Breastfeeding: Fulfilling an Islamic Duty & Environmental Stewardship

By Khairoon Abbas

My second child turns two years old this month and it’s an emotional moment for me. I am filled with pride seeing my toddler grow, hearing his sweet little voice sing his ABCs and call for mama. Yet I am teary-eyed as I realise our two wonderful years of breastfeeding is coming to what feels like an abrupt end. The four years I have spent breastfeeding my two children have allowed me to reflect upon the spiritual significance of breastfeeding, particularly as a Muslim mother. In fact, this journey has brought me closer to Islam. With every passing month of breastfeeding, I, like millions of Muslim mothers around the world, am reminded of how Islam guides and encourages us to give our children the best nourishment in their early years through breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding and Islam

After my first child was born in 2012, I struggled to breastfeed him and I was very close to giving up. In between my son’s piercing cries and my moments of desperation, I turned to Allah in prayer, beseeching guidance. If breastfeeding was a natural act, why was it challenging? I remembered the wise words of my grandmother who lovingly reminded me that it is the child’s entitled right to breastfeed and that I should persevere.

In fact, the Holy Qur’an and various traditions place utmost importance on breastfeeding. It is narrated from the Prophet (PBUH): “Allāh (SWT) has placed the sustenance (rizq) of the child in the two breasts of the mother, in one is his water, and in the other his food.” In the mother’s body, Allah (SWT) has created a remarkable system of feeding a child in the most beneficial way. It is narrated from the Prophet (PBUH) that “For a child, there is no milk better than the milk of the mother” (Mustadrak al-Wasāil, vol. 15, pg. 156).

“Mothers may breastfeed their children two complete years for whoever wishes to complete the nursing [period].” Qur’an 2:233

Breastfeeding not only provides the optimal nutrients for the baby’s growth and development, but it also creates an extraordinary bond between a mother and child. Like Islam, national and international health organizations such as Health Canada and the World Health Organization recognize breastfeeding as the normal and unparalleled method of feeding infants and mothers are advised to breastfeed - exclusively for the first six months, and sustained for up to two years or longer with appropriate complementary feeding. The more I breastfed and read about the benefits of breastfeeding to both mother and child, I realized that breastfeeding goes beyond a religious duty or obligation.


Breastfeeding and the environment

Breastfeeding offers countless environmental benefits. It is both environmentally-friendly and is an invaluable renewable resource. Breastfeeding is also one of the most environmentally sound food sources available no matter where you live in this world, whether you are in a rural Morocco or urban Canada. Firstly, breastfeeding does not waste scarce resources or produce pollution. Secondly, breastmilk is produced by the mother and given to the baby with a zero ecological and carbon footprint. And thirdly, breastfeeding requires no packaging, shipping, transport or disposal and therefore, there is less waste going to landfills.

As a communications professional who spent seven years working as a sustainable lifestyles consultant for the United Nations, I remain continually intrigued by how our daily actions impact the environment. My work involved researching, writing and training young people and educators on how to incorporate sustainable lifestyle choices in their daily lives at a time when the Earth’s resources are being depleted faster than they can be replenished. This work enabled me to recognize humanity’s crucial role in adopting more sustainable ways of living that are in harmony with our communities and nature.

Islam encourages environmental stewardship, particularly given our role as caretakers of the environment. We all have a responsibility to take care of our planet and protect it as much as we possibly can. Science tells us that If we continue the same consumption patterns, by 2030, just 13 years from now, we will need two planet Earths to support all 8.5 billion of us. This is a stark reminder that the time to change and take action for a better, cleaner and greener environment, one that is well within the Earth’s bounds, is now. As individuals, that action begins in our homes, in the food we eat, and the way we feed our children.


Khairoon Abbas holds a bachelor's degree in communications and a master's degree in journalism and has spent many years (2009-2016) working as a consultant with the United Nations Environment Programme. Khairoon currently lives in Richmond Hill, Canada. 

Is it time more Muslims turned to veganism?

By: Nadia Kadry

“It’s haram to be vegetarian, you’re denying what Allah has made permissible for you.”

This is a complaint I receive from family members when I am vocal about eating less meat. Whilst eating halal tayyib meat is permissible in Islam, there are compelling arguments made that adopting a vegan, vegetarian, or semi-vegetarian diet is more in accordance with the Prophetic tradition and Islamic principles than the current daily meat eating culture amongst many Muslim communities.

We can look directly to the diet of the Prophet (pbuh) who reportedly only ate meat occasionally, to support maintaining at least a semi-vegetarian diet today. It is a forgotten Sunnah of our beloved Prophet (pbuh) to keep meat consumption minimal, treating it as a luxury rather than a daily necessity. During his caliphate, Umar ibn al Khattab (ra) prohibited people from eating meat two days in a row, warning that meat has “has an addiction like the addiction of wine.” We can see a huge divergence when we compare many Muslim majority cultures’ meat eating habits to that of the Prophet’s (pbuh).

Eating lawfully and wholesomely

 “O mankind, eat from earth what is halal (lawful) and tayyib (good/wholesome)…” (Holy Quran 2:168)

From a strictly religious standpoint, for meat to be considered halal tayyib and therefore permissible, the process needs to meet requirements beyond what many understand as halal as the draining of the blood and the recitation of Allah’s name at the time of slaughter. The other requirements needed for meat to be tayyib and thus lawful to eat, are less known.

The animal must be raised in a humane and wholesome environment, be fed and given water prior to slaughter, and not be stressed, abused or mishandled, nor witness another animal being killed, among other requirements. The reality is that most of today’s meat, even when labeled “halal,” comes from battery farms where the animals endure cramped conditions and cruel and inhumane practices and are injected with harmful steroids and hormones.

Animal welfare is essential in Islam with the Prophet (pbuh) often preaching that animals be treated with the utmost compassion, mercy and kindness. There is thus a stark contrast between Islam’s stated animal ethics and the poor conditions that thousands of mass-farmed animals endure everyday. It is worth wondering whether the Prophet (pbuh), who would curse the one who mistreated an animal would approve of such practices.

Environmental effects of meat production

“Do not pollute the earth after it has been (so) wholesomely (set in order) …” (Holy Quran 7:56)

Animal agriculture reportedly accounts for 51% of global greenhouse gas emissions, with no other single human activity having a greater impact on the planet. This is unsurprising when you think about all the land, vegetation, energy and water required for raising animals for consumption, especially considering our growing population and appetites. Eating meat is a hugely inefficient transfer of energy, as the amount of food the world’s cattle consumes is reportedly equal to the caloric needs of 8.7 billion people.

This illustrates the huge inequality our food systems sustain, as grains that could nourish those in poverty are being used to feed livestock to then be consumed by wealthier people. The increased demand for grains puts humans in competition with animals and drives the price for these grains up, further compounding the global food crisis.

