The spread of qat in America [Archives:2005/874/Reportage]

September 5 2005

Hakim Almasmari
Yemen Times Staff
[email protected]

Through the ages, the North African originated Qat leaf passed threw centuries where in most situations, it was of no value. It is believed to have existed in the African and Yemeni trade market even before coffee. Rarely was it noticed that people got together for the so-called Qat session. Nowadays things have changed dramatically. From east to west, Qat has spread so vast that in the present time, Qat shops are even spread in the very heart of The United States and Europe. Although some shops are illegal, in parts of Europe some Qat shops are as visible as local restaurants.

The use of Qat has become a popular leisure time activity for many Africans and Asians abroading in the United States as well. Recently, a growing number of white Americans have been noticed chewing the Qat leaf while at work or on assembly lines under the slogan of chewing tobacco. They believe that it lifts their spirit, sharpens their thinking and increases energy.

American Qat chewers admit that Qat has long existed in the United States. Some put the number as far back as the 1950's. Yemeni's living in the United States spend over $3 million for Qat on a yearly basis. This number is gradually increasing as more people are introduced to Qat daily. ” We have large Deewans, “Qat chewing halls” in America, some ranging to over 10 meters in length”, said Ali Saleh, a Yemeni residing in the United States. He continued, ” On Friday nights, Qat is like Jummah, a must”.

In America, bunches of Qat sell 5 times their usual price in the U.K, and in some situations, 20 times the original price of that of its native country. In the United States, the selling price for a day supply ranges between $40-$80. Highly organized gangs in Britain are making 200 million pounds annually smuggling Qat into the U.S and Canada.

Most Qat is shipped to the United States via Britain on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. These dates are chosen in order for the products to be available by the weekend for local costumers. Due to it being extremely perishable, it loses its potency in 3 days. Smugglers have to work extremely hard to sell Qat before it loses its value. In most situations, they are usually shipped just hours of their arrival in the U.K.

Britain is the only western country, which has not yet banned the use of Qat. In 2003, over 20 Britons were arrested in the U.S for Qat trafficking.

Because of ethnic minorities, Qat continuously keeps on spreading across the United States. It could be found in numerous ethnic markets, restaurants, and shops throughout North America.

Yemeni's, Somali's, and Ethiopians are usually the highest bidders for Qat. In places like New York, Boston, Detroit, Washington and Seattle, Qat chewing is sometimes very noticeable on weekends, holidays and vacations.

In 1998, a Yemeni man was arrested for growing 1,000 Qat plants in a land that belonged to him. It was recognized as the first Qat plantation recorded in the United States. Since then, Qat plantation has only been noticed on a couple of occasions. Actions were taken appropriately to end such illegal practices.

Yasser Abdo Rabbu, a Yemeni citizen residing in Detroit, has been living in America for almost half a century said, “My greatest fear was the risky outcome of my children being raised in the United States. As they got older and passed threw high school, I decided on a family trip to Yemen. In Yemen, I introduced Qat to my three sons. Weeks later, they fell in love with the precious leaf and saw it as a suitable substitution for many inducements that surround their daily life in the United States. This habit followed them to the United States”.

Nearly eighty percent of Qat shipped to American soil usually passes uncensored and untouched, while in rare situations it gets seized. Most of Qat seizers occur in New York airports. Other cities where Qat seizer became publicized include Detroit, Minneapolis, San Jose, New Jersey and San Diego.

U.S. authorities took a stronger approach towards Qat after it realized that it is spreading fast in a number of Arab communities around the country.

Bringing Qat into America would carry the same sentencing as bringing internationally banned drugs such as cocaine or heroin. There are two substances in Qat, which are classified as illegal in the U.S, which are Cathinone and Cathine. Some states took no serious actions against Qat until the federal ban on Cathinone came into effect in 1993, before that, it what seen as a normal issue. Cathine was banned in 1988, five years prior to the ban of Cathinone.

A law abiding citizen in most American states who would want to know the legal status of Qat before using it, would not find it on the federal list for banned substances. Qat, in some states is not recognized by the law as an illegal substance. This is solely of it not being spread and used in those states, due to the absence of Qat chewing ethnic groups. When arrested for possessing Qat, the charge itself is known as possession of Catharine not Qat.

Under all circumstances, for Yemeni's residing in the United States, Qat is just an issue, which can lead to no harm or violence. It is part of their culture and tradition, which many can't just forget. For some people it is a tool used to help busy themselves in their leisure time, rather than committing actions, which Islam forbids.

“With the many inducements that surround us as Yemeni American, we can busy ourselves by chewing Qat rather then indulging in unlawful religious acts, which include drugs, sex and liquor”said Omar Mo'zib, originally from Taiz.

Even in a society like America, culture and religion still plays a major role in the Yemeni American's personal life. Many admit chewing Qat only to keep them away from things far worser. In this situation no blame is given to them. On the contrary, it is still illegal in the United States, and abiding by it's laws as a citizen is exactly what Islam teaches us and orders us to put into practice.