Islam is a Deen. It is a way of life which encompasses all aspects of human life: spiritual as well as physical, personal as well as communal, physical health as well as material wealth, and religious matters as well as political issues. In Islam, our body and health are considered as important gifts of Almighty Allah. Imam Ali (peace be upon him) said: “Health is the best of blessings.” In another narration, he says, “One of the blessings [of God] is the abundance of wealth; however, better than abundance of wealth is the health of the body.” Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (peace be upon him) said, “A believer who is physically strong is better than a weak believer.” It is in this sense that our body is considered to be the trust given to us by Allah. And we have to safeguard and protect this trust.
Exercise and Being Active
Being active and to exercise is not only acceptable in Islam but also recommended. Part of the instructions given by the Prophet and the Imams (peace be upon them) about upbringing of children is the issue of physical exercise. Swimming, for example, has been greatly encouraged in our religious literature.
We have to realize that in Asia and Africa, walking was part of our daily routine, and doing our day-to-day job without use of modern machines was part of our lifestyle. And so lots of physical activity used to take place without planning or thinking on our part.
However, in North America, our lifestyle has changed. We are dependent on machines that do our work. Walking is not an integral part of our life: we get into the car inside our garages and get off at the office parking lots. And so, even a simple thing like walking requires planning, scheduling, and determination on our part.
Involvement in sports activities is one way of exercising and keeping fit. Joining the community sports groups also has the benefit of fostering brotherhood and fraternity among Shias.
Note: If a person uses fitness facilities for physical exercise, then adherence to the rules of Hijab is important; this issue would be solved if we have Shari’ah-sensitive fitness facilities in our Islamic centers.
Sleeping, Resting, and Avoiding Stress
Almighty Allah has appointed the night as the time for resting and the day as the time for working. “He is the One who made for you the night so that you may rest in it, and the day with light; most surely in these are signs for the people who hear.” (10:67) So naturally, sleeping is very important.
Avoiding stress: slow down; look at the present and enjoy it before you lose it. Give time for your family. Having a good family life will help you in dealing with stress. And, finally, be in touch with Allah, the Prophet, and Imams; read the Qur’an and the Du’as. This will greatly help in dealing with stress. “Verily, in the remembrance of Allah, the hearts are at ease.” (13:28) There are special supplications in Sahifa Sajjadia which can be quite helpful. And unlike stress counselors or psychiatrists, you don’t need to schedule an appointment or pay any fees – Allah is always available to listen to you free of charge!
Food and Drink
The basic Islamic guideline on food and drink is the rule of moderation. If you are moderate, then it does not matter what you eat or drink. (Of course, we are talking about Halal items!) It is said that once a doctor came to Medina, and for a long time, no one was visiting him as a patient. He inquired as to whether the people of Medina ever become sick or not. He was told that the people of Medina follow the Qur’anic injunction which says: “Eat and drink, but do not be extravagant.” (7:31)
During the era of Caliph Harun ar-Rashid, a Christian doctor became attached to the caliph’s court. One day he asked a Muslim scholar, ‘Ali bin al-Hussain bin Rashid, “Your holy book does not contain anything about well-being of health, even though it is known that the knowledge is of two kinds: the knowledge concerning the soul, and the knowledge concerning the body.”
‘Ali bin al-Husayn bin Rashid replied: “Almighty Allah has summarized the health issue in just half of a verse of the Qur’an by saying, ‘Eat and drink but do not be extravagant.’ And the Prophet of Islam has said that, ‘The belly is the house of diseases, while dieting is the best of all medicines.'” The Christian was amazed by the wisdom of the Qur’an and the saying of the Prophet.
One of the important teachings is to refrain from obesity and becoming overweight. This can be accomplished by moderation in eating. And if one wants to lose weight, then that can be accomplished, from the religious point of view, by fasting.
We are familiar with the term Zakat, which means giving away a portion of your money in charity. In Islamic literature, they are different kinds of Zakats: Zakat al-Mal (charity with wealth), Zakat al-Ilm (charity with knowledge), and Zakat al-Badan (charity with body). The narrations say that the Zakat of body is fasting.
There are many sayings that encourage fasting (other than the month of Ramadan). “Fast and you will be healthy.”
When advising his son Imam Hasan, Imam Ali says: “Do not eat until you are hungry, and leave the table before you are fully satisfied.”
Similarly, Imam Zainul Abideen writes in Risalat al-Huquq (“Charter of Rights”): “It is the right of your stomach that you should not turn it into a receptacle of what is unlawful, whether it is a little or a lot; and that you should not overeat, because that will turn eating into gluttony and shamelessness instead of giving you strength; and you should keep it under control when hungry or thirsty, because overeating (which sometimes ends even in dysentery) causes laziness, hinders from work, and cuts a man away from every goodness and nobility; and overdrinking (which ends sometimes into intoxication) makes a man look idiotic, ignorant, and disgraced.”