Humans are the successors of the Earth

“And it is He (Allah) who has made you successors upon the earth…” (Holy Quran 6:165)

The natural world is a fundamental part of Islam; the whole of earth has been created a place of worship for us and the Qur’an glorifies nature and wildlife frequently. The Qur’an tells us that we were appointed as stewards on Earth, and thus have a duty to protect our planet, Allah’s creation, from environmental degradation. This includes protecting against the mass deforestation that the meat industry requires and thus protecting the habitats of much wildlife. More importantly, we need to recognize the impact of global greenhouse gas emissions on our fellow humans, mostly those in the global south who disproportionately suffer the effects of climate change whilst contributing the least.

Reviving our relationship with the environment

“…Eat and drink from the provision of Allah, and do not commitabuse on the earth, spreading corruption” (Holy Quran 2:60)

Following the principles of our religion, we ought to reevaluate and revive our relationship with the environment and consider how our diets, among other things, impact the earth and other people. I will be the first to admit that a transition to a more ethical and meat-free diet is difficult and requires time, thought, and money, which is a luxury not everyone has.

Conversations about the environment, animal welfare, our health and reviving the Sunnah of the Prophet (pbuh) need to be started which can help enable a cultural shift amongst Muslim communities in the way we view and eat meat and our participation in harmful food systems. This need not involve shaming anyone’s diets or lifestyles, but rather in showing the perfect harmony a vegetarian diet has with Islam’s principles in the modern day.

“The point is to live consciously and intentionally—to walk on the path of continual, voluntary self-surrender, for this is what it means to be in Islam. First for the Creator, then for our own spiritual development, for the good of the beings we share this world with, and for the continued health of this delicate world itself.” – Ezra Ereckson

On a practical level, we can make greater effort to lessen our meat consumption to a couple of times a week, month or year. This can involve designating a specific day a week to eating meat. Where possible and affordable, one should buy organic and locally sourced foods, which extends beyond meat and animal products. Ultimately, we need to become more conscious of the way we live and eat and try to keep in accordance with the ethics of Islam.

This article originally appeared on The Muslim Vibe on October 20th, 2016. 

How did the Prophet and his Companions eat?


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. 

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From Asthma to Zika: UNEP tackles links between health and environment

Skin cancer. Lung cancer. Asthma. Lead poisoning. Mercury poisoning. Malaria. Ebola. Zika. The list of health conditions that can be linked to environmental pollution and degradation is long and growing.

Speaking to a packed room of international delegates on Wednesday morning, UN Environment Programme Executive Director Achim Steiner stressed that the links between health and environment are fundamental, and that international action can have a profound impact.

"The spread of Zika, just as with Ebola, has sent a strong signal to the international community that there is a need for increased attention to the linkages between environment and health," he said. "There is a growing awareness that humans, through their intervention in the environment, play a vital role in exacerbating or mitigating health risks."

Mr. Steiner was addressing UNEP's Committee of Permanent Representatives (CPR), a group of 300 delegates representing over 140 countries and major groups. The CPR is meeting at UNEP's Nairobi headquarters this week to prepare for the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA), the world's highest-level decision-making body on the environment, which will convene at the end of May.

In his remarks, Steiner cited data from the World Health Organization (WHO), which has found that 23 per cent of all premature deaths around the world can be attributed to environmental factors. Among children, that figure rises to 36 per cent.

"Every year, nearly 7 million people die because they are exposed to indoor and outdoor air pollution, from power generation, cookstoves, transportation, industrial furnaces, wildfires, or other causes," Steiner said.

"We are eating into an ecological infrastructure that not only sustains us, but protects us. The fallout from the footprint of human activity in the 21st century seems to grow every year."

Mr. Steiner also pointed out that more than 2 billion people live in water-stressed areas, 1,000 children die every day from water-borne diseases, and 42 million life years are lost every year due to natural disasters.

There is strong evidence that international action to protect the environment can have strong, positive impacts on human health. Thanks to the Montreal Protocol, which took effect in 1989, nearly 100 substances that deplete the ozone layer have been removed from circulation. Because of that progress, some 2 million cases of skin cancer will be prevented before 2030. And the removal of lead from fuel is already preventing over 1 million premature deaths each year.

UNEP - in partnership with the World Health Organization, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions and the Montreal Protocol - is preparing a report entitled Healthy Environment, Healthy People that will explore how the environment impacts human health. The report will be launched at UNEA, where it will be the subject of a discussion among ministers on the implementation of the environmental dimension of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. The Agenda and its 17 goals were adopted in September by 193 Member States, and lay out a pathway for sustainable development. The goals integrate the social, economic and environmental concerns of development.

A healthy environment presents opportunities for a healthier society, and it brings economic benefits as well. The phase out of ozone-depleting CFCs should result in a cumulative $1.8 trillion in global health benefits by 2060. Eliminating lead in gasoline on a global scale will boost global GDP by an estimated 4 per cent. And the return on investment in water and sanitation services is between $5 and $28 per dollar invested.

History of Medicine in the Islamic Civilization


By: Amira Ayad

For early Muslims, knowledge was a treasure they would eagerly seek. Medical science and pharmacy were no exceptions.

Muslim physicians’ early practice emphasized the importance of preserving health through natural gentle interventions. The Hippocratic philosophy of ‘Premium non nocera’(first don't harm) was a well kept notion in their minds as it reflected the teaching of their religion. Prophet Muhammad’s words, “Your body has rights over you” (agreed upon - Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī) paved their way to amazing advancement in the medical, pharmaceutical, and health fields.

Studying history, we can see that medicine within the Islamic civilization passed through three main stages (Abouleish, n.d.). The first stage started in the early 7th century by collecting and translating the medical knowledge of the Greeks, Persians, Assyrian Syriacs, Indians and Byzantines. (Nagamia, 1998)

Soon enough, Muslim physicians started to elaborate on the collected body of knowledge and largely expanded it through experience, exploration, experimentations, testing, and practice. This was during the Golden Age of the Islamic civilization that brought the original contributions of Muslim physicians in the medical, pharmaceutical, herbal, nutritional and botanical fields. This second stage extended during the ninth through thirteenth centuries. During the last stage, however, decline occurred which reflected the stagnation and gradual deterioration of the whole Islamic nation.

During the second stage, many physicians, Arabs as well as non-Arabs, contributed to the flourishing of the medicine. Physicians like Al-Razi, or Razes (841 – 926 AD), and Ibn-Sina, known as Avicenna (980 – 1037 AD) were pioneers in the medical fields. Their books and teachings were used as bases for medical study in Europe for centuries to come.

Al-Razi’s fame started with the establishment of a hospital in Baghdad in the 9th century which included a special ward for mental illness. He also pioneered in holistic and spiritual medicine, advocating healing and caring for the whole patient. This idea was well reflected in his book ‘Al-Tibb al-Rawhani’ (Spiritual Medicine) where he emphasized the importance of heart purification and ethical and virtuous conducts in achieving total healing.

In his famous book, Al-Qanun fi al-Tibb (The Law in Medicine), Ibn-Sina laid the foundation of medical practice, compiled a complete Materia Medica, described diseases and malfunctions  and gave a full formulary of remedies, suggestions and recipes for treatment.


