The Strong Believer Article Six– Healthy Bodies, Minds, and Souls

Shaykh Irshaad Sedick

Article Six of Twelve in SeekersGuidance Scholar Shaykh Irshaad Sedick’s “The Strong Believer” Series: The Importance of Nutrition in Islam

The Strong Believer is a podcast (and now, a series of articles) for young Muslims seeking to improve their bodies, minds, and souls. This podcast series by Shaykh Irshaad Sedick is intended to assist Muslims aged 20 and up who want to live healthy, strong, active, and wholesome lives without compromising their faith.

Our goal is to encourage and guide Muslims with fitness and nutrition advice while also fulfilling their Islamic duties. We are motivated by the words of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace) who said: “The Strong Believer is better and more beloved to Allah than the weak believer, while there is goodness in them both…”

Introduction

Findings indicated that aliment/foods, eating, water/drinking words, and their derivatives are repeated 171, 109, and 131 times in the Holy Quran, respectively. [Esfanjani and Namazi, Nutritional Concepts and Frequency of Foodstuffs Mentioned in the Holy Quran]

From the Sunna, we learn dozens of Prophetic practices about eating and drinking. In addition, at least one of the five pillars of Islam (Fasting in Ramadan) is directly related to eating and drinking.

In light of the above, there is no doubt that nutrition is of primary importance in Islam and, therefore, in the lives of believers. To be a strong believer, one has to pay significant attention to nutrition, even more than fitness. Experts often emphasize a ratio of 10/90 or 20/80, fitness to nutrition in one’s health journey. Others have expressed the shocking but truthful idiom: “you can’t out-train a bad diet.”

Fortunately, and contrary to trendy fad diets, Islam’s guidelines around nutrition are general, broad, effective, and simple to understand. In this article, we explore some of the basic teachings of Islam about nutrition and discover some essential tips to help us along our journeys to becoming Strong Believers.

What Does the Quran Teach About Nutrition?

Allah says: “Eat of the good things which We have provided for you.” [Quran, 2:173]

Allah also says: “Eat what is lawful and wholesome on the earth.” [Quran, 2:168]

Allah also says: “Do not forbid yourselves the wholesome things God has made lawful for you.” [Quran, 6: 87]

The two most critical nutritional qualities repeatedly emphasized in the Quran are lawfulness (halal) and wholesomeness (tayyib). Strangely, while Muslims are generally always concerned about the former, we often fail to be even mildly concerned about wholesomeness.

In Muslim minorities, such as South Africa, we often find community-established organizations specifically for issuing lawfulness (halal) certificates to food outlets to give Muslims some level of surety that what those outlets sell is lawful. I have never seen similar facilities establish the ‘wholesomeness factor’ at food outlets.

There is no question that the lawfulness of food is essential to believers’ spiritual and physical well-being. Still, the same verses that establish that also mention wholesomeness, and yet somehow, the concern about the nutritional value of the food we consume is often absent.

To demonstrate that both lawfulness and wholesomeness are essential in a believer’s life, in this world and the next, let us consider the following hadith of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace).

The Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and give him peace) said:

“Allah the Almighty is Good and accepts only that which is good. And verily Allah has commanded the believers to do that which He has commanded the Messengers. So, the Almighty has said: ‘O (you) Messengers! Eat of the tayyibat (all kinds of wholesome foods), and perform righteous deeds.’ [Quran, 23:51] and the Almighty has said: ‘O you who believe! Eat of the lawful things that We have provided you.’ [Quran, 2:172]”

Then he (may Allah bless him and give him peace) mentioned (the case) of a man who, having journeyed far, is messy and dusty, and who spreads out his hands to the sky saying “O Lord! O Lord!” while his food is haram (unlawful), his drink is haram, his clothing is haram, and he has been nourished with haram, so how can [his supplication] be answered? [Muslim]

From the above narration, we learn that there are consequences to indulging in the unlawful. A believer risks losing the efficacy of his/her prayers to Allah since the blessings (baraka) are absent from their lives. Similarly, consuming unhealthy foods also has negative consequences, so Allah commands the believers to consume only the tayyibat (wholesome and nutritious food). Therefore, as believers, we have to become more conscious of what we consume, both in lawfulness and wholesomeness.

Eat to Live, Don’t Live to Eat

Tayyibat – The Good or The Pure Food is about what we consume and how much. The Quran and Sunna are replete with instructions about the quantity of food believers consume, and there are several warnings about overindulgence in food consumption.

