The Holy Qur'an

Qur’anic guidance on a good diet

48 The Review of Religions – November 2006 Introduction The importance of eating and drinking well is related to spiritual as well as physical well- being, and the Holy Qur’an provides a lot of guidance on what should and should not be consumed to maintain a balanced and healthy life. This article explores the subject in greater detail. The Components of Diet A good and balanced diet is very important for keeping the body healthy. The first component is fluid, mainly water, which keeps the body hydrated and is essential for all the vital functions that go on in the body. The second consideration is the energy needs of the person also called the caloric requirements. These in turn depend on the age, sex, size and the amount of physical activities of that person and may vary from day to day. Glucose is the main fuel that gives instant energy for vital processes going on in the body. Glucose is obtained mainly from the breakdown of much more complex carbohydrate molecules or starches that are found in various types of grains, vegetables and fruits. Glucose along with Oxygen continually circulates in the body tissues through the blood and is available to provide energy at all times of the day. Any food in excess of the energy requirement gets stored up in the body in the form of fat. This is because, weight for weight, fat gives out double the calories compared to the carbohydrates and other sources of energy when metabolised. It, therefore, requires less storage in the body. The processes of growth, repair and replacement require addi- tional building material called proteins. The human body is capable of making these proteins but requires building bricks Qur’anic Guidance on a Good Diet By Dr. Latif Qureshi FRCP – Edinburgh, UK 49 QUR’ANIC GUIDANCE ON A GOOD DIET The Review of Religions – November 2006 called amino acids for this purpose. Some of these are built within the body and others are obtained from meat and some vegetables particularly beans. There is a slight difference in the configuration of protein obtained from vegetable and animal sources. The vegetable source of proteins cannot fulfil all the growth requirements of the body and are deficient in certain types of amino acids that must be obtained from animal proteins. A good diet should also supply minerals and electrolytes to the body. Calcium is the mineral that gives strength to the bones and is required right from the beginning of life in the form of Milk. Iron performs important functions in the body and there is an iron store in the body but the iron store needs to be replenished in the diet. Similarly there are many other minerals doing important jobs in the body such as Zinc, Magnesium and Cobalt. Meat, fresh fruits and vegetables supply all these items. Sodium and Potassium are important elec- trolytes that perform essential functions within and outside the cells of the body tissues. Their concentration always remains constant within a certain range. There is an intricate system to maintain this very fine balance. The kidneys, bowels and many other organs play an important role in this regard. Common table salt, fruits and vegetables are good sources of these electrolytes. Vitamins are of two types. There are those that can be stored in the body for long-term use and are known as fat-soluble vitamins. These are mainly Vitamins A, D and K. Milk and fish liver oils are good sources of A and D vitamins. The others are those that need to be supplied regularly as there is very limited reserve in the body. These are called water- soluble vitamins. These are Vitamins B complex totalling nearly twelve or more compounds and Vitamin C. Fresh vegetables and fruit supply these vitamins. There are some substances included in the food that have prominent medicinal effects. Tea, coffee, non-alcoholic cola drinks, 50 QUR’ANIC GUIDANCE ON A GOOD DIET The Review of Religions – November 2006 alcoholic beverages, cigarettes, cigars and other tobacco products are used as part of the diet in many countries and have a prominent effect on the brain. Caffeine, an ingredient of tea, coffee and cola drinks stimulates the human brain. It gives a feeling of well-being and alertness due to its pharmacological effect on the brain. This may become habit forming and addictive in some people. Ethyl alcohol, an ingredient of alcoholic beverages, depresses the human brain. This initially gives an impression of euphoria and relaxation followed by disorderly brain functions with increasing amounts leading to loss of consciousness and even death. It is also an addictive and habit forming drug and has well- known toxic effects on the liver, heart, brain and other parts of the nervous system. Tobacco contains nicotine that has complex effects on the nervous system. It is also habit forming and addictive. It also contains many other chemicals found to be associated with dangerous poisonous effects such as cancer and heart disease. All the food that we eat does not get digested but still serves other important functions in the bowel. Roughage and cellulose are such substances and are found in some vegetables, fruits and whole grains. They give bulk to the food and help to stabilize absorption of certain substances, specially the sugars, from the bowel. Spices are often added to the food to make it more palatable. Onions, garlic, ginger, mint, parsley, clove, cinnamon, coriander, cardamom, paprika and similar substances are usually used for their stronger flavours and smells that sometimes mask the undesirable smells of other articles of diet, such as fish and sea food, and