Balancing Body


As early as the 10th century, Muslim physicians were treating eye diseases and even performing cataract surgery. Al-Mawsili, an Iraqi ophthalmologist and physician, designed a special needle to remove cataract by suction. And, an amazingly complete text book on eye disease ‘Notebook of the Oculist’ was written by Ali Ibn Isa also in the 10th century Baghdad. On Ibn Isa’s valuable reference was based the European knowledge of modern ophthalmology. (Al-Hassani, 2006)

Ibn al-Nafis, the Syrian Muslim scholar, described in a treatise written in 1210 AC the role of the heart and lung in blood purification and elaborated on Ibn-Sina’s description of the pulmonary circulation. Ibn al-Nafis accurately described the anatomical structure of heart chambers and the fine structure of the circulatory system hundreds of years before Western discoveries.

Early Muslims also laid the foundation of modern day pharmacology through the early work of Sabur ibn Sahl, Al-Razi and Ibn-Sina in the early 9th century. Later on, in the 11th century, Al-Biruni wrote his famous master piece ‘The Book of Pharmacology’ compiling an amazing work on drugs and remedies. Al-Zahrawi’s writings ‘Al-Tasrif’ (Dispensing) further taught methods of drug preparations and formulation starting from simple remedies all the way to complex compounding. (Al-Hassani, 2006)

The principal concepts embodying medicine as practiced during this period were based on the essential meaning of balance. They presented the physician’s role as one of in balancing and harmonizing overall bodily functions while restoring health and healing on the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual planes.

Physical ailments were thought to arise mainly as a result of accumulation of excess waste substance in the body. Overeating, improper food choice and other unhealthy habits were regarded as the source of the accumulated morbid matter, and a disease’s symptoms appears when the digestive process becomes overwhelmed. (Al-Jauziyah, 2003)

More importantly, however, it was the fundamental belief of a Muslim physician that the physical body should never be the sole interest of the physician. It is the Ruh, or soul, which gives this body its vitality and true essence. (Nagamia, 1998) It was thus essential for a Muslim physician to be well aware of the diseases of the heart and soul and how to treat them along with managing physical symptoms.

Mixed Approach


During the third stage of this thriving medical history within the Islamic world, and around the fourteenth century, a new type of medical writing emerged. The authors were religious scholars, rather than physicians. Their aim was to preserve the wealth of knowledge and heritage compiled and practiced by Muslims over the years from fading away before the rapidly rising Western society. (National Library of Medicine, 1998)

Their writings all carried the same title: Al-Tibb Al-Nabawi (Prophetic Medicine) and was intended as an alternative to the Greek-based medical science. Most famous among them were the writings of Al-Jauziyah, As-Suyuti, and Az-Zahabi which are considered as the base for what is today referred to as ‘Islamic Medicine.’

Al-Jauziyah’s recommendations for approaching the patient reflected the preserved notion of balance and holistic approach taught by early Muslim physicians. He advised physicians to investigate all areas of their patient’s life, research the real cause behind the disease, examine the patient’s feelings, mood and life style and consider dietary options before resorting to drugs. (Al Jauziyah, 2003)

The physicians were knowledgeable about the ‘sickness of the heart and soul’ and took great care when approaching them in a professional yet caring manner. They realized the effects of stress, emotions and mental state, and used positive affirmations from Qur’an and Prophetic Sunnah to increase hope and strengthen the will for healing.

Moral values, love, courage, patience, kindness, and altruism were prescribed as the best remedies for the inner self, and prayer was practiced for maintaining the connection with God, preserving the health of the body and soul, strengthening faith, bringing happiness and energizing the body against acute ailments. (Ayad, 2008)

The six primary channels that should be balanced to avoid contacting diseases, as stated by As-Suyuti, further reflected the wisdom of early Muslim knowledge. He emphasized the importance of the quality of air we breathe, food and drink we consume, physical exercise and movements, our emotional state and feelings, our sleep and waking cycles, and our body’s ability to excrete toxins, get rid of accumulated morbid matter and retain valuable nutrients.

“Whenever it is possible to use gentle remedy, do not use something powerful instead,” he wrote, advising a physician to be “gentle in his speech, kind in his words and close to God.” (As-Suyuti, 2009)

Az-Zahabi, on his side, recommended using only medicines that are similar or related to regular food and that contained no noxious or harmful substances. (Az-Zahabi, 2004)

Starting from the beginnings of the seventeenth century, Islamic Medicine was challenged by rapidly spreading science of conventional modern medicine, which eventually replaced the core of the health care systems in most of the Islamic countries (Nagamia, 1998).

Contemporary practice of Islamic Medicine is restricted to India, Pakistan and Bangladesh where one can find established medical schools teaching this type of medicine, certified and supervised by the Indian Medical Council. (Nagamia, 1998) And while these schools do teach such medical approach while being highly influenced by the teachings of the old Greek practice, it is also common to find conventional physicians in Middle Eastern countries and Malaysia giving medical advice and some treatment while making use of the Islamic approach. Some believe that this mixing of the old and the new, the eastern and the western, makes their patients benefit from ‘the best of both worlds.


Abouleish, E. (n.d)Contributions of Islam to medicine. In S. Athar (Ed.), Islamic medicine. Retrieved May 16, 2007.

Al Jauziyah, I. Healing with the medicine of the Prophet (2nd ed.) (J. Abual Rub, Trans.). KSA: Darussalam. 2003.

Al Jauziyah, I. Healing with the medicine of the Prophet (2nd ed.) (J. Abual Rub, Trans.). KSA: Darussalam. 2003.

Al-Hassani, S. (Editor). 1001 Inventions: Muslim Heritage in Our World. UK: Foundation for Science Technology and civilization. 2006.

As-Suyuti, J, A. Medicine of the Prophet [Ahmed Thomson, translator]. UK: Ta-Ha publishers. 2009.

Ayad, A.. Healing Body & Soul. KSA: IIPH. 2008.

Az-Zahabi, S. الطب النبوي [Prophetic medicine]. (M.A. Al-Merashly, Ed.). Lebanon: Dar An-nafaes. 2004.

Nagamia, H. F. (October 1, 1998). Islamic medicine: History and current practice. Retrieved May 16, 2007.

National Library of Medicine. Islamic Culture and the Medical Arts: Prophetic Medicine. Retrieved June 6, 2007. April 5, 1998.

Amira Ayad is a natural health consultant and a holistic nutritionist. She holds a Master Degree in Pharmaceutics; and a PhD in natural health. She is a Board Certified Holistic Health practitioner by the American Association of Drugless Practitioners (AADP) and a Registered Orthomolecular Health Practitioner by the International organization of Nutrition Consultants (IONC). She published 2 books: Healing Body & Soul, in 2008; and, The True Secret, in 2011. Amira teaches Biochemistry & Body Metabolism at The Institute of Holistic Nutrition in Toronto, Canada.

This article was originally published on on May 2, 2014. 

