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Prioritizing one’s health is among the most important concerns in any individual’s life. Over the past several years, there has been a noticeable rise in attention to living a healthy lifestyle, healthy eating, and exercise. The religion of Islam has addressed this topic numerous times in the Holy Quran and narrations from the Holy Household. God states, “Believers, eat from the good things that We have given you and give thanks to God if you worship only Him.”1 Many Islamic traditions teach us about the importance of caring for one’s health and what we should be doing for our overall well-being in terms of eating, physical activity, and spirituality.
Eating Healthy Foods
The food that we put into our bodies has a direct effect on how our body functions throughout the day. Unfortunately, many of us do not even think about what we are putting into our bodies because of how well the food industry promotes products such as fast food that have a negative effect on our bodies. Experts say that “Our Standard American Diet relies heavily on processed foods that include artificial color, additives, flavorings, and chemically-altered fats and sweeteners. These additives and chemically-altered substances may be giving our bodies the wrong signals, instead of the information they need to function properly.”2
Therefore, it becomes vital for all of us to pay attention to everything we choose to eat. God vividly elucidates the purity with which He creates the fruits and vegetables for us to eat when He says, “Human beings should think about [how We produce] their food. We send down abundant water, and allow the earth to break open to yield therein corn, grapes, vegetables, olives, dates, thickly planted gardens, fruits, and grass. These are made to be the means of enjoyment for you and your cattle.”3
Moreover, the Imams of the Ahl al-Bayt (pbut) teach us different things to do during meals that will benefit our bodies. For example, Imam Ali (p) states, “Do not eat unless you are hungry, leave the food while you still have more appetite, [and] chew your food well.”4 If we think about it, eating food without having the need for it is just another way to waste it. Not only is it a waste, but “If we [eat] too much food, or food that gives our bodies the wrong instructions, we can become overweight, undernourished, and at risk for the development of diseases and conditions, such as arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease.”5 How many times do we find ourselves eating simply because we are at a gathering with friends and loved ones and there is so much food available?
In another hadith, Imam Ali al-Rida (p) advises us not to drink water while eating but that we should do so after finishing a meal.6 Taking these small steps like eating clean foods in the proper amount at the right time will help us with our well-being in the long run. Click here to get a copy of the publication “Islamic Laws of Food and Drink” to gain some insight into the etiquette around food and drink, along with what is and what is not permissible to consume.
Physical activity is just as important as eating foods that help us function properly. In a famous tradition, the Holy Prophet (pbuh&hp) says to teach children “swimming and archery”7 which could emphasize the important nature of physical activity in general. Studies have demonstrated that daily exercise allows for chemical changes to occur in the brain that have the ability to improve one’s mental state as exercise “can reduce the symptoms of depression, and it changes the brain in ways similar to antidepressant medications.”8
Exercise is not only able to help with one’s mental health, but it can also help prevent numerous diseases. Studies have shown that physical activity can prevent diabetes and many cancers such as breast, colon, endometrial, and perhaps ovarian.9 Hence, the “2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans” advises getting at least two and a half hours per week of moderate-intensity exercise to help with our overall well-being.10
Our spiritual health is just as important as eating healthy foods and engaging in regular physical activity. Our prayers, acts of worship, and finding closeness to the Almighty are certainly things that can help contribute to our happiness and positive state of mind. God states, “Remembrance of God certainly brings comfort to all hearts.”11 Traditions of the Holy Household (pbut) advise us to engage in spiritual exercises such as performing the night prayer and staying awake after fajr (morning) prayers, as our minds are sharpest in the morning hours. For example, Imam Jafar al-Sadiq (p) states, “The night prayer brightens the faces, beautifies the aroma [of one’s self], and attracts sustenance.”12 Not only will these acts of worship benefit us on the Day of Judgment, but also in this world.
Furthermore, there are scientific studies that show that prayers, reflection, and meditation can result in improved health. According to the US National Library of Medicine, prayer and meditation “have been shown to result in psychological and biological changes that are actually or potentially associated with improved health. . .Interestingly, spiritual meditation has been found to be superior to secular meditation and relaxation in terms of a “decrease in anxiety and improvement in positive mood, spiritual health, spiritual experiences and tolerance to pain.”13 Therefore, it is vital that we make the time every single day to offer our daily prayers, supplicate to God, and remember Him not only because some of these acts of worship are an obligation, but also to find closeness to Him which leads to our ultimate and eternal happiness.
Bits of Advice
1. Pay attention to what we are eating: When we go grocery shopping, we should make it a habit to read the ingredients on all packaged foods to understand what is in the food and to avoid artificial ingredients or chemicals that can harm our bodies. The shorter the ingredients list is, the better quality that product will be.