give their own distinct flavour to the dish. Other substances are added to the food to give it a more pleasant colour. Turmeric, saffron and red chillies are naturally occurring sub- stances in this category, but now many new synthetic food colours are being used for this purpose. Honey, sugar and lactulose are used as sweetening agents and may also be used as preservatives 51 QUR’ANIC GUIDANCE ON A GOOD DIET The Review of Religions – November 2006 of food. Many chemical sweetening agents and preser- vatives are now commonly used in the food industry after approval. A Balanced Diet A balanced diet is one that fulfils the daily needs of fluids, energy, building processes, vitamins and minerals of the individual without causing any ill effects. Every person has needs tailored to their age, sex, height and activities. Hence a newborn baby’s balanced diet will be quite different from that of an adolescent. Similarly a man working as a full time gardener will have different needs to one working in a sedentary office job. A pregnant woman will have different needs compared to one who is not. The most appropriate and balanced diet for a newborn is provided in the mother’s milk. It fulfils all the needs of fluid, calories, proteins, calcium and other minerals and some vitamins in the babies. It gives protection from many illnesses due to the transfer of protective proteins from the mother to the baby in the milk. So this is the most balanced food for babies. As the baby grows older and the body stores of substances like iron are depleted they need to be replenished by suitably prepared food supplements. The balanced diet for a pregnant woman must take into account the needs of the growing baby in the womb, but basically the principle is the same as outlined above. Increased physical activity is associated with increased utilisation of glucose and this has a beneficial effect on health. The increased activity, however, increases the need for energy and hence food. A good balanced diet for children, adolescent, male and female adults and older people should contain sufficient clean unadulterated drinking water. The daily calorie requirements need to be met according to each person’s circumstances by sufficient carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Fresh fruits and vege- tables must also be consumed 52 QUR’ANIC GUIDANCE ON A GOOD DIET The Review of Religions – November 2006 regularly. Milk is a good source of calcium and proteins and is useful for children and the elderly. Seafood and fish are very good sources of proteins and also supply vitamins and oils that are beneficial for maintaining good health. The word ‘balance’ means that neither excess or deficiency in this regard is good for health. Too much or too little of any of these substances is associated with ill health. The substances with pharmacological effects should not be a part of a healthy diet. Similarly spices, colouring materials and preservatives are best avoided unless being used for some medicinal purposes. So how does the Qur’an guide us on diet? Food that can be consumed There is a lot of guidance about diet in the Qur’an. One important thing mentioned is about what to eat and this is repeated at several places in the Qur’an but the following verse explains it very clearly. O ye people! Eat of what is lawful and wholesome in the earth… (Ch.2: V.169) The word used in Arabic is ‘tayyab’ translated as wholesome and good. This can also be translated as healthy, clean and pure. So the food and water that is consumed should be clean, pure and healthy. This is one very important principle of modern hygiene. Drinking infected fluids can cause serious diseases like cholera, dysentery, typhoid and hepatitis. Drinking water is now properly treated to kill all the germs contained in it, and Milk is pasteurised to achieve the same object. Raw or rotten vegetables and fruits can cause a lot of problems. Similarly meat or cream infected with germs can cause serious food poisoning. All these possibilities are covered by the guidance contained in the Qur’an: They ask thee, what is made lawful for them. Say, ‘All good things have been made lawful for you;… (Ch.5: V.5) 53 QUR’ANIC GUIDANCE ON A GOOD DIET The Review of Religions – November 2006 Again the word used is ‘tayyibaat’ in the Arabic text. The importance of water as previously quoted is as follows: And We made from water every living thing… (Ch.21: V.31) Milk is mentioned as a good wholesome diet in the following verse: And surely in the cattle too there is a lesson for you. We give you to drink of what is in their bellies, from betwixt the faeces and the blood, milk pure and pleasant for those who drink it. (Ch:16: V.67) This verse beautifully describes how cattle convert the grass and vegetable matter that they eat into a pleasant and nutritious drink that contains proteins, sugar, fat, calcium and vitamins. The importance of milk for babies and young children is described in the following passage: And We have enjoined on man to be good to his parents. His mother bears him with pain, and brings him forth with pain. And the bearing of him and his weaning takes thirty months. (Ch.46: V.16) A mother’s milk is sterile and does not need any pasteurisation or boiling before it is consumed. It is the best food for the newborn. Protective substances that prevent diseases are also transferred from the mother to the baby in the milk. There was a shift for a period to formula feed and other methods of artificial feeding but slowly the clinicians and scientist are realising the importance of breast milk. The Qur’an also mentions the time