The Life of Perfection (Shamayal of Rasulullah saws) Eating and Drinking Habits
By Dr. Abidullah Ghazi
Executive Director; IQRA International Educational Foundation
Food is one of the most commonly neglected blessings of Allah. The very thing which nourishes us, and without which we would be unable to function, is something we often regard as a right, instead of a privilege.
This is a grave error, of course. It is only due to Allah's infinite kindness that we are given enough sustenance to survive. The month of Ramadan serves to remind us of Allah's Grace in providing us with all we need. But what about the rest of the year? Ramadan provides us a workshop that we must follow for all times in our life.
The pattern of behavior of Rasulullah saws regarding food and eating shows his awareness of the great blessing bestowed by Allah swt of having any food at all. By following his sunnah, we too can express our gratefulness for Allah's blessings.
For one thing, Rasulullah never criticized food. He did not say, "It is not cooked properly; there is no salt; the soup is too thick or thin, etc." Complaining about food only injures and embarrasses the one who prepares it. The food served is often the best the preparer has to offer, and sometimes it is all he or she has to offer. How then could we dare to express displeasure with such an important gift?
He did not approve of wasting food. It is reported from Anas that "Rasulullah preferred to eat the leftovers from the plate or pot." It is no surprise that one who valued Allah's blessings so highly would never willingly throw them away.
Simultaneously, he (S) encouraged moderation. "One-third of the stomach is for food, one-third of it is for water and one-third is for its self," he was quoted as saying. Thus overeating should be avoided at all costs, which in turn leads to good health.
Before taking a meal, Rasulullah always washed his hands. This not only ensured that he prevented germs from being ingested into his system, but it was healthier for those around him because so many bowls were communal. In addition, the practice of washing one's hands before a meal shows respect for the act of eating itself. He would also wash his hands after the meal.
While eating, Rasulullah did not sit comfortably, reclining against the wall. He used to say, "I am a servant of Allah, and I sit as a servant sits and eat as a servant eats." Sitting up properly was the only way he approached the act of eating. As it turns out, this is the healthiest way to eat. Lying down and standing up do not facilitate digestion as sitting does.
Rasulullah was in the habit of removing his shoes at mealtime. Anas reported him (S) to have said: "When the food is served, take your shoes off. Taking off your shoes comforts your feet."
It was a matter of cleanliness as well. Most people sat on the floor to eat, and floors were slept on and prayed on, so the absence of shoes kept dust and mud to a minimum.
As for his drinking habits, Rasulullah had but one cup. It was wooden and strengthened by metal bands. This was the only cup he used for drinking.
Usually, Rasulullah drank while seated. He held the cup in both hands and drank in three sips, taking three full breaths. He said that drinking in this manner quenched the thirst better, was more pleasant, and was better for the health. In addition, he suggested that people "drink easily and quietly without making gurgling noises." Moreover, he advised people to refrain from breathing in the cup.
Among the Prophet's favorite drinks were cold, sweet water, drinks made with water and honey or dates, and milk. Regarding milk he said, "Nothing but milk can substitute for both liquid and solid foods."
As for his favorite foods, Rasulullah liked meat, especially when roasted. He ate camel, beef, mutton, and chicken whenever they were available. Pumpkins (gourds), beets and cucumbers were his preferred vegetables. According to Aishah (R), the Prophet could not resist sweets, especially honey and the Arabian desserts halawah and his (a mashed dates, clarified butter, and cheese mixture).
Rasulullah extolled the virtues of olive oil saying, "Use olive oil in cooking as well as for body massage. This is the oil of a blessed tree." The olive tree is mentioned in the Qur'an as one of the trees in paradise. Also, pure olive oil is very beneficial to the health.
Vinegar, too, was spoken of very highly by the Prophet. He blessed it and commented that its taste was pleasing. He said, "Vinegar has been the soup of the earlier Prophets." The soup (shurbah) in which bread was dipped was often unavailable to Rasulullah. He was content to use vinegar as soup. Even at a time when it was all he had to eat, Rasulullah praised vinegar, showing as always his humility and thankfulness to Allah.
Dates were another favorite of the Prophet (S). He ate them fresh and dried, or with melon. He broke his fast with dates in Ramadan. Sometimes, when there was nothing else to eat, he had a few dates for dinner. And when there were no dates, the family went hungry.
Those lean times were many in Rasulullah's lifetime. Whatever he received he gave away to the needy. Rasulullah could not bear to rest on a full stomach when many other Muslims were going hungry. `Arwah reported that his aunt, Aishah, said, "Sometimes three full moons went by and no food was cooked in our home."
Arwah asked A’ishah (rta), "What kept you alive?"
Aishah replied, "A few dates and water was all we had for our sustenance..."
Only on rare occasions was Rasulullah able to afford whole wheat bread. Most often they had barley bread which was cheaper, but even that was sparse.
Someone asked Buhail ibn Sa'id (rta), "Has Rasulullah ever eaten white flour bread?"
Sa'id replied, "Rasulullah might not have ever seen fine white flour bread."
We would do well to copy Rasulullah's most perfect example. How many times have we complained about the food set before us, or left much of our plate to be thrown away? How many times have we gorged ourselves when so many go to sleep with stomachs groaning from hunger pains? And how often are we truly thankful for the blessings that make the food we eat possible?