By: Ibrahim Khan
Ramadan is a month when we are all intensely aware of the relationship we have with food, how much we are reliant on it, and how it can affect us mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. We really understand the power of food in dictating our moods, behaviours, and outlook on life.Islam is a lifestyle, not a stand-alone product, and all the different bits and pieces come together, intermesh, and are mutually dependent on others to work most effectively. If we truly want to taste the sweetness of prayer, and if we truly want our duas to be accepted, and for our children to be the coolness of our eyes, then we need to assess our lives holistically in the light of Islam.Consequently Ramadan is a great month to have a sincere look at how our eating habits stack up against those of the Prophet (PBUH) and his Companions (RAH) and why it is important for us to have an Islamic eating lifestyle for us to be the best Muslims we can be.The following are 8 ahadith taken from Bukhari that give a priceless insight into how the Prophet (PBUH) and his Companions would eat, feed, and live.
A paradigm shift in our eating habits
Narrated Abu Huraira: Once while I was in a state of fatigue (because of severe hunger), I met ‘Umar bin Al-Khattab, so I asked him to recite a verse from Allah’s Book to me. He entered his house and interpreted it to me. (Then I went out and) after walking for a short distance, I fell on my face because of fatigue and severe hunger. Suddenly I saw Allah’s Apostle standing by my head. He said, “O Abu Huraira!” I replied, “Labbaik, O Allah’s Apostle, and Sadaik!” Then he held me by the hand, and made me get up. Then he came to know what I was suffering from. He took me to his house, and ordered a big bowl of milk for me. I drank thereof and he said, “Drink more, O Abu Hirr!” So I drank again, whereupon he again said, “Drink more.” So I drank more till my belly became full and looked like a bowl. Afterwards I met ‘Umar and mentioned to him what had happened to me, and said to him, “Somebody, who had more right than you, O ‘Umar, took over the case. By Allah, I asked you to recite a Verse to me while I knew it better than you.” On that Umar said to me, “By Allah, if I admitted and entertained you, it would have been dearer to me than having nice red camels. (Bukhari)
What an astounding hadith this is when we compare our modern lives to the scenes it is describing. The Prophet and the Companions lived in a paradigm where calories and food were scarce and people would genuinely starve and feel hunger. Compare that to our times and we have to blush. Food is so plentiful for the first time in human history that the biggest threat to us is not a lack of calories and malnutrition but an excess of calories. This means that we must all reassess our relationship with food and shift from the “eat up and finish your plate” mentality which was designed to tackle malnutrition, to a “eat wholesome food in a controlled manner” mentality.
1. Small portions & simplicity
Narrated Anas: To the best of my knowledge, the Prophet 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. (Bukhari)
The latest preventative medical research is now suggesting that the best way to control our food intake is by restricting portion sizes, and that the best way to do that is by replacing large bowls and plates with smaller versions. This results in less food being eaten over time. And SubhanAllah this is what our Prophet (PBUH) did naturally all those years ago.
What is also fascinating to note here is, despite the Prophet living in a time where food was scarce and the received wisdom was “eat as much as you can when you get it”, he still insisted on eating in a controlled way. This shows the great importance of having this control over our portions and eating habits.
2. A wedding banquet fit for a Prophet (PBUH)
Narrated Anas: The Prophet halted to consummate his marriage with Safiyya. I invited the Muslims to his wedding banquet. He ordered that leather dining sheets be spread. Then dates, dried yoghurt and butter were put on those sheets. Anas added: The Prophet consummated his marriage with Safiyya (during a journey) whereupon Hais (sweet dish) was served on a leather dining sheet. (Bukhari)
A wedding banquet usually conjures up visions of a lavish, rich, opulent, and incredibly unhealthy meal. It does not conjure up images of dates, dried yoghurt, butter, and Hais, That is the equivalent to half a starter in our current mindset – and not a very good one at that. You can imagine the complaints if that was served at a wedding.
