Restaurants and cafes in Jeddah have posted signs warning women that if they want to be served sheesha, their mahrams (male guardians) must be at their side.
The message – which comes from the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (Haia) – also requires that sheesha only be sold to customers over age 18. Fair enough, that bit. But the ban has Saudi women sheesha lovers steamed.
“I don’t want to drag my husband or my son to a café in order to have sheesha,” said businesswoman Alaa Daani.
“What if I want to go to a women-only gathering where we don’t want men with us,” she told Arab News, “I don’t see the need of a male guardian for this. This has nothing to do with gender mixing or anything against the rules of Islam.”
Complicating the issue is the fact that many women keep their love of sheesha secret from their mahrams. “No one knows I smoke sheesha, this is why I don’t smoke at home because my family doesn’t want me to do anything that harms my health,” said college student Hayat Ali. “I go with my friends once a week to any café to smoke sheesha and have a good time. There is nothing else to entertain us here but shopping and smoking sheesha. What are we going to do now?”
The new ruling comes on the heels of an indoor sheesha smoking ban and coffee shop owners say this might further harm their businesses. “We lost a lot of money and many clients after the regulation of serving sheesha only outdoors, which led us to rent more space and expand the café to the rooftop in order to serve it,” said café manager Jameel Mohammed, “I guarantee our business is going to lose a lot and we might have to shut down the café.”
Social media grabbed the news and ran with it – both sides of the argument weighing in loudly. “I am totally supporting this idea because it is sad when I see young women smoking sheesha in public,” said Ahmed Al-Shammari on Twitter. In his judgement, sheesha smoking makes “them look cheap and easy.” Sheesha’s popularity is at least partly attributable to the fact that it (unlike the women who like it) is so cheap and easy to access.
This is one smoking regulation that will likely trigger some intense heat.
Image of female sheesha smoker from Shutterstock.