Islamic Perspectives

Food in Islam

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Islam gives specific advice to Muslims about all aspects of life and this includes food and eating habits and manners. Food is not required for itself or for the sake of enjoyment but to sustain life so that one may enjoy health and physical strength required to undertake one’s duties and responsibilities in this life. In addition to ensuring physical well-being, food is also essential for the spiritual and moral health of the believers.

To get the right physical and spiritual strength, one should consume only lawful (halal) and healthy or wholesome (tayyib) food (Qur’an, 5:88). The faithful are repeatedly enjoined in the Qur’an to consume only lawful and wholesome food. Halal means lawfully acquired, as against stolen, food. In case of meat, it means that it was acquired according to the permissible method of slaughtering an animal, i.e., by invoking Allah’s name while slaughtering the animal and using a sharp knife in order to ensure minimum pain to the animal (which is similar to Kosher rules). 


An Islamic Prayer after taking food

Alhamdul lillahi rabbil ‘alameen. Al-Hamdulillahi al-ladhi at’amana wa saqana wa ja’alana muslimeen. Allahumma kama at’amtana halalan tayyiban faj’alhu ‘aunan lana ‘ala ta’atik.

All praise to Allah, the Lord of the worlds. All praise to Allah who fed us, quenched our thirst and made us muslims (those who submit to Him). O’Allah you have fed us halal food, so make it help us in obeying you.

 


Prohibited food is called “Haram,” or unlawful/prohibited, which is the one acquired illegally or is prohibited like meat from animals not properly slaughtered, or pork or meat of carnivorous, i.e., meat-eating animals and birds of prey. Such animals and birds include pigs, dogs, lions, crocodiles, eagles, worms, flies etc. Consuming blood and carrion is also forbidden. Meat of a dead or prohibited animal is not allowed unless the faithful had no other choice to ward off death due to hunger. All seafood is permitted. Filth-eating animals or birds as well as donkies are treated as detestable (makrooh) though they may originally be on the list of permitted food. Alcohol is forbidden in all forms and quantities.

Unlawful food adversely affects the character of those who consume it. Eating unlawful food like pork, meat of meat-eating animals or stolen food will retard one’s spiritual and moral health.

The Qur’an mentions a number of food stuffs like milk, dates, grapes, honey, corn, grains, olives, certain plants and livestock. Mother’s milk is mentioned in the Qur’an as the best nourishment for her infant, so much so that even if parents get divorced, it is advised that an arrangement be made so that the mother may nurse her infant child for the first two years of his/her life and she has to be paid for this service (Qur’an 2:233).

Thanking Allah at the beginning and end of partaking food is an important part of eating manners in Islam. One should begin in the name of Allah, saying, as the Prophet used to do, Bismillah wa ‘ala barakatillah (In the name of Allah and with His blessings). One should thank Allah after finishing his food saying Al-hamdulillah alladhi at’amana wa saqana wa ja’alana mina’l-muslimin (All thanks to Allah who fed us and quenched our thirst, who made us muslims, i.e., those who surrender to His will).

There should be no over-eating or unseemly hurry in consuming food or drink. When eating in a group, one should eat the food which is in front of him and his behaviour should not annoy others. Wastage of food is frowned upon - Allah says, “Waste not by excess, for God loveth not wasters” - Qur’an 6:141). The Prophet said that a Muslim should not waste water even if he was standing on the banks of the river Tigris. In Islam, barren land becomes the property of anyone who reclaims it for agriculture.

Eating should not be hasty and should be measured. One should not fill his belly. The Prophet enjoined us to fill only one third of our stomachs with food and one third with liquids, leaving the remaining one third empty.

While offering food as charity, one has to take care that only good food is offered to the poor (Qur’an, 2:267). It is a common tradition among Muslims to willingly offer food or water to any stranger who knocks the door at any time and says that he is hungry or thirsty. If one’s neighbours are poor, one should not openly bring home fruits and meat etc which they cannot afford and if he still prefers to bring in such food openly, he should share it with his neighbours.

Adult and healthy Muslims are required to fast during the month of Ramadan every year from dawn to sunset while fasting on Mondays and Thursdays every week is recommended but not mandatory.

Natural resources like water and meadows are common property to be used by all without charge. Agriculture is very much stressed upon and the Prophet said that if one was holding a seedling in his hand and the Doomsday broke in, he should plant it.

In short, the Qur’an repeatedly tells us that food is a gift of God. We should consume it with humility and moderation and always thank God for His bounties (e.g., Qur’an, 7:31).


Text of a talk delivered in the Faith in Food Workshop held by UK-based Alliance of Religions and Conservation at Delhi on 3 January 2011.

Pix by Machu

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 January 2011 on page no. 28

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