Muslims and Medicine


By: Adline A Ghani

Although health and wellness may be on everyone’s minds these days, attention to wellbeing is by no means a new concept. People have been searching for ways to ‘stay in the pink’ since the dawn of civilisation. In the Islamic world, early Muslim scientists and physicians played an essential role in developing healthcare practices, tools and ethics that continue to affect our lives to this day. Among the most significant developments in healthcare brought forth by the Islamic world was the introduction of hospitals. In the 8th century, Al-Walid bin Abd Al-Malik, a Caliph (chief Muslim civil and religious ruler) of the Umayyad Caliphate (Islamic system of government of the 7th and 8th centuries ruled by Prophet Muhammad’s descendants, the Umayyad dynasty), was the first to construct a purpose-built health institution, called the . Derived from the Persian words ‘bimar’, meaning disease, and ‘stan’, meaning place, such institutions not only looked after the sick; they also actively pioneered diagnosis, cures and preventive medicines.

Healthcare for All

The Middle East and North Africa had a large number of bimaristans, which were sometimes mobile and would often fulfil the role of medical schools and libraries. Among the most esteemed were Bimaristan Al-Nouri in Damascus, built in 1154 by Sultan Nour Aldeen Zanki; Bimaristan Marrakesh in Marrakesh, built in 1190 by Caliph Al-Mansur Ya’qub Ibn-Yusuf; and Bimaristan Al-Mansouri in Cairo, built in 1248 by Sultan Saif ad-Din Qalawun as-Salihi. These bimaristans were known to open their doors 24 hours a day and had hundreds of beds to receive patients, regardless of race, religion or background. Some were even known to provide patients with special attire: one kind for winter and another for summer. They not only offered their services free of charge, but also gave money to patients when they were discharged, to help make up for the wages they had lost while in hospital – a concept completely unheard of today.

Medical Discoveries

The field of medicine would not have gone far in the Islamic world without the dedication of Muslim scholars who made numerous advances and discoveries that have enhanced our understanding of healthcare. Muslim physicians, for example, were among the first to differentiate between smallpox and measles, as well as diagnose the plague, diphtheria, leprosy, rabies, baker’s cyst, diabetes, gout and haemophilia. While Europe still believed that epilepsy was caused by demonic possession, Muslim doctors had already found a scientific explanation for it. Muslim surgeons were also pioneers in performing amputations and cauterisations. They also discovered the circulation of blood, the use of animal gut for sutures and the use of alcohol as an antiseptic. Other Muslim innovations include surgical instruments and glass retorts, as well as the use of corrosive sublimate, arsenic, copper sulphate, iron sulphate, saltpetre and borax in the treatment of diseases.

At the forefront of Muslim discoveries in medicine was Ibn Sina. His discovery that tuberculosis was contagious and could be transmitted through the air earned him a position as one of the greatest physicians of all time. Even to this day, the quarantine methods he introduced have helped to limit the spread of infectious diseases. The one thing that Muslim doctors did want to spread, however, was their knowledge, which is why manuscripts became so important. Illustrated in colour and sometimes illuminated in gold, manuscripts served as a fascinating visual record that provided useful information about the human anatomy, including the skeletal system, nervous system, veins, arteries, intestines, organs and muscular system.

Natural Remedies

Scribes would copy these treatises on medicine and healthcare, including ones on botany and traditional medicines. They would then be disseminated far and wide, including to Southeast Asia. It is obvious that these manuscripts were used extensively. Many show signs of considerable wear and tear, as well as extensive margin notes that demonstrate interactivity between the book and user. In this part of the world, people who studied and acquired knowledge of plants and their uses were sometimes described as the bomoh (traditional physician) or bidan (midwife). As experts on ubat akar kayu, or medicines made of herbs, roots, bark and other natural products, they would prescribe their home-brewed remedies to patients, often in the form of ready-made tablets known as jamu or majun.

Such time-honoured knowledge of herbs and natural ingredients has now been revitalised via biotechnology, as modern consumers looking for natural and alternative ways to maintain their wellness are increasingly turning to traditional treatments. In other parts of the Islamic world, the dispensing of remedies was often carried out by apothecaries. They were medical professionals who formulated and dispensed medicines to physicians and patients, very much like today’s pharmacists. Among the tools of their trade were apothecary boxes, which went beyond their medical utility. Often beautifully decorated with floral motifs and sometimes featuring Qur’anic verses, they frequently contained the practical components of weights and balances.

Apothecaries and Aromatherapy

Apothecaries used medicine jars called albarelli (singular: albarello) to store dry drugs and medicines that were an essential part of the treatments they practised. The jars were sealed with a piece of parchment or leather tied with a piece of cord, and the waisted shape of the vessel made removal and replacement from crowded shelves easy. Originally devised in the Islamic world, the albarello was enthusiastically adopted by apothecaries throughout Europe, often paying tribute to its origins with Islamic designs.

Muslims were early adopters of aromatherapy as a form of alternative medicine and to promote wellbeing. Although the ancient Babylonians, Greeks and Egyptians had carried out early forms of distillation, it was Muslim chemists of the Abbassid caliphate who eventually perfected the process of pure distillation. The process was employed to purify chemical substances and also to develop attars, or perfumed oils. Incidentally, it is while distilling roses for attar that Muslim chemists discovered rose water, which is now used extensively throughout the Islamic world in religious ceremonies and in cuisine. The underlying factor behind the use of perfumed oils and rose water among Muslim communities is the appreciation that aromatic compounds can, in fact, positively affect one’s mind, mood, spirit and even health.

We have certainly come a long way in terms of healthcare. But in many ways, much has not changed. Viruses are becoming more resistant, toxins continue to be the scourge of modern living and each generation seems to develop eating habits even unhealthier than the one before. One thing on our side, however, is awareness – arguably the most important factor in health and wellness. Without it we would simply be ignorant. Let’s take a page from the Muslim scholars and physicians of yore and share what we know about living better and healthier lives in mind, body and spirit. As Ibn Sina once said, ‘Absence of understanding does not warrant absence of existence.’

This article was originally published on muslimvillage.comon September 2nd, 2014. 

The Existence of the “Vegetarian Muslim”

Herbivore By: Karima Burns

The Prophet (SAW) said, “The superiority of 'Aisha to other ladies is like the superiority of Tharid (i.e., a meat and bread dish) to other meals.”

When one first reads the above Hadith, it appears to be non-controversial and simply stated to honor a strong and blessed Muslim woman. However, a vegetarian reading it might have trouble accepting the fact that the Prophet himself (SAW) elevated a meat dish to such a high rank among foods.

On the other hand, vegetarians would be pleased with a Hadith related by Yahya that states that the Prophet (SAW) said, “Beware of meat. It has addictiveness like the addictiveness of wine” (Malik). In this Hadith, it seems that meat does not hold such a high rank, after all; rather, it appears to be among the worst foods we can consume.

So what is the correct perspective regarding meat in Islam? Should Muslims be vegetarians, carnivores, or omnivores?