Islamic Spirituality teaches that overindulging in food leads to an overexcited nafs (lower animalistic self) and other spiritual diseases. [Ghazali, Ihya ‘Ulum al-Din]

Consider the following teachings from the Quran and Sunna:

“And He enforced the balance. That you exceed not the bounds, but observe the balance strictly, and fall not short thereof”. [Quran, 55:7-9]

Healthy nutrition means a diet balanced in quantity. Overeating is contrary to the Prophetic model. In the Quran, we read: “Eat and drink but avoid excess (…)” [Quran, 20:81]

The Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace) said: “When filled with food, the belly becomes the worst container for the son of AdamIt is sufficient for a human to have a few bites to keep himself fit (which means it is sufficient to have what one needs to maintain strength and well-being). If one must eat, then let him use one-third for food, one-third for drink, and one-third for breathing.” [Tirmidhi]

In another authentic Hadith, Prophet Muhammad (may Allah bless him and give him peace) said: “The food of one person will be sufficient for two, and the food of two people will be sufficient for four, and the food of four will be sufficient for eight.” [Muslim]

One often hears about the recommendation of thirds, but the actual Sunna is only to consume what we need. Eating up to a third is for the occasional “indulgence.” How can we measure the amount we need to consume?

For the sake of practical application, we could deduce from the above that a believer should only consume the number of calories (a unit of measurement for the energy in food) needed to live.

An adult male burns about 2500 calories per day, while an adult female burns about 2000 calories. Exercising burns more calories and, therefore, increases those figures. If anyone consumes more calories than they burn for an extended period, they will gain weight, possibly endanger their physical well-being, and feed their nafs (lower animalistic self).

Balanced Nutrition – What to Eat?

Modern diet trends change all the time. First, fats were unhealthy, and we were told to avoid them at all costs. Now carbs have become the enemy, and fats, our friends. Islam teaches two primary lessons in this regard. Avoid what we (actually health experts) know to be wrong (what they generally agree upon) as much as possible, and have a healthy balance of the good things (of all the food groups)

The above means that it must have a mixture of the different types of food, which Allah has provided for His creation, in the sense that it satisfies all the body’s requirements in terms of proteins, fat, carbohydrates, salts, and vitamins.

Most of these are mentioned in the Quran. For example, Allah Almighty says, “He created cattle which give you warmth, benefits, and food to eat…” [Quran, 16:5]

He Almighty also says, “It is He who subdued the seas, from which you eat fresh fish…” [Quran, 16:l4]

About vegetarian food, Allah says: “It is He who sends down water from the sky with which He brings up corn, olives, dates and grapes and other fruit.” [Quran, 16:11]

Milk and honey are also mentioned: “In cattle too, you have a worthy lesson. We give you to drink of that which is in their bellies, between the chyle and the blood: pure milk, a pleasant beverage for those who drink it.” [Quran, 16:66]

He Almighty also says: “From within their (i.e., the bees) bellies comes forth a fluid of many hues, that provides people with a cure (of illnesses)” [Quran, 16: 69]

Islam prefers wholesome food. An example is the Prophet’s preference for whole meal bread, dates, honey, and milk. He (peace and blessings be upon him) used to drink milk and eat dates.

Conclusion

Nutrition is undoubtedly an essential element in Islam. Nutrition features prominently in the Quran and Sunna. This article explored only the essential elements derived from Islam’s Sources.

Islam teaches us that the food we consume should be lawful and healthy, that we should not overindulge, that we should have a healthy balanced diet (not extreme imbalances wherein we deprive ourselves of an entire food group), and that there is a correlation between what we eat and the state of our souls.

This article was intended to raise the reader’s awareness of the quality and quantity of what we consume so that we can all become Strong Believers for the sake of Allah.

[Shaykh] Irshaad Sedick

Shaykh Irshaad Sedick was raised in South Africa in a traditional Muslim family. He graduated from Dar al-Ulum al-Arabiyyah al-Islamiyyah in Strand, Western Cape, under the guidance of the late world-renowned scholar, Shaykh Taha Karaan.

Shaykh Irshaad received Ijaza from many luminaries of the Islamic world, including Shaykh Taha Karaan, Mawlana Yusuf Karaan, and Mawlana Abdul Hafeez Makki, among others.

He is the author of the text “The Musnad of Ahmad ibn Hanbal: A Hujjah or not?” He has served as the Director of the Discover Islam Centre and Al Jeem Foundation. For the last five years till present, he has served as the Khatib of Masjid Ar-Rashideen, Mowbray, Cape Town.

Shaykh Irshaad has thirteen years of teaching experience at some of the leading Islamic institutes in Cape Town). He is currently building an Islamic online learning and media platform called ‘Isnad Academy’ and has completed his Master’s degree in the study of Islam at the University of Johannesburg. He has a keen interest in healthy living and fitness.