‘Those who think they have no time for healthy eating will sooner or later have to find time for illness.’ –Edward Stanley.
Weight Watchers, Slimming World, Atkins, the Cabbage Soup Diet, the Special K Diet, the Dukan Diet and the list is endless.
The diet industry is booming as obesity is increasingly becoming an epidemic in many developed countries.
For those of us who have an unhealthy attachment to food and struggle with it or those of us who are not obese yet eat unhealthily, the Book of Allah and His Messenger has some simple, free, non-exclusive and yet incredible advice: It is rather ironic that obesity increases in our globally-connected planet where millions continue to starve in the developing world. Having easy access to plentiful foods, many of us are not immune to this problem.
There was once a skilled Christian physician who used to serve the Abbasid Caliph, Harun al-Rashid. He said to ‘Ali b. Hasan, “Your Book (the Qur’an) does not contain anything of the knowledge of medicine, and knowledge is of two types: knowledge of the religions and knowledge of the bodies".
‘Ali b. Hasan replied: “Allah has combined all of medicine in half a verse in our Book.” So the doctor asked, “What is it?” He replied: “The saying of Allah, the Mighty and Majestic: And eat and drink and be not excessive.” (7:23) The physician then asked: "Why, then, has nothing been mentioned about medicine from the mouth of your Messenger?".
He replied: "Our Messenger (peace be upon him), has combined the sciences of medicine in a few words when he said: "The stomach is the house for disease and prevention is the essence of medicine." The Christian physician then said: "Then your Book and your Prophet left nothing about medicine for Galen (the famous Greek Physician)".
In discussion of the above verse, Imam al-Qurtubi (may God have mercy on him) goes on to say that eating less has many benefits, including a healthier body, a stronger memory, increased intelligence and less sleep.
Scholars have also said that eating less results in humility of the self, weakness of desires, and gentleness of temperament. Excessive eating on the other hand brings about the opposite of these praiseworthy qualities.
In his ‘Medicine of the Prophet’, Ibn al-Qayyim (may God have mercy on him) mentions that the most common illnesses are caused by the following: “consuming more food before the previous meal has been digested; by eating in excess of the amount needed by the body; by taking in food which is of little nutritional value and slow to digest; and by indulging in different foods which are complex in their composition.” Hippocrates said: "Let your foods be your medicines, and your medicines your food."
Perhaps the most amazing of food-related Prophetic advice is the following hadith. The Prophet (peace be upon him) once said: “The son of Adam does not fill any vessel worse than his stomach. It is sufficient for the son of Adam to eat a few mouthfuls, to keep him going. If he must do that (fill his stomach), then let him fill one third with food, one third with drink and one third with air.” (Tirmidhi) We are programmed from a young age to eat to our fill.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) didn’t only advise us to eat only one-third of that, but actually said this was the last resort. The ideal Prophetic way of eating is actually eating a few morsels which would keep us going.
Ibrahim b. Adham once said: "Anyone who controls his stomach is in control of his deen, and anyone who controls his hunger is in control of good behaviour." A friend once said to me: “Eat to live. Don’t live to eat.”
All of the above may be easy for people who already adopt the above mantra when it comes to food.
But if you struggle with food and healthy eating, the following practical tips (taken from ‘Mindless Eating’) may help you implement the Qur’anic and Prophetic advice mentioned above: 1. 20% rule. Dish out 20% less than you might want before you start to eat, and for fruits and vegetables, think 20 % more.
2. Put everything you want to eat, including snacks on a plate before you start eating (unless circumstances dictate otherwise) 3. Mini-size your boxes, bowls and portions 4. De-convenience tempting foods; for example, by moving the snacks away in a hard-to-reach cupboard 5. Half-Plate Rule of Balanced Meals.
Whilst half the meal can consist of protein and carbohydrates, the other half should consist of fruits and vegetables.
This shouldn’t just be for those wanting to lose weight, but rather for the entire family in order to eat healthier and be stronger servants of Allah.
6. Read the relevant chapters in Imam al-Ghazali’s al-Ihya and Sh. Hamza Yusuf’s ‘Purification of the Heart’ for motivation.
Eating with the correct intention (such as gaining strength to do God’s work and worship) is a commendable and rewarding act.
When we eat, let us eat with the consciousness that it is indeed ‘ibadah. God-willing, this will make us more likely to eat less, waste less and think of others who are in need of food.
Somayya Patel writes on behalf of 1st Ethical Charitable Trust who empower Muslims to benefit society through faith-based campaigns, thereby increasing social cohesion. For more information, please visit www.1stethical.com