In the argument for meat, one must note that the Prophet (SAW) himself ate meat; he condoned and even encouraged eating it; and Allah has required sacrificing at the time of Eid-ul-Adha for the purpose of consumption.

The Prophet even considered meat “clean” that, according to the narration of Ibn Abbas, “The Prophet (SAW) ate of the meat of a shoulder (by cutting the meat with his teeth), and then got up and offered the prayer without performing the ablution anew” (Bukhari).

It was also one of the favored foods to be taken on journeys. Jabir bin ‘Abdullah narrates, “During the life time of the Prophet, we used to take the meat of sacrificed animals (as journey food) to Medina” (Bukhari, Hadith No. 474, Vol. 7).

As well, according to the narration of Aisha, meat was also a favored gift. “I never felt so jealous of any woman as I did of Khadija, though she had died three years before the Prophet married me, and that was because I heard him mentioning her too often, and because his Lord had ordered him to give her the glad tidings that she would have a palace in Paradise, made of Qasab, and because he used to slaughter a sheep and distribute its meat among her friends” (Bukhari).

Modern Science Says

Modern researchers have also begun to favor meat again as an important part of the diet. For years, it was unpopular within the health industry after it was found to contain fats that potentially cause heart disease and obesity, and a structure that requires a longer digestive time and causes constipation and increased body toxicity. Moderate intakes of all useful nutrients is a must.

However, many experts have now concluded that some vitamins and minerals can only be found sufficiently in meat products, and that most vegetarians will become deficient in these nutrients over time.

Hence, a recent article in Prevention magazine asks, “Does this latest swing back to red meat mean that we're heading straight for imminent health disaster?” Their answer was, “Not at all.

In moderation, lean meats can provide significant health benefits, from preventing vitamin and mineral deficiencies and boosting immunity to building stronger blood.”

In fact, meat does provide many health benefits. Dr. Susan Kleiner, R.D, PhD. and owner of High Performance Nutrition in Mercer Island, Washington says, “People read reports that red meat causes cancer and heart disease so they think they have to stop eating meat.

What they don't realize is that people in these studies eat more than ten ounces a day. Eating three to five ounces a day is considered quite healthful.”

One of the most important nutrients found in abundance in meat is iron – a mineral that boosts the oxygen carrying capacity of blood. Without enough iron, our red blood cells get smaller and we start feeling worn out. Women and athletes are even more at risk for iron deficient anemia, because their bodies use more iron due to menstruation and exercise.

In one study, 47 inactive women were enrolled in a 12-week moderate aerobics program. After the 12 weeks, their iron levels showed a significant drop. This could explain why some people who exercise complain that they still feel fatigued even though they “should” feel more energetic from their efforts.

Iron is also found in abundance in dark leafy greens such as spinach or Swiss chard; however, it takes about five cups of uncooked Swiss chard or spinach to equal the iron found in 10 ounces of meat. Realistically, even a person who is willing to eat five cups of greens in a day would not find them available year round, particularly during the winter.

Furthermore, meats contain an iron called heme iron which is fifteen percent more absorbable than non-heme (plant) iron. And consuming heme iron actually helps the absorption of non-heme iron; therefore, it is a good idea to combine foods from the plant and animal kingdoms for the best balance and benefit.

To compensate for the deficiency of iron in vegetarian and low meat diets, many people take iron supplements. However, it has been found that consuming many of these supplements can actually be detrimental rather than helpful because most are made from a non-organic iron which is not absorbable by the body, but instead forms deposits over time, which can lead to an increased risk of infections, heart disease and cancer.

Zinc, responsible for supporting the immune system, is another mineral found abundantly in meat. A three-ounce top round, for instance, provides one third of the USRDA (U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance) for zinc, which like iron is more easily absorbable coming from meat than vegetable sources.

However, unlike iron, it is not readily available within the plant kingdom. One would have a hard time getting enough zinc in a strictly vegetarian diet unless they were to consume a few cups of pumpkin seeds every day. Therefore, a person who never eats meat would soon become deficient in zinc.


Vitamin B12

Vitamin B-12 is perhaps the most difficult to obtain nutrient that meat provides, as it is virtually unavailable in the plant kingdom at all. In fact, most doctors recommend that vegans (those that do not eat meat products at all) absolutely need to take a vitamin B-12 supplement.

Doctors have noted that many vegetarians feel “fine” for years; then, five or seven years down the road, they suddenly feel fatigued.

Strict vegetarians are at high risk for developing “pernicious anemia,” a rare and often fatal disorder resulting from a depletion of B-12 in the system.

This is because vitamin B-12, which is stored in the liver, depletes itself over time.

Most people who include at least some meat products in their diet, however, will never have this problem.

Therefore, most experts advise eating meat at least occasionally in the vegetarian diet.

This view syncs well with the example of the Prophet (SAW). The Qur'an (7:31) says, "Eat and drink, but waste not by excess, for God loves not the prodigals.” Muhammad (SAW) elaborated on this verse when he said (narrated by Yahya), "What is this, Amir al-muminin?”

“We desired meat and I bought some meat for a dirham," Umar said.

"Does one of you want to fill his belly apart from his neighbor or nephew? How can you overlook this ayat: 'You squandered your good things in the life of this world and sought comfort in them' " (Qur'an, 46:20).

In this Hadith, the Prophet (SAW) seems to imply that eating meat in excess is an act of selfishness, and that one should feed any extra meat that they might have to someone who is in need.

Concern for animals prompts many people to be vegetarian. That we should be concerned about animals is obvious in a famous Hadith narrated by Bukhari: Abu Hurairah narrated that the Prophet said, "A man felt very thirsty while he was on the way; there, he came across a well.

He went down the well, quenched his thirst, and came out. Meanwhile, he saw a dog panting and licking mud because of excessive thirst. He said to himself, ‘This dog is suffering from thirst as I did.' So, he went down the well again and filled his shoe with water and watered it.

Allah thanked him for that deed and forgave him.” The people said, “O Allah's Apostle! Is there a reward for us in serving the animals?” He replied: “Yes, there is a reward for serving any animate (living being)."

Another Hadith that encourages kind treatment toward animals is that related by Malik that states, "Allah, the Blessed and Exalted, is kind and loves kindness.” We are encouraged to be mild towards animals – even “beasts of burden” which the Prophet instructed the Muslims to spare from traveling through difficult terrain.

Despite these and numerous other Hadith enumerating the virtues of kindness towards animals, it does not follow that they should not be slaughtered. Not only is it permissible for our lawful use, it is also permissible to kill an animal as a protection against danger or evil.

Aisha narrated that Allah's Apostle said, "Five kinds of animals are harmful and can be killed in the Haram (Sanctuary). These are the crow, the kite, the scorpion, the mouse and the rabid dog."

The general consensus, amongst the Prophet and modern health experts, is that we should eat meat – at least in moderation – and, while it certainly can become “as addictive as wine,” it holds a high rank amongst foods as long as it is eaten in moderation.

