One thing which seriously needs addressing in our communities, aside from our seemingly inherent inability to arrive in time for anything, is the attention we fail to pay to the second greatest gift bestowed upon us by our Creator, namely, our health. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Ask Allah for forgiveness and health, for after being granted certainty, one is given nothing better than health.”1 Yet statistics show that ethnic minorities, in particular South-east Asian men and women, have shockingly higher rates of angina, heart attacks and strokes than the overall general population. Diabetes is also a big issue, particularly amongst Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Indian and Black Caribbean people 2.
Our health is an amānah (trust) from our Lord, one which will be questioned about on the Day of Judgement. Yet we fail to appreciate the beauty of this blessing and constantly abuse the rights our bodies have over us. It is vital to remember that good health is not limited to our physical well-being, rather it should be viewed holistically, extending beyond the exoteric to encompass our emotional and spiritual health also.
Truly Islam, being a complete way of life, emphatically stresses the importance of this oft neglected blessing. Diet, nutrition and exercise combined with the remembrance of God and a sincere intention to fulfil our religious obligations is what makes a healthy lifestyle. Using the prophetic guidance to ensure we are fulfilling the rights of our bodies is sure to bring about both worldly and otherworldly success.
We are told by the Almighty: “O Believers! Eat of the good and pure things that We have provided you with and be grateful to Allah, if you truly worship Him3.” The importance of ensuring that we eat only what is lawful and pure cannot be stressed enough. Purity with regards to sustenance encompasses not only the halal stamp on our lamb chops but goes right back to the very source of our income, whether our earnings themselves are halal as well as how our food was prepared, whether we remembered Allah in its preparation or were busy committing sins, either with our limbs or our tongues. As with all aspects of life, Islam teaches us that moderation is key to a healthy diet: “And eat and drink, but waste not in extravagance, certainly He (Allah) likes not those who waste in extravagance.” 4
There is no doubt that exercise does wonders for the health – physical, mental and spiritual. Aerobic exercise fights heart disease and high blood pressure, and reduces the risk of diabetes, whilst weight training increases muscle strength and reduces fat, increases bone density, fights back pain and arthritis, and improves overall mental health. By natural extension, improving our physical and mental health can lead to spiritual well-being. A decrease in activity levels can make a person lazy and apathetic, which in turn makes us feel less inclined to perform our ritual acts of worship such as Salāh. Our Prophet (peace be upon him) would encourage physical activity and himself used to frequently walk, at a quick pace, race, wrestle, practise archery and horse-riding amongst other activities. During the Battle of the Trench, he himself partook in digging the huge trench which surrounded the city of Medīnah to keep out the enemies.
Thus we shouldn’t cheat our bodies, but must aim to take care of them as best we can. A healthy diet should include a balance of nutrients against calorie intake. Avoiding processed foods and instead opting for what is tayyib (pure) would be far more beneficial both for our health and our souls. Exercise should not be put off, even something as simple as walking to the shops instead of driving can make a difference if made a regular substitute. Walking strengthens the heart, increases bone density, builds endurance and most important of all is a sunnah of our beloved Prophet (peace be upon him). Thus we ought to all practise these things in line with the Islamic ethos of moderation and insha’Allah, happiness in our physical, emotional and spiritual will follow.
Notes: Tanya Abbasi writes on behalf of 1st Ethical Charitable Trust who empower Muslims to enrich communities through faith based campaigns. For more information, please visit www.1stethical.com