The Purpose Of Eating
Issues and manners which have been forgotten
The purpose of eating
When we have our breakfast, lunch, dinner and all those snacks in between, are we aware of the implications that such a simple and casual act can have, both in our lives in this world and in the hereafter? On its most basic level, the purpose of eating is to survive. When hunger strikes, we seek sustenance in order to gain energy, and to provide the nourishment needed to live. For a Muslim, eating has more purposeful meaning. It goes beyond our base desires of filling our stomachs. Islam is ultimately about submitting to the will of our Creator, and worshiping Him. Like other acts of a Muslim, if properly applied, eating can also be an act of worship. It can be the means of nourishing and equipping our bodies in order to worship Allah better.
The enjoyment of food
Food, as in any other provision, is a gift and a trust from Allah. If not used in the way that Allah wants, it is a betrayal of that trust.
Eating is a necessity. However, the enjoyment of food and its variety of flavours, is a mercy and favour from Allah, in order that such necessity is made more pleasurable. A majority of us have taken eating beyond its original purpose, and we gratify our tastebuds to such an extent that we end up worshipping food. This phenomena can be observed by the inordinate amount of time we spend buying ingredients, the laborious preparations of food in the kitchen and the time we spend eating. This is reflected in the way we eat our regular meals, and the degree to which much of our social lives revolve around food and drink. If we lose sight of the original purpose of eating, and instead associate food with the satisfaction of a desire (rather than the fulfillment of a necessity), that desire may transform into a desire for other than Allah. When the original aim of eating is forgotten, our human tendencies will instead form attachments and habits to what we consume. Eating and cooking consume a large proportion of our lives, and in the process, we lose much of our time. We have lost the essence and the original purpose of eating, and have broken the connection between eating and the journey of iman. The danger of forgetting the manner of eating and the cultivation of bad eating habits is not just about consuming excessive calories and developing clogged arteries, it can have the potential of destroying our iman and our relationship with our Creator. The stomach is like the heart, in that we reap the benefits of what we feed it.
Like the heart, we can either enslave it or let it enslave us. By curbing our appetites and being mindful of our eating habits, we do not give in to excesses in our desire for food and drink. By being vigilant and giving the act of eating its due priority, we do not let our appetites become our masters.
However, if we indulge every craving and desire dictated by our appetites, we have a tendency to let these desires become habit forming. The more obsessed we become about food and the more priority we give to satiating our appetites, the more danger we are of nourishing our habits rather than our bodies. From these, negative aspects of behavior penetrate into and influence our mannerism, and we develop traits such as greed, impatience, stinginess and selfishness. Food and the desire for food will affect our personalities, and if left uncontrolled, will compromise even our concept of halal and haram.
The mother of diseases?
It may be astonishing to discover that the mother of diseases is eating. The desire for what is originally intended as a simple and basic act of survival, can be manipulated by shayateen. It is not an exaggeration to say that the implications of such a seemingly harmless act, if corrupted, can go beyond causing health disorders, it can cause social illnesses. The more we fill the stomach out of desire rather than necessity, the more it empties the heart. We build habits which have nothing to do with Islam, but rather originate from habits and culture. We are stuck with our own eating styles without wanting to sample or even consider better eating habits and types of food. Instead of following the sunnah, households eat according to their heritage, each culture believing that their food is the best. This unwillingness to break out of our cultural and habitual fixation breeds arrogance. In terms of mannerism, how many of us become angry and moody if food is not cooked in a way that we like, or is served late? How many of us become irritable if we do not get to eat what we desire? How many of us still insist on eating the type of cuisine enjoyed by our ethnic origins, even if there is an abundance of alternatives? When we get consumed by the madness of eating, we create harmful addictions. Many of us are addicted to caffeine, spices, fizzy drinks, sugar and food cooked only in a specific cultural style. There is also addiction to unhealthy food, which regardless of the harmful side effects, we deliberately and blissfully feast in large quantities. It is not surprising that these actions result in physical problems - side effects such as cholesterol and becoming overweight, heart problems and diabetes are common in society today.
