Tackling obesity for 1,400 years

Jalees Ahmad, London

The World Health Organization, under its key facts about obesity, said that in 2016, more than 1.9 billion people were overweight with 650 million being obese. Each year, it is said, 2.8 million people die due to health risks of being overweight.

Earlier this week, the UK government drew out a plan to tackle obesity and take a “global lead” in the obesity strategy. “Buy one, get one free” deals on junk food will be banned, calories are to be displayed on menus and a plan to ban junk food adverts on television before 9pm is now confirmed. It is safe to say that the coronavirus has exposed the UK’s heavy and underlying risk of bad health.

With the UK focusing more on the population’s health, now more than ever, many will find adjusting to a new sort of lifestyle hard to digest. Those individuals who are accustomed to eating excessively will be faced with new life choices.

Nonetheless, it can be said with confidence that the population’s dietary patterns will see a drastic shift. As Muslims, we have the complete code of conduct, Islam, which teaches us even the basics with such detail making it digestible.

We have the perfect example of our honourable Prophet Muhammadsa before us who taught us a variety of life lessons; from how to attain a spiritual connection with the Divine to the minutest subtleties of everyday life.

It goes without saying that whenever the world (or the UK in this reference) faces a dilemma, the light and beauties of Islam continue to shimmer down upon us.

Muslims, for 1,400 years now, have already had the perfect and complete way of life, which aids and assists in tackling several obstacles such as obesity and stoutness. 1,400 years ago, the Holy Quran, on multiple occasions, as well as the noble example of the Holy Prophetsa, emphasised on eating well, eating a moderate amount and most importantly, eating that which is healthy and pure:

یٰۤاَیُّہَا النَّاسُ کُلُوۡا مِمَّا فِی الۡاَرۡضِ حَلٰلًا طَیِّبًا ۫ۖ وَّ لَا تَتَّبِعُوۡا خُطُوٰتِ الشَّیۡطٰنِ ؕ اِنَّہٗ لَکُمۡ عَدُوٌّ مُّبِیۡنٌ

“O ye men! Eat of what is lawful and good in the earth; and follow not the footsteps of Satan; surely, he is to you an open enemy.” (Surah al-Baqarah, Ch.2: V.169)

فَکُلُوۡا مِمَّا رَزَقَکُمُ اللّٰہُ حَلٰلًا طَیِّبًا ۪ وَّ اشۡکُرُوۡا نِعۡمَتَ اللّٰہِ اِنۡ کُنۡتُمۡ اِیَّاہُ تَعۡبُدُوۡنَ

“So eat of the lawful and good things which Allah has provided for you; and be grateful for the bounty of Allah, if it is Him you worship.” (Surah an-Nahl, Ch.16: V.115)

As Muslims, not only are we instructed by Allah the Almighty to eat that which is halal, but it must also be tayyab i.e. good, pure, wholesome and agreeable. At times, something that may be halal can also be considered unlawful. This is a teaching unique to Islam alone.

یٰۤاَیُّہَا الَّذِیۡنَ اٰمَنُوۡا کُلُوۡا مِنۡ طَیِّبٰتِ مَا رَزَقۡنٰکُمۡ وَ اشۡکُرُوۡا لِلّٰہِ اِنۡ کُنۡتُمۡ اِیَّاہُ تَعۡبُدُوۡنَ

“O ye who believe! Eat of the good things We have provided for you, and render thanks to Allah, if it is He Whom you worship.” (Surah al-Baqarah Ch.2: V.173)

The subject matter of tayyab has also been alluded to in another verse of the Holy Quran:

یَسۡـَٔلُوۡنَکَ مَاذَاۤ اُحِلَّ لَہُمۡ ؕ قُلۡ اُحِلَّ لَکُمُ الطَّیِّبٰتُ

“They ask thee what is made lawful for them. Say, ‘All good things have been made lawful for you.” (Surah al-Maidah, Ch.5: V.5)

These verses indicate, under the word طَیِّبٰتِ, that Muslims must refrain from such foods as may cause any sort of hindrance to the physical, moral and spiritual health. The Holy Quran has explained that though something may be halal, it is not absolutely necessary that it fall under the category of tayyab.

