In the same way that many Muslims obsess over meat that is halal, in terms of its slaughtering, versus other important metrics (such as was the money earned to purchase the meat earned permissibly), many non-Muslims (as well as some millennial Muslims) obsess over the organic-ness of food. Don’t get me wrong, I think organic is important, especially with how conventional food is grown (pesticides, etc.). However, if one looks at food from a holistic (Qur’anic as well as Prophetic) perspective, you’ll come to see that permissibility of meat (definitely important) as well as the organic status of food constitutes only part of a comprehensive whole. One aspect often overlooked by Muslim and non-Muslim alike is whether or not food is “blessed”. While many non-religious people may scoff at the non-empirical quality of “blessed”, we can come to appreciate that in the way the Prophet discusses this in the hadith below.
So what do I mean by food being “blessed”? Here I mean how food is reduced to the common parlance of “fuel” or “grub”. And increasingly this fueling and grubbing seems to take place alone. Not only does this solitary mode of eating lack the blessings the Prophet ﷺ describes, it also has many other secondary and tertiary negative impacts such as environmental degradation (production of waste and trash that do not biodegrade and threaten water supplies) as well as increasing people’s tendency to make poor eating decisions, leading to public health epidemics such as diabetes and heart disease. According to the Environmental Working Group’s website,
“Americans eat out a lot. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that people reported eating out four times a week on average1 – twice in a fast food restaurant and twice in a casual restaurant2. The National Restaurant Association estimates that adults eat out 5.8 times a week3.”
So why are we so unhealthy as a nation despite having such abundance? One metric is because our food is degraded in the method in which it’s produced but another important metric I believe we as Muslims should advocate (in addition to halal/permissible meat) is the holistic aspect of eating food together. In a time when science increasingly creeps into our lives to tell us what is good or bad, I believe we can still find value in the simple wisdom of previous times that might not be so outdated as we think. Eating together, bonding, and sharing, should be a part of the da’wah that Muslims give so that we teach and preach Islam as a lived way of life that combines and embodies theology, belief, and practices all together.
أَنَّ أَصْحَابَ النَّبِيِّ، صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالُوا يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ إِنَّا نَأْكُلُ وَلاَ نَشْبَعُ قَالَ فَلَعَلَّكُمْ
قَالُوا نَعَمْ قَالَ فَاجْتَمِعُوا عَلَى طَعَامِكُمْ وَاذْكُرُوا اسْمَ اللَّهِ عَلَيْهِ يُبَارَكْ لَكُمْ فِيهِ
The Companions of the Prophet ﷺ said, “Messenger of Allah ﷺ we eat but we don’t feel satiated”. He said, “perhaps that’s because you eat separately*?” They replied, “Yes”. He advised, “Well, then gather together for your food and mention Allah’s name over it, you will be blessed in it.” — Sunan Abu Dawud, #3764
1. A.K. Kant et al., Away From Home Meals: Associations with Biomarkers of Chronic Disease and Dietary Intake in American Adults, NHANES 2005-2010. International Journal of Obesity, 2015, 39(5):820-827.
3.National Restaurant Association, Industry Forecast Predicts Trends in Healthier Options and “Greener” Restaurants in 2009. 2008. Available at www.restaurant.org/Pressroom/Press-Releases/Industry-Forecast-Predicts-Trends-in-Healthier-Opt.
*The root of iftaraqa is farq, which means to split up individually.