(2010) JLP 62: 95-114
Heather Douglas and Abdi Hersi
The leaves of the Khat plant are chewed for their stimulatory effect by many people who live around the Red Sea. People from this area have migrated throughout the world, bringing the practice with them. Consequently many countries have needed to address the question whether khat should be regulated. We argue here that, because khat use is mainly associated with Muslim people, the Islamic law about khat is also an important consideration in this debate. Accordingly this article explores the position of khat under Islamic law. In addition to a study of sources of Islamic shari’a, we have conducted focus groups with Somali people who had settled in Australia, and participants’ views are considered.
Across the Muslim world opinion is sharply divided amongst Islamic scholars and Muftis on the correct approach to khat. The three main positions on khat are that it is halal (permissible), makruh (detested or discouraged) or haram (forbidden). It may be shown that each view has some support in the scholarly literature of Islam. Each was accepted by some members of the focus groups. Most of those who participated in the focus groups had a strong view on the correct position pursuant to Islam and this view influenced their decision to support or reject prohibition and to chew or not to chew khat.
This supports the claim that legal pluralism is a reality in Australia. In countries like Australia that purport to allow the free exercise of religion, prohibition of khat use may have implications for this freedom for some individuals. If khat is seen by some Muslims as an accepted part of cultural life and Muslim religious activity, targeting khat may then be seen as targeting these communities. Given that the overwhelming majority of khat users in Australia and other common law states are Muslim immigrants, the uncertain status of khat in Islam poses significant challenges to policy makers in immigrant receiving nations. As these communities’ cultural norms are, to a large extent, derived from the Islamic religion, any government response to the use of khat should take into consideration these religious and cultural norms.