Food! Glorious Food?

In our weekly classes reading through Imam al-Ghazali’s book, The Beginning of Guidance, we have been concentrating on the sins of the limbs.

This is an extract from a class held on 11.10.2018 where we spoke about the sins pertaining to the stomach.

Imam al-Ghazali speaks about lawful (halal) and unlawful (haram) means and food.

Halal Means + Haram Food = Haram

Haram Means + Halal Food = Haram

Haram Means + Haram Food = Haram

Halal Means + Halal Food = Halal

Haram means i.e. interest, gambling, alcohol, theft, fraud etc.  If money is mixed between halal and haram then assume your food is from the lawful part, but we need to move towards removing any haram income/means from our lives.

Haram food: Pig, fangs, talons, predatory, insects (no blood), rodents, amphibians and reptiles (no gushing blood) – may be exceptions to this and should check each animal.

Animals which are lawful are only lawful after halal slaughter and so the default is unlawful.  The same does not apply to other foods.

All fruit, vegetables and grains are halal.  The Maxim is that all food is permissible unless you are sure to the contrary– al yaqin la yazalu bi shak (certainty isn’t lifted by doubt).  However, the principle – if in doubt leave it out, would be better for those spiritual aspirants.

The maxim doesn’t apply to meat.  This is because meat is not permissible unless slaughtered, therefore you have to be sure it is halal before you eat it.  A discussion between halal and tayyib (good) will be had on 18.10.2018.

Imam al-Ghazali then talks about food and the dangers of over consumption by saying that filling yourself with the lawful will a) harden the heart; b) ruin the intellect; c) increase one’s carnal appetites and d) give assistance to the soldiers of the Devil.  One of the major calamities which he mentions about filling yourself up is the lack of ability to worship Allah.  How many of us have filled ourselves up so we don’t want to pray or read Quran.  We may even miss obligations because we are so full.

He then makes a passing comment by stating if the above is from lawful food and means then what would happen to you from consuming food which is unlawful or the means of which is unlawful?

The scholars then say that hunger has 10 benefits:

  1. Purifies the heart
  2. Softens the soul
  3. Humbles the ego
  4. Reminds about the suffering of the poor
  5. Weakens passions and enables control of desire
  6. Reduces laziness
  7. Frees up time from eating and preparing
  8. Health benefits – many diseases stem from over-eating
  9. Saves money
  10. Increases generosity

From the Quran and Hadith the scholars have derived 7 degrees of eating.  That you eat:

  1. Enough to breathe
  2. Enough to perform the obligatory actions
  3. Enough to perform the recommended actions
  4. Enough to keep your back straight i.e. not doubled up in hunger
  5. Enough so that your stomach has 1/3 fill of food (this is the sunnah)
  6. Enough so that your stomach has 2/3 fill of food
  7. Eat to harm

The astute will notice that there is no eating till full or eating till happy or no degree 6.5 i.e. after level six the next level is harm.  Meaning if you fill your stomach with more than 2/3 of food you are causing harm to yourself.  What about those of us who stuff ourselves i.e. try to squeeze more food into us even after we are full?

Therefore take precaution.  Don’t be fooled into eating after you are full rather than throwing food away.  Have a plan!  1) Don’t overcook, 2) If you do, freeze it or use it the next day, 3) give it to the neighbours, 4) give it to the homeless or street beggars.  If there is no option except eating it or throwing it – be mindful that eating it may cause you more harm in this life and the next!

So yes, food can be glorious – but we must retain moderation!

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