What Islam teaches about healthy lifestyle?

healthy foodsA healthy and happy life is no accident, in addition to healthy genes it depends on good habits of mind and body. By following Islamic teachings one is already adopting good habits of mind and body. Take for example the beliefs how they nurture positive attitudes, worship and rituals how they train a person to take seriously social responsibilities and moral values how they help in building personal relationships. Similarly, by expressly forbidding drinking alcohol, smoking, gambling and eating pork, Islam has laid solid foundations for a healthy lifestyle, a safe and hygienic way of living. Let me give you a few more examples to make the point even clearer:

  • The cleaning of teeth, the washing of hands, face and feet five times before prayer promotes hygiene.
  • The practice of cutting nails, trimming moustache and shaving pubic hair are also important steps towards hygiene.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) encouraged people to have a good breakfast early in the morning, to always have a light supper in the evening and discouraged over eating. He (peace be upon him) would say “Fill the stomach one third with food, one third with water and leave one third empty.” The Quran infact forbids overeating: “eat and drink but do not over eat” (Al-Araf: 31).

The Prophet (peace be upon him) constantly preached the message of health, he knew that healthy bodies carry healthy souls. On one occasion he (peace be upon him) said: “The example of the stomach is like a pond. There are outlets in all directions from it. If the stomach is healthy then the rest of body will be healthy”. He (peace be upon him) also said: “The stomach is a place of diseases” meaning diseases start from here and thus emphasising the kind of food we eat and the amount we consume. The best policy he suggested was to eat little when you are really hungry.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) taught how we need to be careful with the food we eat. He said! “Always keep covered the food” so it’s protected from airborne germs.
Anyone who came in contact with lepers (a contagious disease) was told to stay a metre away from them so as to avoid catching the disease. Similarly, he (peace be upon him) taught “that people from an area of plague should not go to another area that was free of plague.” Thus laying foundations for the idea of “Quarantine”.

In addition to these preventative measures the Prophet (peace be upon him) also gave guidelines for; healthy eating, being active, doing physical exercise and maintaining psychological well being through faith and hope.

Some healthy foods recommended and eaten by the Prophet (peace be upon him)

He (peace be upon him) was fond of oat and barley breads, Haleem was his favourite soup this was a meat gravy with pieces of bread in it. He relished eating dates and preferred a dinner table that was ‘green’ meaning it had salads. The Quran repeatedly talks about fruits that the people of Paradise will enjoy in particular grapes and pomegranate. The Quran in several places mentions the “blessed” nature or beneficial nature of olives and figs. Similarly; honey is acclaimed for its healing qualities. This was another of the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) favourite food. These foods are known to boost the immune system and help in maintaining health.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) liked physical activity

He (peace be upon him) rode horse, donkey and camel regularly and kept himself active. It is narrated that when the famous Makkan wrestler challenged him to wrestle with him, he (peace be upon him) took up the challenge and twice laid him on the ground. This shows he was physically fit and strong. He would race with his wife Aisha. On one occasion he won the race and on another she won, he remarked “we are equal now”. The Prophet (peace be upon him) loved children, sometimes he would play with them. One day he was acting like a horse on his four, whilst his toddler grandson Hussain was riding on his back. Umar came and upon seeing this strange play said what a “beautiful ride” the Prophet (peace be upon him) replied “what a beautiful rider”.

The health benefits of fasting

Although the primary purpose of fasting is ‘so that you may develop taqwa’, it carries health benefits as well. The obvious is weight loss, for thirty days a whole meal and a snack or two are taken away from our daily food intake. This is equivalent to about 1000 calories per day, 30000 calories in a month. Roughly the amount needed to burn off eight pounds (3kg).

Fasting brings about a complete physiological change, giving rest for the digestive tract and the central nervous system. The trouble is what we miss during fasting we often more than make up for at iftar. Iftar is no longer a glass of water and some dates, it has become a sumptuous festival which is incomplete without several courses, including fried snacks, cooked meats and juices of the most exotic fruits. This kind of iftar diminishes the health benefits of fasting, for which the rule is simplicity and moderation. Iftar, and indeed suhur, should consist of meals low in fat and high in carbohydrates, to sustain one for worship and help to trim the waistline. Also increase vegetables and lower the meat consumption (which sadly goes up in Ramaḍan, as one can see from the long lines at the halal butchers).

Some people have a large meal at suhur, usually fat-rich, such as bread fried in butter (parata), with the hope that it will keep them going throughout the day. The problem with this strategy is that the fat is absorbed by the blood and safely stored in fat deposits around the body. As the day passes, the body first uses the carbohydrates and as soon as the body senses an ‘impending starvation’, it slows down the metabolism and conserves energy by functioning on fewer calories. This natural ‘fuel efficiency mode’ makes it harder for you to lose weight. Only a small portion of the fat consumed at breakfast will be used, the rest becomes flab.

If you want to really benefit from the fast then try this strategy at iftar: open the fast with dates and water or juice and eat slowly. It has been shown that it takes about 20 minutes for the stomach to fully signal to the brain that the body is full. This is why quickly wolfing down a meal in a few minutes leads to over-eating. Then pray Maghrib (and awwabin nafls) before going back to eat a moderate portion of your evening meal. You’ll eat much less, inshAllāh, and will be protected from excessive lethargy during the evening’s devotion which should include tarawiḥ and tahajjud. Follow the other Sunnahs too such as eating slowly, taking small bites, chewing well and thanking Allah for the food.

Another practice which not only earns us spiritual reward but also ensures we keep fit and healthy in Ramaḍan is tarawiḥ (additional congregational prayers after ʿisha’). This is both an important social gathering in the masjid and an illuminating opportunity to allow the Glorious Quran to penetrate the heart. This is the longest form of congregational worship lasting well over an hour depending on the speed of the imam’s recitation. The repeated cycles of sitting and standing (twenty for tarawiḥ itself and another nine for the farḍ ʿisha’, sunnah and congregational witr prayers) is equivalent to walking a good three miles. According to Dr. Shahid Ather (Professor of Medicine, Indiana University, USA), 20 rakʿahs of tarawiḥ burns 200 calories and is considered a mild form of exercise.

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