Processed Food: Fad or Fitnah?

processed foodGo to any supermarket and you will see shelves upon shelves of ready-to-cook meals, canned food, ready-to-use fried onions, frozen vegetables and the like – all tempting you to save your time and try them out. At the same time, you might have heard that processed food is totally unhealthy, and you should avoid it as much as possible. So what should you do?

It is important to remember that virtually everything we eat is processed in some way or the other. Peeling, cutting, mashing, cooking, baking or frying is all referred to as food processing. All cooked food is, therefore, processed food. It doesn’t mean that all processed food is bad food. There is a huge difference between mechanical processing, which may be essential for making food eatable (such as peeling the bananas), heat processing that changes the texture and may change the nutritional value, but at the same time makes food more tasty and easily digestible, and chemical processing that is largely used by the industrial food manufacturers and which can turn good, natural ingredients into nutritionally worthless or even harmful products. Such chemically processed products are most commonly referred to as processed foods and must be avoided.

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Food: My Fuel for Faith

food and faithIs there a deeper meaning to our meals? Does the food we eat along with how, where, and when we eat make a difference to our health, family, and faith? We, as Muslims, must consider that any choice we make, no matter how mundane, has implications for our faith. Food, which is seemingly innocent and a blessing of Allah (swt), has a vital role to play in who we are. This article looks at food choices through the filter of Islam and Seerah. We will talk about how consumption of different types of food has an impact on our behaviour, and investigate whether or not food quality and quantity dictates our thoughts, behaviour, and actions. As the old adage goes: “You are what you eat.” We will also discuss what Shifa and Tayyab food is.

Avoiding Extremes

Before we go on, let’s ponder over what it means to eat as a Muslim. Eating is a part of worship for us as food is a blessing granted by Allah (swt). We supplicate to Allah (swt) to bless our food, and we eat only after we have recited His name. We must be cognizant of how our food reaches us, the people who are involved in it, and how its production fulfills Allah’s (swt) command for us. Allah (swt) tells us in verse 31 of Surah Al-Araf: “O Children of Adam! Take Your adornment (by wearing Your clean clothes), while praying and going round (the Tawaf of) the Kabah, and eat and drink but waste not by extravagance, certainly He (Allah) likes not Al-Musrifoon (those who waste by extravagance).”

So where do our eating habits fall, according to the above Ayah?

  1. Necessity
  2. Satiety
  3. Excess

Imam Ibn Al-Qayyim mentions two extremes regarding food.

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Manna Salwa – Simple Choices vs Variety Gourmet

manna salwa“And we shaded you with clouds and sent down on you Al-Manna and the quail, (saying): ‘Eat of the good lawful things We have provided for you,’ (but they rebelled). And they did not wrong Us, but they wronged themselves.” (Al-Baqarah 2:57)

“And remember when you said: ‘O Musa! We cannot endure one kind of food. So invoke your Lord for us to bring forth for us of what the earth grows, its herbs, its cucumbers, its Fum (wheat or garlic), its lentils and its onions.’ He said: ‘Would you exchange that which is better for that which is lower? Go you down to any town and you shall find what you want!’ And they were covered with humiliation and misery, and they drew on themselves the Wrath of Allah…” (Al-Baqarah 2:61)

I especially remember the children of Israel on the days when I have to venture into the kitchen to cook a decent meal, racing against time and juggling the multitude of roles assigned to me as a working mother. I try to imagine what it must have been like to be served the convenient and pristine cuisine by none other but the King of the Worlds Allah (swt) as His Mercy and divine hospitality. Tafsir Ibn-e-Kathir mentions that Mujahid said: “Al-Manna was a kind of sweet gum, and As-Salwa, a kind of bird (i.e., quail).” This food descended from the Paradise, and was collected by the children of Israel effortlessly.

Someone among them brainstormed the idea of ‘variety is the spice of life’, turned up their nose against the Lord’s superior bounties, and demanded from Musa (as) to arrange inferior food grown on the planet.

