Quranic Reflection No. 310 Āyat 22:51 – Food and Spirituality

كُلُوا مِنَ الطَّيِّبَاتِ وَاعْمَلُوا صَالِحًا
Kulū minat-tayyibāti wa-‘malū sālihā
Eat of the good things and act righteously
(Sūratul Mu’minūn, No.23, Āyat 51)

Eating is a basic necessity of everyday life. It promotes growth, nourishes and strengthens the body, gives health and energy, and impacts emotional and mental health. Islam thus has much to say about eating. Many Quranic verses and numerous Hadiths talk about eating and all that is associated with it.

Believers consider eating as a means towards achieving perfection. Some people may think of eating as an end, a source of pleasure and health, but for believers those are means towards a greater goal – that of being an obedient servant and representative of God. Thus the criteria for eating in each group is very different.

The above verse links pure food to good deeds. According toTafsīr-e Namūne this verse emphasizes an important point – what you eat impacts your soul. It affects how you think and how you behave, how you connect to God, and how you treat others around you. Your spirituality is very closely linked to what you eat. Imam al-Sādiq (a) tells ‘Unwan al-Basrī when he comes to him for advice – Take care of nine things . . . those which concern spiritual discipline are: Never eat if you have no appetite, for it causes foolishness, and do not eat unless you are hungry and eat what is lawful, and invoke the name of Allah and remember the Prophet’s tradition, ‘The worst container filled up by human beings is the stomach. If you see that you have to eat, spare one third of the stomach for food, one third for drink and one third for breath.*

Food affects the communication between man and his Creator. A man came to the Holy Prophet (s) and said: I would like my Du‘ās to be answered. The Prophet told him: Purify your food and do not let any haram food enter your stomach. (Wasā’il al-Shī’ah, v.4, ch.67, H.4)

The word tayyibāt in the above verse and other verses (for e.g. Q2:57,172; 20:81) refer to food that is wholesome, pure and good. It is food that is according to what God has ordained and what His messengers have recommended. Such food creates a lightness in the stomach. It produces an inner illumination that inclines the person towards virtue and good deeds. Food that is impure and unwholesome has the opposite effect. It creates a heaviness and hardness, leading to spiritual apathy.

We need to think about how our diet is impacting our spirituality. It takes time and effort to eat well for overall nourishment. But it pays huge dividends. When we fast during the holy months of Rajab, Sha‘bān and Ramadan we must take extra care of the food we eat. It should be pure, wholesome food that gives us physical and spiritual energy. Let this verse remind us of the important link between food and spirituality, a link that we cannot overlook when planning meals in the holy months.

Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (Ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūneh;
Agha Muhsin Qarā’atī, Tafsīr-e Nūr;
*For the complete hadith see www.jafariyanews.com/articles/2k7/28oct_imamsadiq.htm