The stomach is the worst pot to fill. And we fill it, three sometimes four times a day. Food is so important to us, our kitchens have a special cupboard just for recipe books. Their crumpled pages bear testimony to how often they’re consulted.

In the 21st Century food has regressed from being a means of sustenance to an art form using a palette of a different mix. Fine dining means food now has construction, nuance, juxtaposition, culture and expression. Food also differentiates us into categories across the social spectrum. There’s the well-developed palate that “appreciates” fine food, the expensive palate that dabbles in costly culinary and the sophisticated palate that only likes fancy food. And the palate that recognises its function in eating and that it’s the tongue that houses the taste buds.

Food is a gift from Allah SWT and there’s no doubt that it is beautiful, both in taste and appearance. It is a means of energy, vitality, nutrition, of bringing people together and a form of charity. But food is also  another means of getting lost in this world taking us away from our purpose of worshipping Allah SWT. Besides the fact that food can cause sickness to the body, showing little restraint in eating strengthens the nafs (desires) allowing it to rebel and ultimately affecting the spiritual faculties.

Television shows, magazines, books and blogs reveal the latest trends and treats, it is no wonder that food is addictive and obesity is a leading preventable cause of death worldwide, with increasing rates in adults and children. Obesity is regarded as one of the most serious public health problems of the 21st century.

Al-Miqdaam ibn Maadiy-Karib (radiallahu anhu)is narrated to have said, “I heard the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) saying, ‘No human ever filled a vessel worse than the stomach. Sufficient for any son of Adam are some morsels to keep his back straight. But if it must be, then one third for his food, one third for his drink and one third for his breath.’” [Ahmad, At-Tirmidhi, An-Nasaa’I, Ibn Majah – Hadith sahih]

The key to remaining slim and achieving many goals are in the Quranic and Sunnah teachings of Islam. Not for superficial reasons but for the well being of our physical, mental and spiritual health. Islam teaches moderation in eating.

It is not incorrect to say our dining tables are more often than not spread with  lavish and copious amounts of foods. Time consuming foods that are beyond excess. Not only is money wasted indulging in this manner but valuable time is lost in slaving over the fleeting necessity of eating. The Mashaikh have said that the stomach is the home of all sickness. When the different organs of the body break down or are unable to fulfil their functions as a result of overeating it results in all types of sicknesses.

Eating falls into different categories. Obligatory is eating as much as will ward off death. Eating a little more with the intention of having more energy to pray standing and fasting is that which is rewarded. Permissible is eating more than that, to the point of eating one’s fill, so that he will have more physical strength. There is no reward for this and it is not regarded as sinful. He will be brought to account for it but the reckoning is said to be light if the food was Halaal. Eating more than one’s fill is regarded as Haraam. [From al-Fataawa al-Hindiyyah]

There are different levels of hunger. Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) prescribed that we should eat our stomach one third full, leave one third for water and one third should be left for the circulation of air. Hunger creates light in the heart and in the mind.

The renowned Wali of his time, Hazrat Sahl bin Abdullah Tastari (rahamtullahi alayh) said when Allah SWT created the world then Allah SWT put sin and ignorance in a full stomach and knowledge and wisdom in hunger. This indicates that eating to full satisfaction and beyond creates rebellion in the nafs. The more rebellious it becomes, the more the spiritual faculties are affected to the point where one is unable to control their desires. The nafs becomes stronger at the expense of one’s intellectual, spiritual and physical faculties which becomes weaker, affecting worship (Ibadah).

Hazrat Tastari (rahamtullahi alayh) said the practice of the Siddiqeen is to eat once a day, the practice of the masses of the Muslims is to eat twice a day and the practice of eating three times a day is the practice of lowly animals. Animals eat thrice a day and more than that but not human beings. Seeing the physical weakness of the people, the Awliyah of former times have said that when one feels that one can still take a few morsels extra, one should stop eating. And this – the act of preventing oneself from filling up and overeating – one will find to be more difficult than fasting.

The Awliyah went to extremes and hardships in not consuming too much, their basis which came from the Sunnah of Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam). It was the practice of Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam)  and some Sahabah (radiallahu anhum) to only eat once a day. While we aren’t able to practice the extremes of the Mashaikh and it is not advised that we adopt their methods of restraint we must reduce.

We can reduce the intake of food by being aware of how much we are eating and eating less and keeping the Nafl fasts. One can practice fasting on the Sunnah days (Monday and Thursday) or the 13th, 14th, 15th of the month or at least once or twice a month, some Ulama advise. Being negligent about overeating can create darkness in the heart and then result in the suffering of our intellect and understanding.

Reducing our food intake, with the intention of gaining Allah’s SWT Pleasure, becoming closer to Allah SWT, is one of the ways of creating light in our hearts. Overeating is one of the major causes for a weak will-power. When we can’t fight our nafs, we lose the inclination to restrain our desires and its rebellious demands.

Bint Ahmad Sulaymaan – Cii Radio