period during which nursing by the mothers may be necessary and useful, but there is considerable laxity in this regards depending upon indi- vidual circumstances: And mothers shall give suck to their children for two whole years, this is for those 54 QUR’ANIC GUIDANCE ON A GOOD DIET The Review of Religions – November 2006 who desire to complete the suckling. (Ch.2: V.234) Another drink specially mentioned in the Qur’an is honey as quoted below: And thy Lord has inspired the bee, saying ‘Make thou houses in the hills and in the trees and in the trellises which they build. ‘Then eat of every kind of fruit, and then pursue submissively the paths prescribed by your Lord. There comes forth from their bellies a drink of varying hues. Therein is cure for men. Surely, in that is a Sign for a people who reflect. (Ch.16: Vs.69-70) The process of making honey is beautifully described. Different types of honey with different properties are described and we are invited to research this. We already know that honey has a beneficial desensitising effect on many people who have allergy to pollens and improves the sufferers from hayfever and asthma. Grains and fruits as food are mentioned in the following verses: And the dead earth is a Sign for them: We quicken it and bring forth therefrom grain, of which they eat.‘And We have placed in it gardens of date-palms and grapes, and We have caused springs to gush forth therein,’ ‘That they may eat of the fruit thereof, and it was not their hands that made them. Will they not then be grateful? (Ch.36: Vs.34-36) Fruits, oil and spices in the following verses: And He it is Who brings into being gardens, trellised and untrellised, and the date-palm and cornfields whose fruits are of diverse kinds, and the olive and the pomegranate, alike and unlike. Eat of the fruit of each when it bears fruit… (Ch.6: V.142) And We produced for you thereby gardens of date palms 55 QUR’ANIC GUIDANCE ON A GOOD DIET The Review of Religions – November 2006 and vines; for you therein are abundant fruits; and of them you eat. And a tree which springs forth from Mount Sinai; it produces oil and many a condiments for those who eat. (Ch.23: Vs.20-21) This verse appears to point to the olive tree, but there are many vegetable sources of oils and condiments and all of them could be included here. Meat is mentioned in the following verses: Do they not see that, among the things which Our hands have fashioned, We have created for them cattle of which they are masters? And We have subjected the same to them, so that some of them they use for riding and some others they eat. (Ch.36: Vs.72-73) And He it is Who has subjected to you the sea that you may eat therefrom fresh flesh. (Ch.16: V.15) In the following verse food obtained from both the rivers and the sea are included: And the two seas are not alike: this one palatable sweet and pleasant to drink, and the other, salt and bitter. And from each you eat fresh flesh… (Ch.35: V.13) So the variety of food allowed by the Creator to be eaten by human beings is a very large one, but it must be clean, healthy and appropriate for the person. Some individuals have allergies, and in that case a food, although allowed, is not wholesome for them and they should refrain from consuming it. Despite this liberty about food we find another very important guidance quoted as follows: …And eat and drink but exceed not the bounds; surely, He does not love those who exceed the bounds. (Ch.7: V.32) 56 QUR’ANIC GUIDANCE ON A GOOD DIET The Review of Religions – November 2006 The validity of this vital instruction has been proven beyond doubt during the modern era. Most of the common ailments of the present day are caused by dietary indiscretion. Obesity is rampant in the Western world and is due to consuming more calories than needed. The excess food is stored as fat in the body and causes untold trouble for it. Sugar diabetes has similar reasons, one being consuming too much sugar and not undertaking enough activity. High blood pressure is thought to be due to taking too much salt; heart disease due to too much fat and so on. Hadhrat Muhammad(saw) who followed the teachings of the Qur’an to the best of human ability has advised regarding this matter. It is recorded in his traditions that one should stop eating while still hungry. Another very important aspect of consuming food is the realisation that it is provided by the Creator of all things and, therefore, gratitude must be shown to Him for this blessing. This is particularly important because good, wholesome and clean food not only keeps the body healthy but also has a profound effect on the soul. He must therefore, be remembered at all stages of preparation and consumption of food. So the following guidance points to this fact: Eat, then, of that over which the name of Allah has been pronounced, if you are the believers in His Signs. (Ch.6: V.119) Food that is forbidden There is also detailed guidance on food that is forbidden for human consumption. This is contained in the following verse: Forbidden to you is the flesh of an animal which dies of itself, and blood and the flesh of swine; and that on which is invoked the name of one other than Allah; and that which has been strangled; and that beaten to death; and that killed by a fall; and that which has been gored to death; and that which a wild 57 QUR’ANIC GUIDANCE ON A GOOD DIET The Review of Religions – November 2006 animal has eaten, except that which you have properly slaughtered; and that of which has been slaughtered at an altar…. (Ch.5: V.4) These are very detailed instructions and there is a very sound and scientific