Halal as a Way of Life—A Mind, Body, Soul Connection
God sent Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as an example of the halal way of life and Ramadan, especially, is as time of year where emulating the Prophet is on every Muslim’s mind. His traditions are important in matters of food, and yes, health and personal hygiene too, and in order to make halal a complete way of life, we need to recognize both physical and spiritual requirements. The body is a loan from God and needs to be maintained properly. After all, the oft-recited Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’oon, means that we belong to God and to Him we return.
It is estimated that Americans alone spend $5.7 billion annually on yoga classes and products. Meditation is not a new concept in Islam, though. Over 1400 years ago, the Prophet used to retire to the cave of Hira, which could be reached only after a challenging strenuous climb, to meditate and seek spiritual reflection. The Holy Quran was first revealed to him there.
It is compulsory for Muslims to offer prayers five times a day. The Prophet emphasized prayer in his last sermon when he said, “O People, listen to me in earnest, worship God, perform your five daily prayers, fast during the month of Ramadan, and give alms from your wealth (zakah). Perform Hajj if you can afford to.” At the time of his death, he once again warned his followers to guard their prayers.
The first physical action in prayer is the takbir tahrimah, which is designed to push away all worldly affairs and prohibit them during the time of worship, allowing the spirit to connect better with the Creator.
Succeeding movements and postures in the Islamic form of prayer, too, offer both physical and mental benefits. The brain and kidneys receive more blood flow when the worshipper bends at the waist (ruku) and prostrates on the ground (sajdah). During the sitting position of prayer (tashahud), blood moves towards the upper part of the body, strengthening blood vessels and potentially protecting the body against blood clots or hemorrhages.
A great way to relieve stress is by listening or reciting the verses of the Quran, and practicing its teachings regularly. Physically, there is a major effect that takes place in the mouth just from pronouncing the word “God.” Pressure from the tip of the tongue hitting the roof of the mouth stimulates the release of signals from sensitive receptors in the lining that covers the hard palate. These signals get transmitted straight to the centers of the brain and initiate various motor tasks. God states in His book, the Holy Quran, “Those who believe and whose hearts find rest in the remembrance of God, for in the remembrance of God do hearts find rest” (Quran 13:28). God highlights the healing power of His words by saying, “And We sent down in the Quran that which is healing and a mercy to those who believe…” (17:82).
Cleanliness, another requirement for good health, is considered half of the Islamic faith. 1400 years ago, with the advent of Islam, the Quran and sunnah (practices of the Prophet) ordered Muslims to stay clean continuously by making wudu or ablution (5:6). A study at Alexandria University in 2001 showed that proper nasal irrigation during wudu significantly reduces nasal microorganisms.
Even though the Qur’an does not address the importance of exercise, the practices of the Prophet Muhammad definitely do. According to Imam Tirmidhi, the Prophet Muhammad, “walked at a quick pace and took rather long steps.” It is also known from other traditions that he loved to run and would even race with his wife, Aisha. The Prophet encouraged Muslims to teach their children archery, swimming and horseback riding. When he passed away at age 63, it is said that he had the strength of 40 men.
Prophet Muhammad used to sleep by laying on his right side. Experiments now show that when one sleeps on his/her right side, food digests in 2.5 to 4.5 hours. If one sleeps on the left side, then digestion takes up to 5 to 8 hours. There is also scientific evidence that sleeping on the side can prevent sleep apnea.
The Prophet recommended, “Take an afternoon sleep (qaylula), because shaitan (the devil) does not take one.” This in turn helps you get up for tahajjud prayers when it is time for them past mid-night. The Prophet would also go to sleep right after the night prayers, isha, but would stay awake after his prayers at dawn, fajr, a time that is said to hold many blessings.
It is evident, then, that there is much guidance in Islam when it comes to one’s health and hygiene. By praying five times a day, we will have a healthier and more spiritual lifestyle. By implementing the practices of the Prophet Muhammad, not only will we be fitter Muslims, but will also be closer to living the halal way.
Tayyaba Syed is a NPR commentator and freelance writer.