brought tons of new hookah smokers into the fold and allowed a new population of people to experience a cultural phenomenon of the Middle East.
But there are some drawbacks to this new exposure, most notably a lack of knowledge about hookah, its origins, and traditions in the Western world amongst new hookah smokers.
Here at MOB Hookah, we want to change that, and give you the hookah knowledge you need to understand this amazing, flavorful, and fun pastime to the fullest.
So without further ado, here is a deep dive to answer a crucial question about hookah history, who invented the hookah?
What Is the Origin of Hookah Smoking?
Before we can get into who invented hookah, we have to clear up a few things about the origins of hookah. While we know that hookah smoking originated in and spread from the Middle East, there is a lot that we don’t know.
Hookah smoking has been around since at least the early 1600s, and potentially as much as a few hundred years before that. Because of the uncertainty, the truth is that nobody knows for sure who invented the hookah and where it originated.
What we do know is that there are three predominant stories that are credited as the origin of the invention of the hookah pipe. These stories are the first documented accounts of the invention of hookah smoking, each with its own evidence that is incomplete but convincing.
Each of these stories gives us something to learn about the invention of hookah as we know it today.
Abu'l-Fath Gilani: Inventor of the Hookah Pipe
The most commonly held story of the origin of hookah smoking credits the invention to Abu’l-Fath Gilani, chief physician to Emperor Ahkbar of the Mughal empire during the early 1600s.
During the late 1500s and early 1600s, Portugal began trading more and more throughout the far East, including significant trading activity in India. Amongst plenty of other goods from all across the globe, the Portuguese were responsible for introducing India to tobacco from Brazil.
As tobacco started entering the country, the people of India began to enjoy smoking the plant for the relaxing nicotine, and smoking grew in popularity starting in port cities, and slowly working its way into the center of the empire.
Eventually, Emperor Akhbar found himself the recipient of a gift of high-quality tobacco from one of his ambassadors to smoke. However, Chief Physician Abu’l-Fath Gilani was worried about the adverse health effects that tobacco smoking might have on the emperor, so he searched for a method of smoking that would be safer.
What he came up with was the hookah pipe, which by vaporizing the smoke rather than burning, and the use of water filtration, was thought to be much cleaner and safer than other methods of smoking.
Did Hookah Exist Before Abu’l-Fath Gilani?
Maybe. The truth is that there are other origin stories for hookah, ones that do not credit Abu’l-Faith Gilani as the inventor of hookah.
Many people claim that the hookah was invented in Iran. Abu’l-Faith Gilani was originally from Iran, and as a Persian, he may have simply introduced the hookah to Emperor Akbar, not actually invented it.
There is evidence that Persians have been smoking from a hookah-like water pipe earlier than the 16th century, called a qalyan.
What Is a Qalyan?
A qalyan is a type of water pipe that originated in Persia and is typically made entirely from wood. Rather than using a metal stem and downstem in a glass or crystal base, the qalyan is made entirely from wood.
This gives the qalyan a unique sound when smoking, as the water slaps against the wooden sides which reverberate. You may hear a qalyan referred to as a “bubble-up” or “hubble bubble” because of this.
The qalyan can be considered an early predecessor of the hookah, meaning that the hookah we know and love today probably was not invented by one individual, but was slowly improved over time until we got to the design and functionality that we enjoy today.
Did Hookah Exist Before the Qalyan?
Some people would claim yes. There is evidence that water pipes and bongs have been around for hundreds of years before the hookah appears anywhere, mostly centered in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
There is some evidence that a hookah type device was used in Ethiopia as far back as the 11th century. Water pipes made of wood and coconut husks have been found in and around Ethiopia dating back to this period.
So Who Did Invent the Hookah Pipe?
The short answer is, we don’t know for sure. Abu’l-Faith Gilani is our best guess, but the true inventor of our favorite water pipe may be forever lost to the history books.
Who Invented Shisha?
The hookah pipe itself was invented hundreds of years ago, but you may be surprised to hear that the flavored shisha tobacco that we love to smoke from our hookahs today has actually only been around for a few decades.
Sometime in the 11990s, smokers in the Middle East began crafting shisha tobacco by mixing glycerine, honey or molasses, and flavorings with their tobacco to create the sticky, sweet, and flavorful tobacco we know and love.
We don’t know for sure who invented shisha tobacco, but this tells us why there are no shisha producers that have been around for more than a few decades.
Who Invented the Hookah Lounge?
The final question today that is relevant to the invention of hookah, is who had the brilliant idea to make hookah a public activity in a hookah lounge for enjoyment amongst friends and strangers alike.
For the invention of the hookah lounge, we have to turn our eyes back to Egypt. In the 19th century, hookah had grown so popular in Egypt that hookah cafes started to sprout up all throughout the country.
These hookah cafes sold coffee and offered hookah to their patrons. These hookah cafes became a local spot for celebrations, relaxation, and socialization, much like current hookah lounges and bars still are today.
The Invention of Hookah: The Takeaways
The history of hookah smoking is a fascinating history that is full of contradictions, hints, and anecdotes that come together to paint a picture of how hookah came to be what it is today.
The hookah pipe was likely invented by Abu’l-Faith Gilani several hundred years ago for the emperor of the Mughal empire.
He may, however, have drawn inspiration or the entire design from water pipes in Persia, where he came from. In Persia, they had been smoking the qalyan, another type of all wooden water pipe, for a while before the invention of the hookah.
But hookah pipes may date back even farther, as there are remains of more hookah-like water pipes from Ethiopia as far back as the 11th century.
Meanwhile, flavored shisha has only been around for a few decades, and hookah lounges only about two hundred years, when they first appeared in Egypt as hookah cafes.
Whoever truly invented the hookah, thank you.