Decreasing the Usage of Oily and Greasy Food in Old Age
Hammad bin Uthman says that one day he was in presence of Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq when an old person from Kufa came. He started talking to the Imam, but he was stuttering. The Imam asked: “Why do I see that your speech has changed?” The visitor said that part of his mouth had been paralyzed (because of a stroke). The advice that Imam gave to him concludes with the following words: “Refrain from fat because it is not suitable for the old people.”
Hammad also quotes Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq saying: “When a person reaches the age of fifty, then he should not go to sleep while there is fat in his stomach.” That is, the amount of fat in his food should be so less that by the time one goes to sleep, it would have been digested. (According to one narration, the age mentioned by the Imam was forty.)
According to statistics of the Greater Toronto Area, the people of Southeast Asian origin suffer from heart disease proportionately more than people from other ethnic groups. Our lifestyle has changed to Western (automated + less physical activity), but our diet is still Eastern (fatty + greasy).
With the blessing of medical facilities in North America, there is no reason for a person to ignore regular checkups. Prevention is the best of cures.
Sickness and Duas
Does du’a help in illness? Do prayers help in healing a sick person? Of course, as Muslims we strongly believe in the power of du’a. In 1999, The Journal of Archives of Internal Medicine published the result of a scientific study done in Kansas City on this issue. The doctors at the Mid American Heart Institute divided their heart patients into two groups for a period of 12 months: half the patients were assigned numbers, and those numbers were asked to pray for their patients; the other half of the patients were left without this prayer (du’a) experiment.” The study concluded that the prayer group patients fared significantly better by 35 medical measurements.”
So a Muslim has to do dawa as well as du’a: seek medicine, as well as pray that it works for you.
Smoking and Sisha
“While Islam has given a clear verdict about prohibition of intoxicating drinks, we don’t see much about smoking. What is the Shari’ah perspective on smoking?”
Since smoking was an unknown entity during early Islamic era, there is no mention of it in the Qur’an or in the narrations of the Infallibles. As long as smoking was not known to have any bad effect on health, the Shia jurists (Mujtahideen) had classified it under Ja’iz (permissible) acts. However, after the advances in medical science, this issue has been re-evaluated. Presently, there are a variety of opinions:
The late Ayatollah Khomeini had decreed that those who are addicted may continue to smoke, but the non-smokers are not allowed to start smoking. He hoped to see the next generation of his followers as non-smokers.
Most of the other jurists of this era, including the late Ayatollah al-Khoei, Ayatollah Sistani, Ayatollah Khamenei, and others are of the opinion that if smoking is harmful to one’s health, then it is forbidden for that person to smoke or let the smoke reach others as the second-hand smoke. These jurists have put the onus on the individual to find out whether smoking is harmful or not.
Ayatollah Nasir Makarem Shirazi also had the same opinion, but then he moved away from that position and has declared that, based on convincing expert testimonies, smoking is prohibited in an absolute sense.
The prohibition of smoking – conditional or absolute – is based on the general guidance of the Shari’ah sources: the Qur’an and Hadith. For example, the Qur’an says: “And do not put yourselves by your hands into destruction.” (2:195) By looking at the statistics about diseases caused or accelerated by inhaling smoke, one does not hesitate in applying the above verse to the case of smoking cigarettes.
What about Shisha, which has recently become very popular among Muslim youths in the West? (Shisha is also known as Huqqa in Urdu and Qalyan in Farsi.) If tobacco is used in Shisha, and the use of tobacco in it has the same effect as in cigarettes, then the same rule would apply.
The great teacher Martyr Shaikh Murtadha Mutahhari talked about different kinds of Hijra – migration. He quotes a narration: “An immigrant is one who abandons the evil.” So, one type of Hijra is whereby a person abandons (“migrates from”) an addiction. Then the Martyr described an interesting example of addiction to smoking:
“The late Ayatollah Hujjat (may Allah elevate his status) was a chain-smoker like whom I have never seen before. Sometimes, he would light a new one even before his first cigarette would end. When he became ill, they took him to Tehran for treatment. The doctors advised him that since he also had respiratory problem, he should quit smoking. He initially joked and said, ‘I want these lungs for smoking; if I can’t smoke, then what’s the use of these lungs?’ The doctors said that smoking is dangerous for you and really Mudhir (harmful). He asked, ‘It is harmful?’ They replied, ‘Yes.’ Then he said, ‘I will not smoke.’ Just that one sentence – ‘I will not smoke’ – was the end of the story. This was the example of willpower and decision-making. He was indeed an example of one who ‘migrates’ from habits [which he finds out to be harmful].” (Guftar-hay-e Ma’nawy, p. 292)
Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi is the resident scholar of the Jaffari Islamic Center in Toronto, Canada. He is the author of Islam: Faith, Practice, and History, Shi’ism: Imamat and Wilayat, and numerous other books and articles on Islamic affairs.
This article originally appeared in the author’s Al-Furqan newsletter.