Therefore, we can conclude that the best health is enjoyed by those who “Eat of the good things We have provided for your sustenance, but commit no excess therein" (Qur'an, 20:81).

Karima Burns, MH, ND has a Doctorate in Naturopathy and a Masters in Herbal Healing. She has studied natural healing for 12 years, published a natural healing newsletter for 4 years, and writes extensively on natural healing and herbs. Sister Karima became interested in natural healing after ending her personal lifelong struggle with asthma, allergies, chronic ear infections, depression, hypoglycemia, fatigue and panic attacks with herbs and natural therapies.

This article was originally published October 16, 2013 on Onislam.  Photo credit from threadless

Ramadan Healthy Eating Guide

Ramadan Food “Nothing is worse than a person who fills his stomach. It should be enough for the son of Adam to have a few bites to satisfy his hunger. If he wishes more, it should be: One-third for his food, one-third for his liquids, and one-third for his breath.”- Tirmidhi

Islam encourages Muslims to be mindful of their health and the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) advised Muslims to lead a healthy lifestyle which includes a balanced diet, regular mental and physical exercise and a balance between material and spiritual needs. The holy month of Ramadan is meant to recharge our spiritual batteries through, among other vices, abstaining from food and drink during the daylight hours. However, the foods we eat at dawn and dusk have a profound impact on our bodies and our overall health.

The Ramadan Health Guide was developed by the National Health Service in the United Kingdom in conjunction with Communities in Action, a civic action organization based in Devon, UK. The goal of the guide is to help Muslims understand the health issues related to fasting, and to make informed choices that minimize complications and maximize the benefit of your fast. Fasting can be rewarding experience meant purify both the body and soul. If proper precautions are taken, it can also lead to healthy lifestyle changes that can benefit you throughout the year.

The guide is divided into six sections that examine the different aspects of fasting including:

1)      The physiological changes that occur during the fast

2)      Foods the benefit and foods that harm

3)      Spirituality and food

4)      What you can gain from fasting

5)      Potential health complications and possible remedies

6)      Tips for healthcare professionals

Healthy Ramadan

Overall this resource provides a comprehensive and concise overview of steps that can be taken to ensure a healthy Ramadan. The suggestions that are provided are both scientific and culturally sensitive, and can be practically incorporated into your routine. Key sections of the guide have also been translated into several languages to reach out to the broader Muslim community. As always, be sure to consult your physician before fasting if you have pre-existing health issues or concerns.

Download: Ramadan Health Guide

National Health Service Healthy Ramadan:

Photo Credit: raasiel

Food’s Complicated: Learning the UNcomplicated Prophetic Diet

FoodBy: Fatima Ashraf Our system of food production is becoming more and more complicated and we are becoming less and less confident in the quality of what’s going inside our bodies. Understanding food today is much more than reading nutrition facts labels. Last month, thousands of people on facebook posted a guide to decoding produce stickers.  Four numbers means chemically treated, five numbers starting with an ‘8’ means genetically modified, and five numbers starting with a ‘9’ means organic.

Learning and adhering to our Prophet’s diet is one way to maintain confidence in what we’re eating and to shift to a more uncomplicated foodstyle.  There are three practices of Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) that I find especially helpful (and relatively easy!).

1)  Eat less, specifically, less meat

Food today is ominous. Generations of humans survived just fine without having vending machines, food trucks, and fast food spots at every turn.  According to NPR,  the US Department of Agriculture reported that the average American eats ONE TON of food each year. In simpler days, say those of seventh century Medinah, this amount of food consumption would be condemned (not to mention, impossible).

The Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) said, “Nothing is worse than a person who fills his stomach. It should be enough for the son of Adam to have a few bites to satisfy his hunger. If he wishes more, it should be: one-third for his food, one-third for his liquids, and one-third for his breath.” (Tirmidhi)

When it comes to meat, we all know the dangers of unchecked meat consumption — from food poisoning to chronic disease — and the horrid secrets of the factory farming industry are quickly being revealed to us. According to Dr. T Colin Campbell, author of “The China Study,” eating meat was a classist affair.  Our notions of meat and nutrition come from a very biased, elitist, and arrogant field of nutrition in nineteenth century Europe. If you were civilized, you ate plenty of protein. If you were rich, you ate meat, and if you were poor, you ate staple plant foods like potatoes and bread. The lower classes were considered lazy and inept as a result of not eating enough meat.

Even during the period of early Islam, it was the rich that ate meat once a week and the poor that saved it for Eid celebrations.  The Prophet (peace be upon him) was not a wealthy man. He did not eat meat often, and he generally warned against meat as he said, “Beware of meat. It has addictiveness like the addictiveness of wine.” (Malik) According to Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, there are no hadith mentioning the Prophet (peace be upon him) eating beef and there are plenty of hadith where the Prophet emphasizes the diseases that may result from beef consumption.

Eating less and eating less meat go hand-in-hand.  If you have ever sacrificed or watched the sacrifice of an animal, you know that it is serious business.  Ever since my husband sacrificed his first goat, he has reiterated that it is a difficult process and not one that he would like to do over and over again. He surely doesn’t want to become desensitized to taking a life (any life). For me, it’s important to know where my food — especially meat, comes from.  If I can’t trace the origin of the animal, it’s part of a complicated system that I’d like to avoid. Putting these two sentiments together results in my family’s dramatically decreased consumption of meat – we either sacrifice the animal ourselves or we go to a trusted, known source like Green Zabiha.

2)      Eat locally and seasonally

Prophet Muhammed (peace by upon him) was definitely not getting his dates shipped in from California or his milk trucked in from Wisconsin. His food was locally grown, and therefore, he ate what was in season. There is an ayat in the Quran that emphasizes eating seasonal foods. “It is He Who produces gardens, with trellises and without, and dates, and tilth with produce of all kinds, and olives and pomegranates, similar (in kind) and different (in variety): eat of their fruit in their season, but render the dues that are proper on the day that the harvest is gathered.” (Quran 6:141).

In the book “Green Deen,” Ibrahim Abdul-Matin discusses a hadith that relates that the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him), when eating, ate from the dish closest to him.  Perhaps the spirit of this hadith can also be used to encourage Muslims to buy food from local sources (the ones closest to them).

Two years ago, my husband and I committed to joining a CSA – Community Supported Agriculture.  In our hood of Fort Greene, Brooklyn, a few hundred people gathered together, selected a farmer in upstate NY, and paid him to receive whatever produce his crops yielded for the winter and summer months. Every Saturday morning, we picked up our big box of fruits and veggies, and for the rest of the week knew, without complication, that we were eating wholesome, chemical free foods.

3)  Eat with others

While there might not be statistical facts and figures directly proving the health benefits of eating together, there is no doubt that eating with friends and family is far more fun than eating alone.  Perhaps sharing your food with others leads to you eating less.  Perhaps eating together results in laughter, and well, laughter is the best medicine!  The Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) said, “Eat together and not separately, for the blessing is associated with the company.” (Ibn Majah)

Anyone who invites guests to his/her house knows this. No matter how nervous you are about the quantity you have for everyone, it is always more than enough. Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) also said, “Whoever has food enough for two persons, should take a third one, and whoever has food enough for four persons, should take a fifth or a sixth.” (Bukhari)

With Ramadan in full swing, you all are likely breaking bread in congregation.  Why not try to adopt an uncomplicated foodstyle. As you purify your intentions and seek spiritual renewal, seek a confidence in what you are eating as well.

