Al-Miqdad ibn Ma’ad Yakrib narrated that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said:
“No human ever filled a container more evil than his belly. The few morsels needed to support his being shall suffice the son of Adam. But if there is no recourse then one third for his food, one third for his drink and one third for his breath.” (Ahmad and At-Tirmidhi)
This hadith reveals three facts:
• Filling one’s stomach is evil and harmful to mankind.
• A human can subsist on limited sustenance; however, they have become accustomed to eating and drinking to excess and beyond their actual needs.
• When a person desires to eat, due consideration should be given to the remainder of the body’s organs. Thus, people should not eat to their own detriment, for when the stomach is filled, it presses against the diaphragm leading to shortness of breath.
This article is dealing with the guidance of both the noble Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) in matters related to health and medicine. Appropriately, people of both ancient and modern times have called such studies, “Prophetic Medicine.”
It is well known that Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) was not a physician by trade, neither was his message one of a medical nature. However, because he was sent by Allah, the Lord of Creation, and guided by authentic inspiration and since the Islamic Shari’ah (jurisprudence) is both comprehensive and eternal, it was only befitting that its tenets would contain glimpses into areas of human health and well being.
Furthermore, it is not befitting for the words of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) to contain anything but truth; assuming that Muslims understand them correctly, in the manner intended by him, without additions or unwarranted alterations.
Numerous are the statements that have been recorded in both the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet (pbuh) encouraging Muslims to be moderate in eating and drinking.
It is the right of all Muslims to enjoy the bounty of foods and drinks bestowed by Allah the Almighty. However, they must avoid extravagance and excess as it may lead to bloating. Striking a balance between extravagance and self-depravation is the fundamental goal of the Islamic Shari’ah.
Numerous are the statements that have been recorded in both the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) encouraging Muslims to be moderate in eating and drinking. The following are just some examples;
In the Qur’an Allah the Almighty says,
(And eat and drink and be not extravagant; surely He does not love the extravagant.) (Al-A`raf 7: 31)
This statement from the Qur’an, although brief, is comprehensive in its guidance about sustenance. In this verse, Allah has permitted Muslims to enjoy food and the bounties of this life, at the same time, forbidding waste and extravagance. This includes waste in quantity as well as in kind.
It was also narrated that Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) said, “The family of Muhammad never ate their fill three days in a row till the Prophet passed away.” (Al-Bukhari)
In addition to these narrations, numerous other texts and statements encourage zuhd (asceticism); moderation and indifference to this earthly life. It is well known that restraint in eating is a major aspect of zuhd.
Islam Contradicts Gluttony
Abdullah ibn Umar narrated that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said:
“The believer eats in one stomach, and the disbeliever eats in seven stomachs.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
The story behind this hadith is that a man used to eat liberally, and after embracing Islam, he began to eat in moderation. This was mentioned to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) whereupon he said this hadith.
In discussing the meaning of this hadith, the scholars of Islam asked what could cause someone to change his dietary habits upon embracing Islam. Among the conclusions reached, is the theory that embracing Islam reduces the characteristics of gluttony and the desire to overeat, in addition to the result that believers can be satisfied with very little.
In contrast, disbelievers may never be filled no matter how much they gorge themselves, due to their excessive gluttony and love of this life.
Regretfully, many societies nowadays have great imbalance in their food intake. Physicians lament the chaotic eating habits, in both kind and quantity, which many people have adopted. Indeed, excess in eating to the point of becoming bloated has become a pleasure sought by many.
Fast foods with high fat contents are a common sight in this age. Ultimately, this is another by-product of the Western way of life.
It is well known now that overeating can be injurious to health for the following reasons:
• Excessive consumption of fats and carbohydrates can result in an increase in cholesterol – which is itself a type of fat – in the blood. That cholesterol coats the inner walls of the blood vessels resulting in an increased occurrence of heart disease.
• Excessive consumption of food leads to obesity that is a dangerous disease itself.
• Overeating is also a major cause of dyspepsia, indigestion, heartburn and gastro-esophageal reflux.
• In some cases, overeating can lead to diabetes. Recent studies have shown that moderation in dietary habits can reduce the risk of diabetes in those with a genetic predisposition to the disease.
• Every individual has a personal need for food. If this threshold is exceeded then the excess fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals become a burden upon the body. It will usually be dealt with by either expelling this excess from the body through the kidney, lungs or skin, or by storing it in the body in the form of fat. In both cases, the individual will not have benefited from what was eaten.
So far, we have been dealing with the biological repercussions of overeating. However, overeating has also behavioral and social effects, such as reducing productivity and efficiency at work. This is especially noticeable in the period immediately after a gorging session. The reason for this lethargy and listlessness is interesting.
As it is already known, every organ in the body receives its basic blood flow constantly, and during increased activity extra flow is pumped and the small blood vessels, capillaries, are opened in response to this increased demand. This is exactly what happens after overeating; while extra blood is pumped to the gastro-intestinal system, other organs in the body make do with just their basic flow.
Finally, there are religious repercussions to overeating. In light of the verses and hadiths quoted above, we can see that overeating may lead to a spiritual hardening of the heart that lessens the Muslim’s response to the Qur’an, its teachings, and the desire to obey its commands.
This is clear and not surprising, for food is one of mankind’s loves, and if someone is unable to reign in his desire for food despite the conviction that it is indeed harmful, it then stands to reason that such a person may also lack willpower when it comes to other prohibited desires.