Our body is a trust
We are a guardian of our bodies, and we will be asked about what we did to preserve our bodies in good health and shape in order to worship Allah. We should not betray the trust given to us. If we die from these eating related diseases, we will be questioned about why we caused it to happen.
Competing in the kitchen?
Islam teaches us to be simple, to cook in small amounts and to use spices sparingly. It does not mean that we should be stingy with food, but rather, we are encouraged to avoid excessiveness and wastage. Now food is no longer for serving Allah. Instead, women who take pride in their cooking are now in intense cooking battles. Cooking has become a championship where women are anxious to outdo each other in quantity, preparation, flavouring and garnishing. Great pains and disproportionate amounts of time are taken to decorate, present and plate up various delicacies. Where does all this laborious preparation go? The only enjoyment is in the tongue as the food passes our tastebuds, but the pleasure is momentary and quickly disappears. Hence we spend hours of preparation for fifteen minutes of delight. We are so eager to impress our guests, that instead of following the sunnah of serving guests what we have without burdening ourselves, we overload dining tables with lavish servings. We force guests to eat beyond their fill, and the lack of compliments on the dishes served can be taken as personal insults and blown out of proportion.
When we eat outside of the home, we indulge ourselves by ordering in excess of what we can consume. Fine dining becomes a mania, and the consumption of rich and overpriced dishes in lavish restaurants becomes a status symbol. We are blind to the amount of wastage and leftovers that the waiters clear from our tables. Our bad behaviour is accentuated when domestic disputes occur if the food is not up to the taste of a spouse. In the obsession of eating the perfect dish, we are willing to allow our marriages to collapse because of food which is too salty or served too cold. We then pass the habits down to our children. We either allow the child to indulge in whatever he wants, regardless of nutritional value, or we give in to their fussy demands, letting the food that we prepare for them be dictated by what they want or refuse. We overfeed our children, or we malnourish them by entertaining the picky eaters. When these manifest in various behavioral and health disorders, do we question ourselves why?
Halal and Haram
Once we become slaves of our appetites, we fall into the danger of transgressing the bounds of halal and haram. In the zeal for satiating our appetites, we make concessions and eat substances which are not halal. We are quick to give in to our impatience and desire when we see a tempting dish, regardless of the ingredients and the manner in which it has been prepared. Instead of curbing our appetites and exercising patience and discipline, we eat whatever is delicious or convenient. For a few minutes while the food pleases our palates, we taint our bodies with substances which we know are haram. Also forbidden is food which is bought from forbidden sources of income. We convince ourselves that we are not doing anyone any harm, and that these are minor infractions. Consider this - if someone eats forbidden food, it means that he does not have fear and respect for Allah. The lack of restraint is symptomatic of lack of obedience. If someone does not respect Allah, how can he be expected to treat anyone else with respect? If a man betrays his own self and takes his body to hellfire with the consumption of the forbidden, how can he be trusted to lead his family to jannah? If one has eaten forbidden food, his deeds will not be accepted for 40 days. If we consistently feed ourselves with a haram diet, allowing such food to become part of our flesh and bones, how do you think it will affect our behaviour? How do you think our standing with Allah will be?