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Busting Some Common Food Myths

Image courtesy

Image courtesy

“O you who believe! Make not unlawful the Taiyibat (all that is good as regards foods, things, deeds, beliefs, persons, etc.), which Allah has made lawful for you, and transgress not. Verily, Allah does not like the transgressors.” (Al-Maidah 5:87)

Allah (swt) has created a beautiful world full of His bounties for His creatures. Shukr, or being thankful for these bounties, is enjoined on people in countless passages of the Quran. In the above verse, Allah (swt) discourages us from adopting extremes in behaviour. Let’s relate this to some common food myths being practiced currently.

Eight glasses of water a day

People are generally advised to drink “an 8-ounce glass of water, 8 times a day,” which makes 1.9 litres. In reality, water requirement depends upon many factors, such as one’s health, level of activity, and location. On an average, in a moderate climate, men are required to take 3 litres (about 13 cups) of total beverages in a day and women need to take 2.2 litres. It is also important to include all fluid intake towards the daily total. Water intake needs to increase in certain conditions, such as for pregnant or breastfeeding women and people who are suffering from vomiting, diarrhea or other conditions that cause unusual water losses.

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Well-Fed or Welfare?

Image courtesy

Image courtesy

Why do we eat what we eat? For most of history this question has been quite simple; we eat to survive. But in the context of material abundance, when food is plentiful and easily accessible, this question becomes quite different. What do we feel like eating? Whether it’s our choice of breakfast cereal or the spread at a buffet lunch, there is always a multitude of choices to satisfy our present craving. Most of us make these choices based on our personal taste but when we’re at the supermarket, we’re looking for the best value for money. This fuels the current global market for food; choice, taste, and price. But what’s missing from this equation?

First we have to look at how industrialization has changed the way we produce, package, and distribute food. Small family farms have been replaced by massive agri-businesses. Farm production has shifted to mono crops with global market value. Industrial fertilizers and pesticides have increased crop yields but pollute water, destroy wildlife, and deplete the soil of natural minerals. Meat is industrially produced in increasingly large quantities, creating a huge demand for fodder. Convenience foods laden with chemicals are produced in factories and distributed all over the world. As food becomes plentiful, for some, it comes with a huge price tag for all.

We might consider these changes to be something we have little control over, and therefore, have no accountability for; but a closer look at the problem reveals that we are not only accountable but even responsible. Every time we put something into our shopping cart, we are participating in this unsustainable system. We need to rethink our decisions about food by inserting the question of welfare into the equation – regarding our health, our planet, and every living thing on it.

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Surah Al-Hujurat in our Lives – Part 9

hujurat 9“The Bedouins say: ‘We believe.’ Say: You believe not but you only say: ‘We have surrendered (in Islam)’, for faith has not yet entered Your hearts. But if you obey Allah and his Messenger (sa), He will not decrease anything in reward for your deeds. Verily, Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.”

This Surah is a piece of legislation for a comprehensive system that will result in an ideal society. Verse 14 deals with the tribes that converted to Islam – those that had an arrogant attitude. They felt entitled to receive favours from the Prophet (sa) because they had not fought the Muslims but accepted Islam peacefully. They thought the Prophet (sa) ‘owed them’.

Scholars point to tribal groups, like Muzainah, Juhainah, Aslam, Ashja, Ghifar, and Bani Asad bin Khuzaimah in particular. We find in Sayyid Qutb’s “In the Shade of the Quran”: “The first of these verses is said to have been revealed in relation to the Bedouins of the Asad tribe who, as soon as they accepted Islam, boasted by saying: ‘We have attained faith.’ Allah (swt) wanted to show them the truth of what was in their hearts when they said this, stating that they only embraced Islam in submission, while true faith had not touched their hearts or souls.”

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Love For Food

love for foodFood is close to our heart. Islam has given significant attention to the value of food. It is the tradition and manner of the Prophet (sa) that he used to lick his fingers and say: “You don’t know which part of the food is blessed.” (Tirmidhi) Hence he used to finish off every morsel of food on his plate.

