Know thyself and prophetic food -Ilham Malick
Our body may be termed as a ‘miracle’ as it contains 37 trillion cells, heart beats 35 million times a year, and the kidney filters 142 liters of blood a day. As our body is an absolute gift from the almighty Allah, we must take care of it. Therefore, it is necessary to remain informed about the types of food which are beneficial and harmful for our body. Nowadays, we focus on eating as much as possible without realising the benefits and harms lying in those foods. Before we focus on the Sunnah foods, we shall have a look at the temperaments and body constitutions.
Islam has a very rich history of medical care. The religion primarily focuses on treating illness irrespective of class and creed. During the regime of Caliph Harun al-Rashid, great advancement was made in medical care particularly in the city of Baghdad. Islamic medicine included concepts from traditional Chinese, Greek, Ayurvedic and Persian medicines. Islamic medicare was more advanced than European medicine in medieval times. As Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said that for every disease, Allah has given a cure and medical education is inbuilt in Islam. The Prophet’s doctor Al Harith Ibn Kalada (RA), was educated in and practiced Greek medicine or Unani Tibb. Body constitutions were part of his medical practice. Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Ar Razi (Rhazes) and Al Zahrawi (Abulcasis) all combined Greek medicine with Islamic concepts. This medicine was known as Arab-Greco medicine.
Temperaments dominate our health and personality. There are four temperaments based on humor and fluid in our body namely: (Sanguine-Blood), (Melancholic-Black Bile), (Phlegmatic-Phlegm) and Choleric-(Yellow Bile). When there is any imbalance in the temperaments, illness erupts. This may be evident from Sunnah as our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) combined cucumbers with ripened grapes. The heat of the latter is reduced by the coolness of the former thereby attaining balance. Body energy plays an important role in this regard. Therefore, food and body energy were acknowledged by our Prophet (PBUH).
During summer change we often fall sick. This is because body energy changes with surrounding temperature but we don’t change our food habits. Therefore, it is necessary to consume cooling foods during summer and the vice versa.
It is also important to determine our body type in order to determine the correct intake of food and remain away from diseases. The sanguine constitution of our body, whose fingers touch when grabbing wrist, is the most balanced one. Humor of blood in this type of constitution is warm and moist. People with this type of body type have oval faces and they are neither fat nor too thin. Excess consumption of protein and fat triggers diseases in this type of body. Foods like fruits, vegetables, dairy, nuts, grains and animal protein are encouraged to be consumed along with herbal teas like mint, hibiscus etc.
In choleric constitution the humor of blood is hot and dry. This constitution is the most active, hottest and catabolic. People with this constitution have broad jaws and sharp noses. Such people’s fingers overlap slightly while grabbing one wrist with another. They eat more but do not gain weight. Salt and salty foods, fats, cholesterol, fried foods, vinegar, alcohol may trigger diseases. Cooling foods with water content along with rice, barley and lentils are encouraged for consumption.
In a melancholic constitution the humor of blood is cold and dry. Therefore, warm and moist food is important. People with this type of body are lean and thin. They have a rectangular face and prominent cheekbone. Their fingers overlap significantly while grabbing their wrist. Old, dry and stale foods aggravate the condition of this body type. Steamed and sauteed foods are encouraged for this type of body type.
Humor of blood is cold and wet with phlegmatic constitution. People with such a constitution have round faces and full cheeks. Their fingers don’t meet while grabbing their wrist. Due to slow metabolism people with this constitution gain weight although they eat less. Cooling and dampening foods are encouraged for this type of body.
It is important to eat Sunnah diet i.e. eat in moderation. Europeans have developed Keto Diet lacking carbohydrates. But it is against the Sunnah diet. Consumption of Keto Diet is likely to bring harm rather than benefits for people of this part of the world. Because we have a tendency to consume more carbohydrates while Europeans tend to consume more protein. This is in line with what Allah said in Surah Baqarah i.e. not to throw ourselves into destruction. In Verse 172 of the same sura, Allah said, “O believers! Eat from the good things We have provided for you. And give thanks to Allah if you ‘truly’ worship Him alone.” By accepting diets adopted by Christians and going away from the Sunnah diet we are destroying ourselves. Moreover, by consuming too much processed food we are destroying our health.
We forget how much we should eat. Our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) advised us to fill one third of our stomach with food, another one third with water and the remaining should be kept empty for breathing. Therefore, we should eat until we are not hungry.
Fasting may be a useful way to detoxify the systems of our body. As we fast, we do not take food from dawn to dusk. Therefore, our body systems have the opportunity to overhaul and drain away toxins accumulated due to overeating. Fasting has numerous health benefits which cannot be depicted precisely in this short context. Apart from fasting in the month of Ramadan, we may fast on the 13th, 14th and 15th days of the moon.
Considering digestion, our gut flora plays an important role. Our stomach has trillions of good bacteria. We should focus on consuming prebiotic food which feeds these good bacteria. Such foods include: oats, barley, onions etc. We should avoid taking processed food like artificial sugar as such foods kill the good bacteria. Instead of focusing on processed food, we should consume more and more halal and tayyib food. Tayyib food means the food has been prepared in a manner which is not contrary to our religion. For instance: in case of meat the animal has been treated in a human manner while slaughtering.
Therefore, much depends on our intention whether we want to consume Sunnah foods or not. If we remain determined to develop a food habit in the manner prescribed by our Prophet (PBUH), we will not only have good health but we will be rewarded here and in life and hereafter.
Moinul Alam adapted the article from a speech of Ilham Malick, who is a nutritionist.