Going back to basics
Eating in itself is not a problem. Rather, it is the addiction to habits and customs related to eating. If this has occurred, then we need to break the cycle. The following are some hints on how to simplify our eating habits and to go back to basics:
• Buy food which is easy to cook, inexpensive and which benefits us the most nutritionally
• Spend minimal time preparing and cooking the food
• Study the different food groups and nutritious values of different types of meats, vegetables and herbs, and apply it to your own personal
circumstances (as individuals react differently depending on their gender, age and genetic characteristics)
• Do not cook excessive amounts of food
• Food is a bounty from Allah, do not let it wait for you once it is served
• Remember the intention and goal of eating. Ask Allah to put barakah in your food and remember His blessings
• Start with “Bismillah” and eat with the right hand, using the tips of the first three fingers
• It is better to eat in a group, preferably from the same platter, and talk in the remembrance of Allah
• Do not feed anyone except for a pious person, unless doing so for the intention of dakwah
• Eat what is immediately in front of you
• Never fill your stomach completely – the best way is to fill your stomach with one third of food and one third of water
• Avoid drinking while eating, and if you must drink, drink water which is room temperature
• Do not mix hot and cold food
• Do not throw away leftovers
• Remember to thank Allah for His bounty, generosity and kindness
Putting food in its right priority
Our cultures have influenced our manner of eating, and while diversity is allowed in Islam, it should be within the parameters of Islam. For example, in most cultures, it is the duty of the women to prepare meals. In Islam, women are not cooks. In fact, allocating her with such a duty is against the sunnah entirely. The Prophet saw did his own cooking, cleaning and mending. If a woman does cook, it is a charity to the husband. The abuse of food can hurt us financially, influence our moods adversely, and along the way, cause us to build bad diseases and lose our good manners. We tend to forget that what we eat is all a bounty from Allah.
“O mankind, eat from the goodness I give you and do not abuse it”
In Islam, food is not supposed to be elaborate or luxurious. Muslims are not to satiate their appetites, but instead should leave the meal before being totally full. This leaves their minds and bodies alert in order to worship Allah, instead of being drowsy and lethargic. The Companions of the Prophet saw were easily recognizable by their lean builds - none of them were overweight, and they demonstrated restraint in the preparation and consumption of their meals. We will be questioned about what we have in this life, hence, before our next meal, we should question ourselves what our intention of eating is. It is to serve Allah? If not there is a problem. Where is the ummah going if we are spending our time obsessing over food, cooking, eating, marketing, championship of cooking? Focusing too much on food eats away at our time. If we spend all our time with food, indulging in our various eating related habits and disorders, when will we have time to spread Islam?
Food for thought
What happens when a necessity becomes a goal? The goal is gone. For example, when somebody today in general is getting married, the man is looking for a beautiful wife or has a status of money, and most of all she has to be a good cook. In this way, being a good cook becomes a goal. Look for example at how many things we have destroyed already. The man is not looking for a woman who has a beautiful soul, has piety, who wants jannah, who wants to support her husband to develop the nucleus of society which is the family. What about her intelligence? What about is her upbringing? What about her Islamic education and character and manner? Imagine all this has been swapped with only one topic - she is a good cook! Think about the impact in family structure, in the woman's role in life as a teacher of her own children, the backbone of the family, the navigator of all the affairs of the family and her role model in society. We have swapped it to fulfill one habit, which is eating. We diminish our purpose of life, our goal, just for one habit. Imagine today, all the fancy restaurants and meals with all kinds of rarity, while more than one third or more of human beings cannot find even a basic meal to eat. How many rich people consume and even abuse the quantity of food they consume. With no exaggeration, one third to two thirds of what they order or buy, ends up in the garbage. Let's look with the purpose of life and a long vision to society. We will find what we are talking about so far generates massive excessive amounts of spending in a small percentage of society. If you accumulate all leftovers, you can feed the rest of humanity, without anyone feeling it.
The reflection of all what we're talking about is so deep it generates all the mother of diseases of the heart – selfishness, greed, impatience.
All these diseases of the heart will reflect on how we deal with others and the way we carry our goal in life, which is to be a role model to worship and invite others to the mercy and message of Islam.
By Da'ee Ahmed Moait
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"And when My servants ask you, [O Muhammad], concerning Me - indeed I am near. I respond to the invocation of the supplicant when he calls upon Me. So let them respond to Me [by obedience] and believe in Me that they may be [rightly] guided." (Surah Baqarah, Verse 186, The Glorious Qur'aan)