The Qur’an is the basis of the Islamic belief system and is believed by Muslims to not only contain divinely inspired spiritual guidance, but also guidance on daily affairs including nutrition. This narrative study details the verses identified within the Qur’an that provide principles and advice regarding nutrition. Of the Qur’an’s 6236 verses, 74 verses were identified to contain some reference to nutrition. A thematic analysis of these verses has been performed and categorised into four groups; principles of nutrition, permissible food, impermissible food and breast feeding.
The Qur’an is a script in Arabic language revealed to Muhammad (the Prophet of Islam) circ. 610 AD and is believed by Muslims to be the divinely inspired words of God (Allah). Muslims believe that the Qur’an is the immutable word of God, however, flexibility is given to the interpretation of the verses, and even encouraged.
The Qur’an contains 6236 verses in 114 chapters. Numerous verses are relevant to concept of health(1), guidance and principles of healthy lifestyle (2), nutritional concepts(3), description of various types of food and nutrition (4–7). Many verses of the Qur’an also describe multiple aspects of lifestyle in a single verse, however, in this study, author will focus only on the nutritional aspect of relevant verses.
According to the Muslim belief system, submission to the words of the Qur’an is the most essential part of getting guidance from the Qur’an as its stated in the verse 2:5. Allah has made the Qur’an easy to understand and in fact asks mankind to ponder on the verses of Qur’an, four times in chapter 54 verses 17,22,32 and 40, and twice in verses 4:82 and 47:24, so human being may understand ( verse 6:65), and consider and think about these verses ( 2:266, 6:50,2:219). Furthermore, the verses of Qur’an are constant and will never ever change as these are protected by Allah, according to verse 15:9.
The interpretation of the certain verses of Qur’an can sometimes vary according to certain schools of Muslim jurisprudence (fiqh). Rulings have therefore changed throughout the ages depending on the contemporary knowledge and the cultural era Muslim’s reside in. Regardless, obeying the different rulings based on the guidance provided in the Qur’an is obligatory and is incentivized with either rewards or punishments in the afterlife. Secondary to the spiritual effects of obeying the rulings, Muslims believe that there are additional material effects and benefits of following the rulings and guidance which they might not even comprehend.
Nutrition has a vital role in the development of human growth and wellbeing. It has a significant role in prevention and treatment of certain acute and chronic health conditions, infections and cancers which can contribute to the “burden” of society(8). Various types of food components like carbohydrates, fats and protein and a variable quantity of certain types of food consumed is implicated in diseases of malnutrition and obesity.
The Qur’an is a significant religious text written in classical Arabic. The original Arabic and multiple English translations of Qur’an (9) including translations by Mufti Taqi Usmani, Muhsin Khan, Sahih International, Sayyid Abdul Ala Maududi and Yusuf Ali were reviewed to identify key phrases, terms and messages related to the promotion of health and guidance pertaining to food and nutrition. Many verses were identified using cross-references of relevant verses. The English translations of all relevant verses were analysed qualitatively for thematic content and tabulated by topic and citation. Verses were then categorised into four groups; principles of nutrition, permissible food, impermissible food and breastfeeding.
Of the Qur’an’s 6,236 verse, a total of 74 relevant verses were categorised by chapter name (Surah) and location (Table 1) and categorised by group (Table 2). “Principles of nutrition” (Group 1) included 30 verses. This was further subcategorised into “God (Allah) as the sustainer” (Group 1a = 17 verses), “Permissible and impermissible foods” (Group 1b = 10 verses) and “Avoiding excess food” (Group 1c = 3 verses).
“Permissible food” (Group 2) included 31 verses. This was further subcategorised into “Vegetarian food” (Group 2a = 19 verses) and “Non-vegetarian food” (Group 2b = 12 verses). “Impermissible food” (Group 3) included 11 verses. “Breastfeeding and lactation” (Group 4) included 5 verses. Three verses (20:81, 6:141 and 6:118) have been included in more than one group as these verses cover multiple categories.
Table 1 – please visit PDF file
Table 2 – please visit PDF file
Muslims believe that the Qur’an is a divinely inspired text that describes not only spiritual advice but also advice on daily affairs including nutrition. Revealed in classical Arabic, a word in the Qur’an may have multiple different meanings and connotations depending on the context within the verse, which sometimes makes translation problematic and controversial. Certain words in English language do not represent the exact meaning of Arabic word for example the word “tayyub”. Whilst multiple translations were reviewed as described in the methods, a single translation provided by Mufti TaqiUsmani has been cited for simplicity and consistency (10).
In this study, 74 relevant verses were identified which are related to nutrition within the Qur’an. There are limited studies on the nutritional concepts described in the Quran. Therefore, it’s difficult to compare. Some authors in another study have identified 257 verses using databases in Persian language. They have used 64 keywords and have identified more than 30 food principal food stuffs. They have found that some of these keywords like cattle, poultry, vegetables and fruit were repeated more than 20 times (3).