basis for each. Eating the flesh of dead, strangled or injured animals can cause many serious diseases and they are all forbidden. Similarly, blood, which becomes a good culture medium for the growth of all types of germs once outside the circulation of the body of the animal, is forbidden. Modern research has discovered that the meat of swine causes many illnesses in human beings if the flesh is consumed improperly cooked. This is also forbidden. So this is amazing hygiene advice given more than fourteen centuries ago when the science of hygiene was not even born. There is another angle to the Qur’anic teachings that is not described in any textbook of medicine or hygiene. As mentioned earlier the close relationship between the human body and the soul is the basis of the advice in the Divine Scriptures. Every action that the body undertakes has an effect on the soul and vice versa. In this verse this relationship is explained in relation to the consumption of food. The purpose of eating is not only to keep healthy and well but also to become grateful to the Provider of these bounties. Hence animals that are also the creation of the same Lord have to be treated properly and slaughtered in the most painless and humane way. Food has an obvious effect on the body and this is reciprocated on the soul. This is a deep concept that becomes clear with careful consideration. The following verse highlights this point further. And eat not of that on which the name of Allah has not been pronounced, for surely that is disobedience. And certainly the evil ones inspire their friends that they may dispute with you. And if you 58 QUR’ANIC GUIDANCE ON A GOOD DIET The Review of Religions – November 2006 obey them, you will indeed be setting up gods with God. (Ch.6: V.122) An exemption is, however, granted in situations of extreme emergency when some of the forbidden articles may be consumed: Say, I find not in what has been revealed to me aught forbidden to an eater who wishes to it, except it be that which dies of itself, or blood poured forth, or the flesh of swine – for all that is unclean – or what is profane, on which is invoked the name of other than Allah. But whoso is driven by necessity [i.e. from starvation or famished beyond one’s capacity], being neither disobedient nor exceeding the limit, then surely thy Lord is Most Forgiving, Merciful. (Ch.6: V.146) Fasting and Health Although eating and drinking is a very pleasurable pursuit, yet in many religions including Islam, fasting has been prescribed for their followers This practice of fasting is prevalent in all major religions of the world. The guidance that we find in the Qur’an about this is contained in the following verses. O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may become righteous. The prescribed fasting is for a fixed number of days, but whoso among you is sick or is on a journey shall fast the same number of other days; and for those who are able to fast only with great difficulty is an expiation – the feeding of a poor man. And whoso performs a good work with willing obedience, it is better for him. And fasting is good for you, if you only knew. The month of Ramadan is that in which the Qur’an was sent down as a guidance for mankind with clear proofs of guidance and discrimination. Therefore, whosoever of you is present at home in this month, let him 59 QUR’ANIC GUIDANCE ON A GOOD DIET The Review of Religions – November 2006 fast therein. But whoso is sick or is on a journey, shall fast the same number of other days. Allah desires to give you facility and He desires not hardship for you, and that you may complete the number, and that you may exalt Allah for His having guided you and that you may be grateful. (Ch.2: Vs.184-186) The guidance in the Qur’an about fasting is that it is to be carried out by healthy adults. Eating and drinking is prohibited from dawn to the sunset. Fasting, however, is forbidden for those who are either sick or are travelling. They need to complete the number of days of fasting at another time when they recover from their illness or come back home from their journey. But those people who cannot complete this count of their fasting days because of chronic illness or some other reason are commanded instead to feed a poor man in lieu of this. Fasting has been prescribed for the benefit of the people and the main purpose is to make them righteous. It is not to put them to any hardship. This is basically the summary of this teaching as prescribed in the Qur’an. Now with modern research it has become clear that occasional and regular fasting has a beneficial effect on health. It has been found to be effective in restoring metabolism, lowering blood pressure, improving sugar utilisation in the body, reducing body weight and helping give up harmful habits such as smoking, drugs and alcohol. It also has many moral benefits such as feeding the hungry and the poor. It also teaches people to exercise patience, perseverance and gives an insight into the problem of those people who are less fortunate. Intoxicants Another accompaniment of diet is alcoholic drinks and intoxicants. Many plants, their fruits, seeds, sap, root and other parts have active medicinal properties. The Poppy plant is an 60 QUR’ANIC GUIDANCE ON A GOOD DIET The Review of Religions – November 2006 excellent example. Its fruits, seeds and sap oozing out of its fruit known as opium has been used in medicine for as long as human history. Even today the medicines obtained from its extracts are better than any another known drugs. It relieves pain, improves sleep, controls diarrhoea and relieves