And yet the Prophet (PBUH), a religious and political leader, found it perfectly acceptable to serve this to his guests. Who do we think we are?
3. Eating with the poor & Portion control
Narrated Nafi’: Ibn ‘Umar never used to take his meal unless a poor man was called to eat with him. One day I brought a poor man to eat with him, the man ate too much, whereupon Ibn ‘Umar said, “O Nafi’! Don’t let this man enter my house, for I heard the Prophet saying, “A believer eats in one intestine (is satisfied with a little food), and a kafir (unbeliever) eats in seven intestines (eats much food).” (Bukhari)
This is a beautiful hadith that teaches us two things. Firstly that our eating is inextricably tied up with the eating and survival of those around us, as we have duties to them as their neighbours, relatives, and brothers in faith. When we eat this should provoke the thought of others who we have duties to who may not have food or have had the time or skill to cook. Secondly, it teaches us the incredible importance of portion control and eating well within our limit. Ibn ‘Umar thought this man’s behaviour so reprehensible that we banned the man from ever returning to his house. If we did that we would end up banning everyone – including ourselves!
4. Eating with proper etiquette and respect
Narrated Abu Juhaifa: While I was with the Prophet he said to a man who was with him, “I do not take my meals while leaning.” (Bukhari)
This is a fascinating hadith as it shows the importance and the respect the Prophet (PBUH) had for the bounty of Allah. We live in an era where food is cheap, easily accessible, and plentiful and varied. Consequently we don’t think twice about wasting it, throwing away half-eaten food, and treating it with the proper respect it deserves. Our Prophet on the other hand would not even take meals while leaning.
5. Fat-free, meat-free dishes
Narrated Sahl bin Sad: We used to be happy on Fridays, for there was an old lady who used to pull out the roots of Silq and put it in a cooking pot with some barley. When we had finished the prayer, we would visit her and she would present that dish before us. So we used to be happy on Fridays because of that, and we never used to take our meals or have a mid-day nap except after the Friday prayer. By Allah, that meal contained no fat. (Bukhari)
Every week the Companions would look forward to a meal that was entirely vegetarian and fat-free. The Companions didn’t require that every one of their meals include a meat element to it. This is something we need to reflect on as nearly all our meals have some meat involved. This is not only unsustainable for the environment, but it also limits the variety and quality of our nutrients. Some meat is certainly good, but overdoing anything never is.
6. Don’t criticise the bounties of Allah
Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet never criticized any food (he was invited to) but he used to eat if he liked the food, and leave it if he disliked. (Bukhari)
This hadith is self-explanatory, and we’ve heard it many times before. And yet, daily complaints can be heard at Muslim dinner tables up and down this country. This is not from the Sunnah. Not only has someone gone the effort of making something for you and you are being ungrateful by complaining, but your complaint indicates a level of attachment to food that is harmful. We only complain about things we really care about and hold dear – so unfortunately we don’t complain about our children not praying or knowing even the last ten surahs by heart – but we do complain about the levels of salt in a saalan. Now there’s a revealing and disturbing insight into the mind of the contemporary Muslim.
7. No refined white bread
Narrated Abu Hazim: that he asked Sahl, “Did you use white flour during the lifetime of the Prophet ?” Sahl replied, “No. Hazim asked, “Did you use to sift barley flour?” He said, “No, but we used to blow off the husk (of the barley). (Bukhari)
In the age of refined sugar, refined bread, and processed food, calories are overwhelming us. Did you know one slice of white bread is 361 calories? That means that just 6 slices of bread (or 3 sandwiches) takes us over the daily recommended amount of calories. Any more than that and we are just putting on fat. The best alternative to this kind of high-calorie food, is to go for the wholesome, unrefined food that is rich in fibre and nutrients and low in calories. This kind of food is also closer to the Prophet and his Companions’ eating habits.
May Allah make us heathier spiritually and physically this Ramadan, Ameen!
This article was originally featured on 1st Ethical in June 2015.
Photo Credit: razanmasari.com