Other studies which purely looked at fruits and plants mentioned in the Qur’an have identified names of 18 fruits and plants. in the Qur’an(11). Another study has provided botanical characteristics of the 22 identifiable fruits and plants which are described in the Qur’an (7) .
Out of 74identified verses in this study, nutrition is often described in the context of God (Allah) as the creator, provider and sustainer. The Qur’an states that living beings are created from water (21:30 and 24:45) and states that God (Allah) has sent down the water from the sky for humans to drink (16:10, 56:68, 15:21, 20:53,) and for the earth to produce various types of food (36:33, 16:10, 6:99,18:45, 22:63,23:18) and has described water as an essential component of diet to maintain life and nutrition (56:68). Specific examples cited include grains, fruits, vegetables nutritional plants (6:95,36:33,16:10,6:141, 16:11, 16:67, 16:11,80:27,80:28, 80:29, 80:30, 80:31,6:99, 13:4, 55:11,55:12, 50:11,23:19, 23:20) which in turn provide nutrition for human and cattle which are also consumed by humans (16:5,16:66, 80:23,6:142, 20:53, 20:54, 22:28, 22:30, 22:36, 23:21).
The concept of food being “tayyub” has been described in 8 verses (2:168, 23:51,5:88, 2:57, 16:114, 7:160 2:172, 20:81,) and is translated with connotations of “pure”, “good” and “clean” and is described as the food that is to be recommended and preferred to be consumed. To satisfy the condition of “tayyub”, the Qur’an applies two conditions; the food must be permissible (Group 2) and not among food which is impermissible (Group 3).
Clear examples of food that are classified as permissible for human consumption include meat of cattle, fish, milk, grains, plants, fruits and vegetables. Further specific examples have been provided for certain foods including grains, dates, grapes, pomegranate, olives and honey. The Qur’an states that one should not hold as unlawful what God (Allah) has made lawful (5:87). The Qur’an allows for the consumption of both vegetarian and non-vegetarian food. However, there are certain types of food like the flesh of swine, carrion, blood, that upon which a name of someone other than ‘Allah’ has been invoked and substances which causes intoxication like alcohol that are explicitly declared impermissible (Group 3).
To clarify the interpretation of verses of the Qur’an and to derive rulings (fiqh), Muslims turn to the practice and teachings of Muhammad, codified and classified through a system of “hadith”. Global rulings about the guidance about permissible and impermissible food is obtained through interpretation of both the Qur’an and the Hadith to develop a consensus amongst the Muslim jurists (ijma).According to one such hadith, it has been reported that “Both legal and illegal things are evident but in between them there are doubtful (suspicious) things and most of the people have no knowledge about them. So, whoever saves himself from these suspicious things saves his religion and his honour. And whoever indulges in these suspicious things is like a shepherd who grazes (his animals) near the Hima (private pasture) of someone else and at any moment he is liable to get in it.”(12).
Three verses describe the word “al-khmar”, that is described for the substances causing more harm than good (2:219), “an act of evil” (5:91) and as impermissible (5:90). Whilst often referring to fermented drinks containing alcohol, its interpretation as “intoxication” is extrapolated to include multiple other non-alcoholic intoxicating substances (5:91). Certain stipulations have been declared where impermissible foods become permissible. In a matter of life and death, the Qur’an provides allowance for an impermissible food to become permissible, in an amount that is required to preserve life (6:119,2:173).In the state of fasting, which is mandated in the month of Ramadan for most healthy adult Muslims (2:183, 2:184), the permissible food becomes impermissible (2:187).
With regards to the excess of food consumption, the Qur’an states to eat and drink what is permissible but to not exceed the limits (20:81). Further verses expand on this where God (Allah) is displeased with those who go to excess and transgress even for the permissible foods and drinks (6:141, 7:31,20:81). Eight verses describe breastfeeding and nursing mother (Group 4). The Qur’an encourages mothers to suckle their children for two years (2:233, 31:14) or up to thirty months (41:15).
This review provides a basis for further research. The critical analysis of the on-going and up-to-date medical literature about the nutrition would provide further understanding of the guidance about the human nutrition provided in the Qur’an.
This is a narrative analysis of the verses of Quran. The author reviewed the two formats of the Quran, which were read in Arabic and the translation in English. All efforts were made to identify as many verses possible where nutrition related subject has been mentioned. Therefore, there is potential that some verses might not have been picked up. The sources of data were from the English translation of the original Quran which is in Arabic. Therefore, the relevant citations might have been misinterpreted through semantics and syntax in the translation of chapters and verses.
Disclosures and declarations:
The author is a medical doctor and practising Muslim. There was no financial support or funding obtained. The work is purely author’s personal interest and understanding of the literature. The readers would be advised to use this as an academic material for understanding of the subject and as a base for further research.
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