2. Make time for physical activity: It is important to make time to get in some physical activity daily. If exercise can help with our mental state and prevent many diseases, we should prioritize a few minutes a day for it. The Holy Prophet (pbuh&hp) approved this advice given by Salman to Aba al-Darda when he heard about it, “Verily your Lord has rights upon you, and your body has rights upon you.”14
3. Exercise Your Soul: Caring for our bodies is important, and it is just as important to care for our hearts and souls. Collectively or individually, we should make time to build our relationship with the Almighty by offering our daily prayers, reciting a few verses of the Quran daily, and making an effort to start performing the night prayer, even if it is once a week with the minimum requirements, to begin to build up to our potential.
1. The Holy Quran 2:172. Quranic quotes in this blog are from the Muhammad Sarwar translation.
2. Carolyn Denton, “How Does Food Impact Health?” Taking Charge of Your Health & Wellbeing, accessed September 15, 2019, https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/how-does-food-impact-health.
3. The Holy Quran 80:24-32.
4. Shaykh al-Saduq, Al-khisal, p. 229.
5. Carolyn Denton, “How Does Food Impact Health?” Taking Charge of Your Health & Wellbeing, accessed September 15, 2019, https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/how-does-food-impact-health.
6. Al-Mirza al-Nuri, Mustadrak al-wasail, vol. 17, p. 7.
7. Al-Hur al-Amili, Wasail al-Shia, vol. 15, p. 194.
8. Harvard Health Publishing, “Why We Should Exercise – and Why We Don’t,” Harvard Health, accessed September 15, 2019, https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/why-we-should-exercise-and-why-we-dont.
9. Harvard Health Publishing, “Why We Should Exercise – and Why We Don’t,” Harvard Health, accessed September 15, 2019, https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/why-we-should-exercise-and-why-we-dont.
10. “2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans,” Guidelines Index – 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines, accessed September 16, 2019, https://health.gov/paguidelines/2008/.
11. The Holy Quran 13:28.
12. Shaykh al-Saduq, Thawab al-amal, p. 41.
13. Chittaranjan Andrade and Rajiv Radhakrishnan, “Prayer and Healing: A Medical and Scientific Perspective on Randomized Controlled Trials,” Indian Journal of Psychiatry, Medknow Publications, 2009, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2802370/.
14. Bihar al-anwar, vol. 67, p. 128.
1. قال تعالى: ((يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُلُوا مِن طَيِّبَاتِ مَا رَزَقْنَاكُمْ وَاشْكُرُوا لِلَّـهِ إِن كُنتُمْ إِيَّاهُ تَعْبُدُونَ
3. قال تعالى: ((فَلْيَنظُرِ الْإِنسَانُ إِلَىٰ طَعَامِهِ ﴿٢٤﴾ أَنَّا صَبَبْنَا الْمَاءَ صَبًّا ﴿٢٥﴾ ثُمَّ شَقَقْنَا الْأَرْضَ شَقًّا ﴿٢٦﴾ فَأَنبَتْنَا فِيهَا حَبًّا ﴿٢٧﴾ وَعِنَبًا وَقَضْبًا ﴿٢٨﴾ وَزَيْتُونًا وَنَخْلًا ﴿٢٩﴾ وَحَدَائِقَ غُلْبًا ﴿٣٠﴾ وَفَاكِهَةً وَأَبًّا ﴿٣١﴾ مَّتَاعًا لَّكُمْ وَلِأَنْعَامِكُمْ ﴿٣٢﴾)).
4. روي عن أمير المؤمنين (ع): “لا تجلس على الطعام إلا وأنت جائع، ولا تقم عن الطعام إلا وأنت تشتهيه، وجّود المضغ”
6. روي عن الإمام الرضا (ع): “ومن أراد أن لا تؤذيه معدته، فلا يشرب على طعامه ماء حتى يفرغ”
7. روي عن النبي (ص): “علّموا أولادكم السباحة والرماية”
11. قال تعالى: ((الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَتَطْمَئِنُّ قُلُوبُهُم بِذِكْرِ اللَّـهِ ۗ أَلَا بِذِكْرِ اللَّـهِ تَطْمَئِنُّ الْقُلُوبُ))
12. روي عن أبي عبد الله الصادق (ع): “صلاة الليل تبيض الوجوه وصلاة الليل تطيب الريح وصلاة الليل تجلب الرزق”
14. روي عن النبي (ص): حديث: “… إن لربك عليك حقا وإن لجسدك عليك حقا …