Fatima Ashraf is former senior policy advisor for health and education to Mayor Michael Bloomberg in New York City. Currently, in her new role as mom, she is committed to feeding her family and running her household in a health conscious, zero-waste way. She is also a contributing writer for the American Muslim Health Professionals(AMHP) where she has been featured as part of the “Healthy Ummah Series.”

Photo credit from kayepants

The Prophetic Diet: The Perfect New Year’s Resolution

By: Moutasem Atiya & Hasan Awan, M.D.It is probably the most common New Year’s resolution. We have likely made it ourselves, or have heard it from countless friends and family. It goes something like "This year I will lose weight and get fit." The stampede to the gym ensues, and about three weeks later our resolution finds itself buried inside our mashed potatoes at the Cheesecake Factory. A familiar story, we all know. So how do we break the cycle? The answer involves reorienting our eating habits with that of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him and his family).

Qur'anic Perspective on Food

Allah touches on two extremely important points in the Qur'an when it comes to food consumption: quantity and quality.

As to food quantity, He states:

وَڪُلُواْ وَٱشۡرَبُواْ وَلَا تُسۡرِفُوٓاْ‌ۚ

Eat and drink, but not to excess

As to food quality, He states:

يـأَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ ءَامَنُواْ كُلُواْ مِن طَيِّبَاتِ مَا رَزَقْنَـكُمْ

O people of faith, eat from the pure provisions we have given you

These verses are the golden rules of food consumption. Both the quantity and quality of food we eat have a direct impact on our physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. Excessive food consumption and poor food choices can lead to obesity. According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention,  a staggering 35.7 percent of U.S. adults suffer from obesity and 17 percent of adolescents aged from 2-19 are obese. Americans on average currently consume 31 percent more calories than we did forty years ago. Obesity can lead to countless health problems, including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, anxiety and depression.

So what is the solution to this growing problem? It begins with changing our approach to food.

The Messenger and Food Quantity

“The worst vessel the son (or daughter) of Adam ever fills in his (or her) stomach.  It is enough for the son of Adam to eat a few morsels that will maintain his back’s uprightness.  But if he must add more to his stomach, then let it be one third for food, one third for water, and one third for air."

The statement is a stark warning and profound advice from the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him and his family). He is not advocating starvation here, but drawing our attention to the dangers (both physical and spiritual) of overeating and how little food we really need to live.

The way most of us approach food and its consumption is fundamentally flawed. We eat for sport, not survival. When we are bored, we eat. When we see food, we eat. When we watch Food Network, we eat. It is very rare we eat when we are hungry and when we do eat we overeat.

So what is the correct way of approaching food consumption? One Prophetic answer to this is fasting.

Fasting was a regular part of the Messenger's life. He would fast every Monday and Thursday. He would also fast the 13th, 14th and 15th of each month. Once you add them up you get eleven days, or roughly one-third of the month in which the Messenger would fast.

When the Messenger was not fasting, he was "intermittently fasting", eating only once a day. If he ate in the morning, he would not eat again until the next morning. If he ate at night, he would not eat until the next night. He once stated, “A believer eats with one stomach while a nonbeliever eats with seven stomachs." The profound import of this Prophetic statement points to the importance of rooting even our food consumption in faith and the Sacred. It is interesting to note that even ascetics of other religions (such as Buddhist monks) eat one meal a day. This prophetic advice of fasting and intermittent fasting has even recently been championed by some contemporary fitness gurus today.

Now we are all aware of some of the great spiritual rewards of fasting, but I want to share with you and emphasize some of the physical results of regular fasting as well. Many Muslims do not realize that when the Qur'an states that the purpose of fasting is to increase taqwa (God-Awareness), this "taqwa" attained through fasting should also manifest itself on a physical level. These physical results of fasting may have some of the following benefits :

-Reduce blood pressure

-Reduce risk of developing cancer

-Decrease oxidative stress

-Protect against degenerative brain diseases

-Increase fat burning

-Improve blood sugar control and appetite control

-Increase sense of well-being

The Messenger and Food Quality

The Prophet of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him and his family) was a careful and healthy eater. His diet was simple, but packed with nutrients. Among the food he would regularly eat:

- Dates


-Barley Bread


-Olive oil





-Meat (on occasion)

It is important to note that the Messenger’s diet did not center on meat. It is well known in the modern context as well as through most of the world's wisdom-traditions that excessive consumption of meat can lead to serious physical and spiritual aliments. There is currently a push in America to make every Monday “Meatless”, and this is something I think all of us should join.  The proponents of this initiative cite evidence that keeping your red meat consumption at bay can limit your cancer risk, reduce heart disease, fight diabetes and curb obesity. You can check it out for yourself here:

The Messenger and Exercise

By all accounts, the Messenger of Allah was what could be described today as a "power walker". Abu Hurairah once said, “I did not see anyone walk faster than him, as if the earth folded for him. A few moments ago he would be here, and then there. We found it difficult to keep pace when we walked with him and he walked at his normal pace.” When another companion complained to the Messenger about being overweight, the Prophet advised him to walk fast, or in other words, power walk! The health benefits of walking are too many to numerate, but here are a few:

· Low Impact Exercise – Many of my friends complain of bad knees and joints. Walking can help improve those issues

· Build Aerobic Fitness – A strenuous walk can help build up your maximal oxygen consumption

· Burn Fat – Power walking, for 4-plus hours a week, has been proven to burn fat.

· Stress Relief and Means of Meditation (Fikr) – A brisk walk is a great time to collect your thoughts and reflect on Allah's signs (ayaat) in the world and our life.

Our New Year Resolutions should not be to go on just another diet. Instead let us try and align our health habits to some degree to what could be called the "Prophetic Diet"! If you start to add fasting, better food choices with whole and pure foods in lesser quantity, and power walking into your weekly mix you will, God willing, see a renewed sense of spiritual and physical well-being. Better yet, you will be reviving three habits of the Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him and his family).

Moutasem Atiya & Hasan Awan, M.D. are contributors to the Al-Madina Institute, an educational institution of higher learning committed to prioritizing the Quran and Authentic Sunnah as implemented by the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Moutasem Atiya has been actively involved in the Metropolitan DC communities through classes, speaking engagements, and Friday khutbahs on a regular basis for the past 10 years.  Dr. Hasan Awan is a medical doctor practicing in the Baltimore area and empowers his patients to participate in their own wellbeing.

Originally published online on December 31 2012 on the Al-Madina Institute website (

Men's Health and Movember


For those of you not aware, this is Movember, the annual campaign where men across the country grow moustaches to raise awareness and funds to fight prostate cancer. While the Muslims for Movember movement is still in its infancy, the campaign has raised the profile of prostate cancer and has brought to light some of the causes and new treatment options into the public domain.

