God’s Messenger said, “The stomach is the central basin of the body, and the veins are connected to it. When the stomach is healthy, it passes on its condition to veins, and in turn the veins will circulate the same and when the stomach is putrescence, the veins will absorb such putrescence and issue the same”– hadith, or sayings, of the Prophet Muhammad (s).

In a Muslim’s life, one is constantly searching for opportunities to gain the favor of God. With Ramadan soon here, our ibadah or worship, no matter what forms it takes, God willing, will be blessed ten fold and more. The term worship, or ibadah, encompasses much. From complex prayers and supplications to menial daily tasks, every action can be turned into a positive one, if not an act of ibadah itself. A simple example of this is eating. It is a necessity of life, yet it can also be a form of praise to God.


Eating as a Form of Worship

Eating can be looked upon as an act of ibadah, worship, since our Prophet (s) emphasized that interacting with food was an act of worship. He exhibited this by performing wudu, ablution, prior to eating- just like for prayers, as well as having the intention—niyyah—of seeking God’s favor. When he put his hand in the food, he would say, “Bismillaah (in the Name of God), and he told people to say this when eating. He said, “When any one of you eats, let him mention the name of God. If he forgets to mention the name of God at the beginning, let him say Bismillaahi fi awwalihi wa aakhirihi (in the name of God at its beginning and at its end). When he raised the food to his mouth, he would say, “Al-hamdu Lillaahi hamdan katheeran tayyiban mubaarakan fihi ghayri makfiyyin wa laa muwadda’ wa laa mustaghni ‘anhu Rabbanaa ‘azza wa jall (God be praised with an abundant, beautiful, blessed praise. He is the One Who is Sufficient, Who feeds and is never fed, The One Who is longed for, along with that which is with Him, and the One Who is needed. He is Our Lord, may He be glorified). Additionally, he consistently gave thanks for the gift of food that was given to him by the Almighty.

In the Islamic realm, ones primary obligation concerning eating is to ensure that the food is halal (lawful) and tayyib (pure). In fact, the Sahaba, the companions of the Prophet (s) were more concerned with the purity of the food they consumed, than they were with their night prayers. Utmost care was taken to ensure the proper slaughter of meat occurred and the purity of the natural sources from which food was taken. Food after entering their bodies became part of who they were, thus the purity of what they consumed implied purity of their mind and soul. God states, “O Messenger – eat from that which is wholesome and pure and do righteous deeds.” Many hadith or sayings of the Prophet (s) also relate the importance of the purity of ones body and how impurity results in the loss of imaan, faith and the rejection of ones duaas and prayers. Imam Nawawi in his forty hadiths relates the following narration, “Verily God is Pure and He does not accept that which isn’t good and pure.” Thus when one presents himself to God he should be in a state of purity from the inner depths of his body to his outer appearance so that his prayers and duaa may be accepted, God willing.

Another narration of the Prophet (s) tells the story of a disheveled traveler who was in a confused situation. He raised his hands to God and called upon him, yet his duaas and prayers were not answered. The Prophet (s) commented that (in regards to this man) his food is haram, his drink is haram, his clothing is haram, and that from which he is nourished is haram, so how can his duaa, prayers be accepted? This state of impurity was not something that the Sahaba, the companions wanted to fall victim to.


Foods Mentioned in the Quran and Hadith

Diet plays a very important role in the daily life of a believer. The Quran has not restricted itself to mentioning permissible and impermissible foods, but goes to the extent of giving useful tips regarding a balanced diet, a diet which contains most if not all the useful ingredients required for the growth, strengthening and repairing of the human body. In the Quran, God states: “And the cattle, He has created them for you, in them there is warmth (clothing) and numerous benefits, and of them you eat,” thus establishing the importance of meat in a Muslim’s diet.

The importance of milk in one’s diet is related in the following verse: “And verily in the cattle there is a lesson for you. We give you to drink of that which is in their bellies, from between excretion and blood, pure milk, palatable to the drinkers.” (16:66)

Additionally, in regards to milk, the Prophet stated: “When one of you eats food, he should say: ‘O God, bless us in it, and give us food (or nourishment) better than it.’ When he is given milk to drink he should say: ‘O God! Bless us in it and give us more of it, for no food or drink satisfies like milk’.”

The benefits of fruits as good nourishment can be understood from this Quranic verse: “And from the fruits of date palms and grapes, you desire strong drink and a goodly provision.” (16:67)

There are certain foods that God magnifies in importance, by referring to them in the Quran. God swears by the olive and the fig, thereby implying that these are no ordinary foods to consume, thus giving them an elevated status in our diets. The Quran goes on to teach the believer the best method of eating. The believers are advised to be moderate in every aspect of life. Islam is the middle path – the essence of which is moderation – thus our consumption of food should also be moderate. Direct reference has been made in the Noble Quran regarding moderation in eating and drinking: “And eat and drink, but waste not in extravagance, certainly He (God) likes not those who waste in extravagance.” (7:31)

There are other foods that were known to be favorites of the Prophet (s), such as dates, pumpkin, honey, and vinegar. In fact, vinegar is often referred to as the “curry of the prophets,” having been enjoyed by many of God’s messengers. It is stated in hadith, or sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (s), that the simple presence of vinegar in one’s home invites barakah and blessings into the house. The Prophet (s) also made the following statements in regards to other foods he liked:

“The Prophet (s) said that mushroom is a good cure for the eyes, it also arrests paralysis.”

“Illnesses are cured by means of three things: (one of them) is a drink of honey.”

“Use olive oil as a food and ointment for it comes from a blessed tree.”


Islamic Etiquette and Food

The Prophet Muhammad (s) related in a hadith that ones worst weakness is one’s belly. If you must eat make sure you fill one third of your stomach with food, one third with water and leave one third for air i.e. leave it empty. The Prophet (s) also told `Ali ibn Abi Talib (may God be pleased with him), “O Ali! There are twelve rules a Muslim must learn to adhere to before the table (of food), four of which are duties, four of which are Sunnah, and four of which are manners. Knowing what you eat and its source, mentioning God’s name prior to eating, being grateful for provisions, and being content with them are duties. Sitting on the left foot, eating with three fingers, eating from the food closer to you, and licking the fingers (used while eating) are Sunnah. Restricting the size of each mouthful of food, chewing very well, refraining from looking people in the face, and washing the hands (afterwards) are of manners.”

By following these simple commands we can avail the opportunity to manipulate a simple necessity of life, eating, into a form of ibadah. Invoke His name and thank God while enjoying His blessings, and practice the Sunnah of our Holy Prophet (s), for in this lies all success.

Editor’s Note: Muslims use the phrase “Peace and Blessings Be Upon him” whenever the Prophet Muhammad’s name is taken or whenever he is referred to. The (s) following his name, or a reference to him, is used to indicate that. The term hadith or hadiths refers to the sayings of the Prophet Mohammad (s). The term sunnah refers to his practices.