coughing. However, it is a depressant of brain functions and can be habit forming and addictive. Its abuse can cause untold human misery and ill-health. Yet despite this the value of the drug cannot be ignored. Ethyl alcohol is a similar drug. It is obtained from the fermentation of various types of sugars and starchy material. In the past, many formulations of alcohol were used in medicine because of its properties of depressing brain functions. They were used to calm patients, improve sleep and dissolve certain active ingre- dients of other plants in the form of tincture and elixirs. Despite good uses, it is estimated that billions of pounds worth of damage occurs in the U.K. alone due to excessive drinking. A lot of ill health like cirrhosis of liver, heart disease, alcohol depen- dence, traffic accidents, street hooliganism and deaths are caused by alcohol. It is now well- known that even small amounts of alcohol affect judgement. Another very important drug is Cocaine. This is also a plant extract. This drug was used as a very effective local anaesthetic for a long time until better drugs were discovered. This has a stimulant action on the brain and as such gives a feeling of well- being. It also causes wakefulness and interferes with sleep. This effect on the brain causes it to have addictive properties and is habit forming. Unfortunately this is used as a pleasurable agent with very serious consequences. Caffeine is another stimulant of the brain that is a part of the diet of many people. It is a com- ponent of coffee, tea and cola drinks. It increases the activity of the brain and gives a feeling of being active. It can cause problems with the sleep and may be habit forming in some people. 61 QUR’ANIC GUIDANCE ON A GOOD DIET The Review of Religions – November 2006 It has an effect on the kidneys and increases the urine production and thus may make some people to go to the toilet more frequently. Marijuana is another plant extract with hallucinogenic properties. It has variable effect on different subjects and in some persons may precipitate serious mental illnesses. This also has certain medicinal effects and has been tried in various illnesses including Multiple Sclerosis and is claimed to have some beneficial effects. Tobacco is another plant and is widely smoked and ingested. It has well known pharmacological effects. One ingredient with pronounced effect on the nervous system is Nicotine. This gives a feeling of relaxation to the user of the drug and is the cause of its addictive properties. This drug is so widely smoked in the form of cigarettes that we now know a lot about its harmful effects. This has resulted in banning the advertisement of smoking on the media, not allowing smoking in public places and transport and putting health warning on the container packets. Guidance about intoxicants is contained in the following verses of the Holy Qur’an: They ask thee concerning wine and the game of hazard, Say: ‘In both there is great sin and also some advantages for men; but their sin is greater than their advantage’… (Ch.2: V.220) O ye who believe! intoxicants and game of chance and idols and divining arrows are only an abomination of Satan’s handiwork. So shun each one of them that you may prosper. Satan desires only to create enmity and hatred among you by means of intoxicants and games of chance, and to keep you back from the remembrance of Allah and from Prayer. But will you keep back? (Ch.5: Vs.91-92) In these verses the command of 62 QUR’ANIC GUIDANCE ON A GOOD DIET The Review of Religions – November 2006 prohibition of alcohol and other intoxicants is given. The reason for the prohibition is also explained. The benefit of some of these drugs is acknowledged, but their harm is highlighted as the harm overweighing their advantage. It is also amazing that gambling is mentioned here too and we now know that this habit may also have similar addictive effects on people and cause serious harm. The governing principle in the Qur’anic teachings everywhere is that prevention of harm is always better and advisable rather than curing it afterwards. Summary The teachings of the Holy Qur’an about the human diet are based on Divine revelation. God Almighty is the Creator of the machine that is the human body and guides humans to eat and drink all clean and wholesome water, milk, honey, vegetables, fruits, grains, fish, seafood and permitted meat of cattle and birds that He has created for the benefit of mankind. He forbids drinking intoxicants and unclean fluids and eating unclean food, dead animals, blood and swine or any other such food that is sacrificed to a deity other than Allah. This emphasises the point that eating and drinking is not only required for the health of the human body, but also has a profound effect on the health and well-being of the human soul. References • Ali, Maulvi Sher, The Holy Qur’an: Arabic Text with English Translation, 2005. Islam International Publications Limited. 63The Review of Religions – November 2006 Humanity First is a global charity registered in 19 countries. We have responded to global disasters such as the Pakistan Earthquake, the Asian Tsunami and Hurricane Katrina. We also run a number of long-term projects in Africa and South America to feed the needy, provide safe drinking- water, help restore health and provide training in IT and tailoring. Our aims are to take people out of dependance and restore communities by improving health and providing sustainable careers. We provide help on the basis of need, and irrespective of race, religion or politics. 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