In the ninth year of the Hijrah, an Arab king made the first positive move to Islam after years of feeling hatred for it. He drew closer to faith (iman) after opposing and combating it. And he finally pledged allegiance to the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) after his adamant refusal to do so.
He was Adiyy, son of the famous Hatim at-Taai who was known far and wide for his chivalry and fabulous generosity. Adiyy inherited the domain of his father and was confirmed in the position by the Tayy people. Part of his strength lay in the fact that a quarter of any amount they obtained as booty from raiding expeditions had to be given to him.
When the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) announced openly his call to guidance and truth and Arabs from one region after another accepted his teachings, Adiyy saw in his mission a threat to his position and leadership. Although he did not know the Prophet personally, and had never seen him, he developed a strong feeling of enmity towards him. He remained antagonistic to Islam for close upon twenty years until at last God opened his heart to the religion of truth and guidance.
By: Khalil Marcus Lambert, Ph.D.
In his famous book, How to Eat to Live, the leader of the Nation of Islam (a conduit through which many African-Americans were introduced to Islam) emphatically states: “There is no way for us to learn the right way to eat in order to live a long life, except through the guidance and teachings of Allah.”
Although Elijah Muhammad’s Islamic creed diverted from traditional mainstream Islam, he understood well that the key to addressing the complete spiritual and mental vitality of his people was by placing an emphasis on their physical well-being, which he addressed through ancestral eating habits and social vices; undoubtedly a wholesome approach borrowed from the Qur’an and example of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ (peace be upon him).
The Prophet Muhammad SAW placed great emphasis on physical matters in developing spiritual matters. In a famous hadith (saying of the Prophet)1 , the Messenger of Allah SAW observes a man praying the ritual salah (prayer) and says to the man, “Go back, for you have not prayed.” After the man’s return, the Prophet ﷺ says to him repeatedly, “Go back, for you have not prayed.” Because the man was not implementing the true mechanics of the prayer to the best of his ability, he was likely depriving himself of its complete spiritual and emotional benefit.
Arguably every religious ritual or habit put into practice by the Prophet SAW holds a deep spiritual benefit that is only uncovered through regular or meticulous application. However, many traditions have obvious physical and emotional benefits as well. Within the Islamic tradition are directives that uplift the whole life of the individual. Fasting is the perfect example.
Routine, periodic fasting has been shown to have a number of positive effects:
- contracted stomach (and satisfaction with less food);
- lower blood sugar and cholesterol;
- and even evidence for combating cancer.2
During a fast, energy is diverted away from the digestive system to concentrate on metabolic and immune functions. Master regulator hormones called glucocorticoids are released to aid the body in breaking down fat cells and forming glucose molecules for energy. Side effects of this can be the release of toxins trapped in fat cells and maintenance of normal blood pressure.3
Elijah Muhammad notes, “Fasting is a greater cure of our ills, both mental and physical, than all of the drugs of the earth combined into one bottle or a billion bottles.” These were wise words to many African American families predisposed to poor health conditions.
What many Muslims have not truly appreciated are the Islamic and faith-based practices that influence our body’s health. Many researchers have studied the effects of Ramadan, prayer, and other religious influences on individual health, yet population-based studies have been confounded by profound cultural and ethnic diversity. Thus, it is difficult to draw conclusions about health associations from a population with so many contributing variables. Still, intriguing questions remain about the overall health benefits of Islamic mandates.
For example, what are the health implications of the prohibition of alcohol, pork, sex before marriage, etc. on the Muslim community? How has the non-reductionist, holistic perspective on healing affected the health of Muslim populations? Can common characteristics be observed in the (epi)genetic profiles of Muslims?4