For example, the consuming of chicken or goat may be halal; however, if the particular meat is rotten, then it goes against the requirement of tayyab. Thus, here, where the Holy Quran mentions halal, it also mentions tayyab, highlighting a very significant point that where the Holy Quran has spoken about food, it also firmly indicates and emphasises the eating of good, pure and wholesome things. Not only has the Quran strongly stressed the importance on halal and tayyab, but also encourages Muslims to refrain from excessive eating:

یٰبَنِیۡۤ اٰدَمَ خُذُوۡا زِیۡنَتَکُمۡ عِنۡدَ کُلِّ مَسۡجِدٍ وَّ کُلُوۡا وَ اشۡرَبُوۡا وَ لَا تُسۡرِفُوۡا ۚ اِنَّہٗ لَا یُحِبُّ الۡمُسۡرِفِیۡنَ

“O children of Adam! Look to your adornment at every time and place of worship and eat and drink but exceed not the bounds; surely, He does not love those who exceed the bounds.” (Surah al-A‘raf, Ch.7: V.32)

Here, to “exceed not the bounds” implies that one should eat a moderate amount and that one should not continue to eat the same types of food all the time. Researchers from Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, after conducting a research, said that people who were eating a moderate amount of carbohydrates had lower mortality rates (www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/hsph-in-thenews/eat-moderate-amount-of-carbs-forhealth)

Thus, the Holy Quran has repeatedly reminded Muslims of the significance and importance of maintaining and upholding a healthy dietary routine and this is exactly in accordance with the practice of the Holy Prophetsa. The Quran has stated:

“Verily you have in the Prophet of Allah an excellent model, for him who fears Allah and the Last Day and who remembers Allah much.” (Surah al-Ahzab, Ch.33: V.22)

The Holy Prophetsa was very cautious with regard to excessive eating. On one occasion, the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa said, “The food for two persons is sufficient for three, and the food of three persons is sufficient for four persons.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-At‘imah, Hadith 5392)

Similarly, in a narration recorded in Jamey al-Tirmidhi, Hazrat Miqdam said:

“I heard the Messenger of Allah saying, ‘The human does not fill any container that is worse than his stomach. It is sufficient for the son of Adam to eat what will support his back. If this is not possible, then a third for food, a third for drink and third for his breath.’” (Jamey al-Tirmidhi, Kitab al-Zuhd, Hadith 2380)

In another narration of Sahih al-Bukhari, it is narrated that Hazrat Anasra, with regard to the Holy Prophetsa, said:

“To the best of my knowledge, the Prophetsa did not take his meals in a big tray at all, nor did he ever eat well-baked thin bread, nor did he ever eat at a dining table.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-At‘imah, Hadith 5386)

Thus, it is unequivocally clear that as well as providing and accommodating for our spiritual needs, Islam has additionally drawn out a healthy dietary plan for us to follow, hence being a complete and perfect code of life. Alluding to the Promised Messiah’sas book, Ayyam-us-Sulh, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa, in the Friday Sermon of 17 May 2019, said:

“The Promised Messiahas states that the type of food one eats also has an effect on one’s spirituality. Thus, one needs to adopt moderation in relation to their diet as well. One should not be given to a diet consisting of only meat, nor should one only have a diet of greens and vegetables. One should adopt moderation in all the various foods God Almighty has provided for mankind and which He has declared as halal [lawful] and tayyab [pure and wholesome] and one should not exceed beyond the limits. Subsequently, such a practise will also affect one’s spirituality.

“When one adopts a balanced diet, they also develop a balance in their moral state and will remain inclined to the worship of God. The Promised Messiahas states that it is indeed the beautiful teachings of Islam that have provided us guidance in all matters. Furthermore, the Promised Messiahas states that it is an immense favour of God Almighty, which He has bestowed on man that He has laid down certain principles to maintain good health. In fact, God Almighty has stated:

کُلُوۡا وَاشۡرَبُوۡا وَلَا تُسۡرِفُوۡا

“That is to say, indeed one should eat and drink but in moderation and not eat excessively.

“The reason for this is because this will also adversely affect one’s physical condition, which then ultimately has an impact on one’s spirituality as well.

“Thus, a true servant of God, who wholly devotes himself in the worship of God, not only seeks to improve his spiritual condition and develop a bond with God Almighty, but also seeks to improve his physical condition and utilise all the bounties endowed to him by God Almighty in order to attain His pleasure. The comforts and luxuries of the world and consuming food and drink are not a believer’s ultimate objective; rather, one only seeks to derive benefit from these worldly bounties in order to attain the pleasure of God Almighty. Endeavouring to attain the pleasure of God Almighty is in fact the ultimate objective.”

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