Aisha (rtaf) once found a single grape next to her bedside. She gave it in Sadaqah (voluntary charity). People asked: “Oh Aisha, are you giving a single grape to the poor?” She replied: “How many atoms are there in a single grape?” Whoever did an atom’s weight of good will see it.

“How many atoms of weight of goodness are there in these grapes that I have given away?” A Sahabi said, after donating shrivelled grapes that had almost shrunk to the size of raisins. They would not even belittle that.

Shariah has given tremendous weight to the topic of food. One of the leading reasons for men to enter Jahannum (Hellfire) is that they never encouraged others to feed the poor. How many punishment’s Kaffarah (compensation) is to feed people? If you say your wife is like your mother’s back, part of the Kaffarah is to feed 60 people. If you kill somebody, sleep with your wife in the month of Ramadan (while fasting), break an oath, or are not able to fulfill your Hajj, the Kaffarah is to feed people.

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Losing it the Healthy Way

losing weightThe trendiest topic in town, which has been the subject of countless arguments and has been researched mercilessly, is weight loss. You only have to type the word “weight” in the Google search bar, and the first suggestion will be “weight loss”. All of us at some point in time may feel the need to lose excess weight. Speaking as a medical student, in this day and age, if you really want to avoid or improve chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular and hormonal diseases, you will have to adopt a healthy lifestyle, and maintain a healthy BMI (Body Mass Index).

Yes, we’ve all heard about “diet and exercise” playing a cardinal role in weight loss, but how do you actually achieve it? We diet for two weeks and then gain the lost weight right up! We go to the gym for a few days, see no change, and then drop the whole idea. Some people even follow aggressive diets that cause nutritional deficiencies; these manifest themselves in extremely irritating ways such as mouth ulcers, sore gums, joint pain, spots on the face, marks on nails, paleness of the skin and conjunctiva of eyes.

If you really want to lose weight and not regain it, you will have to follow a structured plan which does not threaten to compromise your health.

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Keeping the End in Mind

vision for marriageBearing the end in mind is about the principle of vision, and vision is powerful. According to a well-acclaimed research, it is this principle that helps prisoners of war survive the atrocities and brutalities of concentration camps. Vision is the same principle that gives children the drive to succeed. It is a moving power behind effective individuals and organizations in every walk of life. Vision is also greater than the negative baggage of the past and even the accumulated heartache of the present.

Mariam, a woman married for almost fifteen years shared that, “There are times when my husband and I disagree about things and put a wall between us due to a difference of opinion. I have resolved not to let the wall expand and drive us apart. Almost instantly or later, I realize what Satan is trying to scheme against us. Without caring who is right or wrong, I willingly apologize to my husband or try talking things out.

Many of my friends think this is a loser’s policy. They prefer to be caught dead than to admit their mistake, or kiss and make up for a quarrel they never started.”

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Lessons for Parents in the Nikah Sermon

nikah sermonLike other special occasions in Islam (Jummah and Eid), the Nikah ceremony too is marked by a Khutbah, in accordance with the practice of our beloved Prophet (sa).The Nikah sermon is an essential part of every Muslim wedding. However, unfortunately, women rarely get to hear it, and the men who do hear it seldom understand the meaning.

Whatever the Prophet (sa) did or said had a purpose behind it. The Khutbah of Nikah is not just a ritualistic repetition of a few words. This simple, concise, and yet profound sermon contains a message for all those who are involved in the making of a new family: the bride, the groom, and their respective parents and siblings.

Let us, as parents, ponder over and extract lessons pertaining to the marriage of our children.

From the Lips of Our Beloved (sa):

“Praise be to Allah (swt). We seek His help and His forgiveness, and rely on Him. We seek refuge with Allah (swt) from the evil of our own souls and from our bad deeds. Whomsoever Allah (swt) guides will never be led astray, and whomsoever Allah (swt) leaves astray can be guided by no one. I bear witness that there is no god but Allah (swt), and I bear witness that Muhammad (sa) is His slave and Messenger.