To coincide with the Movember awareness campaign, Environmental Defense released a report this week analyzing the toxicity of ingredients in men’s bodycare products. For this study they asked five men from four provinces what products they used most then tested 17 of them for their contents. Their findings were startling with four of the products containing probable human carcinogens, five containing chemicals known to harm male reproductive health and 10 which had artificial musk, some of which are known to disrupt hormones in animals. Many of the chemicals found in these products were linked to cancer, birth defects, sperm damage, obesity, asthma and other chronic health problems.

What is worrisome are the effects of these chemicals once they are released into the environment and waterways, where they can linger and bioaccumulate, adversely affecting natural ecosystems. One only has to look at the effects of DDT to see the connection.

So what do these results mean? On their own these chemicals occur in such trace amounts there would be little cause for concern. However, daily exposure in combination with chemicals from other products have cumulative effects on the body that are not fully understood. Taking into consideration the interactions between chemicals, the environment and individual genetics can produce varying results. It is impossible to know the consequences of all possible combinations, creating what is referred to as the ‘cocktail effect’.

There are several steps you can take to protect yourself and loved ones from unnecessary exposure to harmful chemicals in personal care products:

1)    Choose safer alternatives: Environmental Defense has compiled a list chemicals commonly found in consumer body-care products known as the “Toxic Ten” that should be avoided (see below).

2)    Use in moderation: If you must continue to use products with these chemicals, consider using it less until you can find a safer alternative.

3)    Speak out: Contact the manufacturer to let them know you would like full disclosure of the ingredients contained within their products, including impurities and fragrance. Also, let the federal government know this issue is important to you and that tougher health-protective legislation needs to be enacted to ensure consumer products are safe.


Parabens: estrogen-mimicking chemicals found in breast cancer tissue

Phthalates: chemicals that disrupt male hormones, affect fertility, and are also linked to testicular cancer

Triclosan: an anti-bacterial chemical that breaks down into chloroform and dioxins, which are Carcinogens

Petrolatum or Mineral Oil: often contaminated with human carcinogens polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)

Fragrance or Parfum: unlisted ingredients, many of which are hormone-disrupters and sensitizers. A sensitizer is a chemical that causes normal tissue to develop an allergic reaction after repeated Exposure

Sodium Laureth Sulfate and Sodium Lauryl Sulfate: skin irritants

Cyclomethicone, Cyclotetrasiloxane, Cyclopentasiloxane, or Cyclohexasiloxane: hormone-disrupting chemicals present in hair products

Formaldehyde-Releasing Agents: formaldehyde is linked to leukemia and other cancers

Coal Tar-Derived Colours: para phenylenediamine (PPD) is a sensitizer, and suspected carcinogen

Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) and Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT): hormone-disrupting chemicals used as preservatives

Take Aim At Iftar Waste


O children of Adam, take your adornment at every masjid, and eat and drink, but be not excessive. Indeed, He likes not those who commit excess. (Qu’rán, 7:31)

Every Ramadan hundreds of thousands of Styrofoam (Polystyrene Foam) containers are used to serve the iftar meal at community gatherings. While it is an easy and cost-effective way to quickly deliver meals, the associated environmental and health concerns over its use are alarming. The call to eliminate Styrofoam has even reached Facebook, with a community page devoted to eradicating its use in mosques this Ramadan.

Environmental Implications:

There have been many studies analyzing the ecological effects of producing, transporting, and disposing of Styrofoam products and the effects it poses to the environment. In the production phase, the use of greenhouse gases (previously CFC’s, now HCFC-22) as a blowing agent has been linked to the deterioration of the ozone layer, which is a contributing factor to global warming. The three main chemical building blockings of Styrofoam are benzene, styrene and ethylene. On their own in high concentrations, they are highly reactive, flammable, and possess mutagenic and carcinogenic properties. There is ongoing research into the effects of combining these reagents together and the long-term implications to the environment.

There is also the issue of disposal. Many municipalities do not recycle Styrofoam and those that do often down-cycle the residual to other disposable products. In the United States, Styrofoam products make up only 0.25% of landfill waste by weight but take up 25-30% of space by volume. Considering that Americans discard more than 25 billion Styrofoam cups annually, the potential for waste diversion is enormous. Styrofoam that does not end up in the landfill often ends up in the general environment, where it breaks down into smaller pieces. This poses a hazard to wildlife that ingests it, as the toxins within it bio-accumulates up the food chain.

Health Implications:

There are well-documented acute health effects associated with the monomer styrene, one of the building blocks of Styrofoam. These include irritation to the skin, eye and upper respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts. Chronic exposure has been linked to damage to the central nervous system leading to fatigue, headaches and general weakness. Any level of exposure can lead to a syndrome called ‘styrene sickness’ which include symptoms such as unsteadiness and decreased nerve conduction. The styrene monomer has been identified as a possible human carcinogen by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

There is ongoing research into the health effects of styrene when it comes into contact with food. Health Canada, which sets exposure limits for the monomer in this country, has not allowed the use of styrene as a food additive or in flavoring preparation, though it is still acceptable within the United States. It has also been noted that further exposure can occur from ingesting food or drinking beverages that have come into contact with styrene-containing polymers.

Alternatives: There are several alternatives to Styrofoam that are not only environmentally friendly, but also reduce ones exposure to chemicals (plasticizers) that can leach into foods. These examples can also be extended to cups, cutlery and water bottles which also significantly contribute to the waste stream during Ramadan.

1) Plant-based Containers - Over the last decade, several new products made from corn, bamboo, palm and sugar cane have reached the consumer market. These containers are recyclable, biodegradable and renewable compared to chemically-based containers, and are more sustainable over the long term.

2) Reusable Dishes - Glass, ceramic and stoneware dishes are an option for organizations looking to reduce their waste completely. While there is an added cost with purchasing and cleaning, there is substantially less waste generated over its lifespan compared to disposable containers. It also reduces the health effects associated with chemicals leaching from plastic or Styrofoam products.

3) Litterless Iftars - One way to completely reduce the production of container waste is to hold a litterless iftar. This idea has taken off in several mosques throughout the United States and is slowly gaining traction by Muslim student organizations here in Canada. Congragants attending the iftar would be required to bring their own reusable containers or rent one provided by the facility. This would reduce the clean-up time after the iftar and eliminate unnecessary waste.

This Ramadan consider the consumption choices you make and the potential waste that is generated. Starting with something simple such as the iftar and then expanding it into your daily routine goes a long way in changing our perception about waste, especially when it comes to disposable products.

For more information on Styrofoam and how you can make your iftar more environmentally friendly, please visit the following links below.

Striving Towards a Green RamadanGreen Ramadan - Let’s Make It Happen!Carex Canada – Styrene Carcinogen ProfileEarth Resource FoundationThe Styrene ForumA Recycling Revolution

Photo Credit from D’Arcy Norman