O you who believe! Fear Allah (swt), as He should be feared, and die not except in a state of Islam (as Muslims) with complete submission to Allah (swt). (Al-Imran 3:102)

O mankind! Be dutiful to your Lord, Who created you from a single person, and from him He created his wife, and from them both He created many men and women, and fear Allah (swt), through Whom you demand your mutual (rights), and (do not cut the relations of) the wombs (kinship). Surely, Allah (swt) is ever an All-Watcher over you. (An-Nisa 4:1)

O you who believe! Keep your duty to Allah (swt) and fear Him, and speak (always) the truth.” (Al-Ahzab 33:70) (Nasai and Abu Dawood)

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Go with the Flow

health checkThe juggling act women or men usually face between work and family is very tedious and difficult to manage successfully. How do you plan ahead to avoid the obvious pitfalls and anticipate the unexpected twists life throws at you? I have come up with a simple solution: “Go with the Flow.” This might seem as an antithesis to what most articles advise but bear with me and follow these ten simple yet flexible rules.

Prioritize your tasks for the day. Buy a pretty diary (doesn’t have to be too expensive) and use it to jot down your tasks the night before. I realize that smart phones do all that for you, but take a few moments to gather your thoughts, sit down in seclusion (I do this in the laundry room), and jot down everything you must accomplish that day. Do not write down things that can wait for another day. This is your next twenty-four hours’ hot list. There should be only three to five items on the list so that it is flexible enough add two more to, if required. This is your self-analysis. Seerah teaches us that the Prophet’s (sa) day consisted of spiritual development, family time, and personal/social interaction. The questions to ask while jotting down tasks are:

  1. What is worth spending an hour on?
  2. What comes first?
  3. What is a must-do and what is good-to-do?

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Empowering our Masajid

empowering masajidMasajid have always been one of the most important sources of knowledge and guidance for Muslims. Prophet Muhammad (sa) used Masajid not only for prayers but also for various other functions, such as imparting the knowledge of Islamic Shariah to his companions, meeting locals and foreigners, and giving Khutbahs (sermons).

Similarly, during the time of the four rightly-guided Caliphs, Masajid had social, political, and judicial functions. Thus, the Sunnah continued to be practiced. Whenever an area was conquered by the Muslims, the Masjid was the first thing to be built, and the most pious and the most knowledgeable person was appointed as its Imam.

There have been instances in the Muslim history where the most competent person in terms of Islamic values was made the governor of a city and used to give Khutbahs at the central Masjid, which was followed by meetings with the locals to achieve good governance. It was very important for Masajid to have a righteous and scholarly Imam, so he could pass on to the people the correct message of Allah (swt) and His Messenger Muhammad (sa).

Over the years, Masajid have lost their central role in the Muslim Ummah. Today, when resources are in abundance, we see that the majority of Masajid in Muslim countries are in a sad state of affairs. Usually, a lot of money and efforts are spent on the construction and interiors of Masajid, while very little attention is given to the appointment of a well-educated Imam. It is a very noble act to spend money on Masajid in any way, but it is far more important to make sure that the Masjid is performing all its functions, as taught by our beloved Prophet (sa).

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A Chip off the Old Block

chip off the old blockThe best thing a man can teach his children is good manners. However, quite often, while raising kids, parents do not take dining etiquettes into consideration. They assume that children will learn them either naturally or simply through observation. In contrast, we find our beloved Prophet (sa) meticulously coaching and training not only kids but adult Sahabah at the dining mat. Here are the top five things he (sa) taught them:

Begin with the right intention and Allah’s name

Umar bin Abu Salamah (rtam) reported that Muhammad (sa) said: “Mention Allah’s name (i.e. say Bismillah before starting to eat), eat with your right hand, and eat from what is near you.” (Bukhari and Muslim)

It is necessary to pronounce Allah’s name before dining in order to attain Barakah, and be mindful of not transgressing the boundaries of moderation. Overeating is highly distasteful in Islam and a sign of indulgence in Dunya, leading to a weak Iman. We especially forget to utter Bismillah when we are eating out, partying at someone’s house or away from our home or routine.

The Prophet (sa) also instructed to eat with our right hand. It is Satan who eats with his left hand. Fathers of left-handed children need to help their kids learn this from an early age; otherwise, it becomes second nature, which is cumbersome to break.

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Words of the Wise – Luqman’s Advice to His Son

luqman's advice to his sonLuqman, the wise, is known in history for his understanding, knowledge, and eloquence. As the Quran states: “And indeed We bestowed upon Luqman Al-Hikmah (wisdom and religious understanding, etc.)…” (Luqman 31:12) He was a righteous servant of Allah (swt). His full name was Luqman bin Anqa bin Sadun, and he was a dark-skinned slave from Ethiopia. He was a carpenter by profession.

The name of Luqman’s son was Tharan. To Luqman, he was also the closest and most beloved of all people, who deserved to be given the best knowledge. Even today, Luqman’s wise counsel for Tharan is quoted and reflected upon for guidance. What was so dazzling about Luqman’s advice for his son? And how many of us impart the same to our offspring today?

“…Luqman said to his son, when he was advising him: ‘O my son! Join not in worship others with Allah. Verily, joining others in worship with Allah is a great Zulm (wrong) indeed.’” (Luqman 31:13)

This wise father attached his son to the mighty source of man’s ultimate success – His Lord. Luqman knew that if Tharan’s relationship with his Creator was firmly positioned, he would have few worries left. He also clearly stated the supreme oppression that man can commit, which is to associate partners with Allah (swt), and grant honour and obedience which is due to Him (swt) to others who are mere creations.

“And We have enjoined on man (to be dutiful and good) to his parents. His mother bore him in weakness and hardship upon weakness and hardship, and his weaning is in two years – give thanks to Me and to your parents. Unto Me is the final destination.” (Luqman 31:14)

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Who is Truly Strong?

truly strongBy Irada Mirzamagomedova – Writer

Strength. Power. What comes to mind when we hear these words? Someone may imagine a muscular athlete with a stern face, while someone else may think of the power of a thought or a word.

So who, in your opinion, is truly strong? Is it someone who can bend iron rods or pull a truck on his own? Yes, such people are ‘strong’ in the physical sense of this word; we cannot argue over this. However, how can we identify a person with a strong spirit? Here intuition will be of no help as a person with a strong spirit can only be identified through his deeds and his words. Have you ever heard the statement: strong is not the one who beats, but the one who can tolerate the beating? It is a fact that no special talent is needed to hurt someone. However, helping another person or finding enough strength within oneself to refrain from replying to an offender in kind is something that is in decline today.

It is not always true that those who possess willpower – which characterizes them as a strong person – are able to live through the hard times and trials of life without collapsing and falling in the eyes of the society as well as close ones. Often, the reason behind all the troubles of a ‘strong’ person is his inability to accept his own weakness. Unwilling to admit this, such people swing from one extreme to another as they seek a way out of difficulties, making use of means which exceed the limits of morality and conscience. Today, we witness such cases in our society more and more often.

Who is the strong one today, according to the standards of society? Is it someone who has power, money, and beauty?

Translated from Latvian to English by Laila Brence

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Lunch Box Ideas for Busy Moms

lunch box ideasA handy checklist to help you pack a healthy mid-day meal for your kids:

  • Provide water or other fluids to your children in order to avoid dehydration.
  • Add a portion of dairy product, such as cheese slices, yoghurt, or milk.
  • Add a portion of salad, such as carrots or cucumber. Make sure it looks appealing enough for your child to eat all of it.
  • Once a week, include sweet items such as cupcakes or muffins, as an occasional treat.
  • Add a portion of easy-to-eat fruits, such as bananas, grapes, apple wedges or peeled slices of orange.
  • Add a portion of foods rich in carbohydrates, such as bread or noodles.

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