Health and wellbeing · Islam

Keeping Physically Healthy

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Maleeha Mansur, Hayes

There is no doubt about the importance of physical health, not least to reduce the risk of developing various diseases. Keeping physically healthy is a means of enhancing one’s emotional well being, confidence, longevity and of course, fighting off illness. But, is there a role for religion in guiding us about physical health?

As described by Chaudhry Muhammad Zafrulla Khan sahib, ‘a beautiful body is a blessing from Allah (God) and the Holy Prophet of Islam (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) used to show his gratitude to Allah for giving him a beautiful and pleasing body. Whenever the Holy Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) saw his face in a mirror, he used to pray, “O Lord! Make my nature as pleasing as my body.” It shows that in religious matters, the human body is not an inferior thing. Without the body, you cannot have a spiritual life. It is true that the body is like a container and the soul is what is placed in that container. The body is only like a husk and the soul is a kernel. If we carefully analyse, we can see that if you break any container then the contents will spill. The soul and the body are also associated in this way and any damage to the body will affect the soul. According to the commandment of Allah the Almighty, whilst it is important to take care of your soul, it is equally important to look after your body. According to Islam, if a person deliberately adopts a lifestyle which results in his death, then he is a murderer and guilty of his own murder.’i

Physical health constitutes two predominant parts, diet and exercise.

For one’s diet, most people have come across the concept of the healthy diet plate as a guide for the proportion of fruit, vegetables, protein, dairy and carbohydrates we should be consuming. However, recent guidance has shifted to the importance also of quantity. An intuitive means of measuring proportions based on one’s hands has recently been proposed by the British Nutrition Foundation. The Holy Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), has so beautifully addressed this with great clarity 1400 years ago. He said, “no man fills a vessel worse than his stomach. A few mouthfuls that would suffice to keep his back upright are enough for a man, but if he must eat more, then he should fill one-third with food, one-third with drink and leave one-third for easy breathing.”ii

As women, when it come to a healthy diet, we have a crucial role. Not only do we decide the type of food our families eat, but the food tendencies and habits that we instil in our children will be with them for life. Thus, we hold a heavy responsibility in shaping the health of our future generations.

As for exercise, most people have had run-ins with some sort of gym membership, but mostly to temporary effect. With the example of the Holy Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) Islam has presented a beautiful model of how to incorporate exercise into one’s life sustainably. Firstly, with the five daily prayers, Muslims go through various postures giving effective physical exercise to many muscle groups. Secondly, from the example of the Holy Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), we know that he ‘used to work with his own hands and this was the practice of his companions as well.’iii This habit distances ones from laziness, making one alert and in the habit of hard work. Thirdly, we often hear that walking is the best exercise, in this regard, a companion of the Holy Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) related that ‘I have never seen anyone walk faster than the Holy Prophet Muhammad (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). It seemed as if the earth was folding underneath him. We would become tired when walking with him, but there would be no signs of fatigue on him. He did not walk with his head held high, and he would keep his gaze low.’iv

Within the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, a whole department is committed to looking after the physical health and well being of members. The community holds regular charity challenge marathons enabling us to raise funds for local charitable causes whilst maintaining our physical health. Islam truly is a universal religion that, not only caters for religious needs but provides guidance on every aspect of the life and society.

i Steps to Exercise by Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad (rh), page 12
ii Tirmidhī
iii Steps to Exercise by Hazrat Mirza Tahir A Steps to Exercise by Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad (rh), page 12 hmad (rh), page 32
iv Shuma’ile Tirmadhi Babma ja’ fi Mashiyyate Rasullullahsa, Muhammadsa the Perfect Man by Hafiz Muzaffar Ahmad, page 17

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Health and wellbeing

A Peaceful Mind

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Dr Sarah Waseem, London

As we enter a new year, many of us set targets to improve our health. Usually this takes the form of signing up to gyms, weight loss programmes or giving up unhealthy eating habits; few of us however consider how we could improve our mental health.
Perhaps that’s understandable, given how much we hear about the consequences of poor physical health on our life and diseases that await us if we don’t take action! The list is extensive – diabetes, cancer, heart disease, strokes, arthritis… and so it goes on!

However, how many of us appreciate the relationship between mental health problems and the overall disease burden worldwide? The statistics are quite shocking.

Mental health and behavioural problems (e.g. depression, anxiety and drug use) are reported to be the primary drivers of disability worldwide. In the UK, these mental health problems are responsible for the largest burden of disease – 28% of the burden, compared to 16% each for cancer and heart disease. Major depression is thought to be the second leading cause of disability worldwide and a major contributor to the burden of suicide and ischemic heart disease.

The statistics for young people make grim reading. 20% of adolescents may experience a mental health problem in any given year. 50% of mental health problems are established by age 14 and 75% by age 24. 10% of children and young people (aged 5-16 years) have a clinically diagnosable mental health problem, yet 70% of children and adolescents who experience mental health problems have not had appropriate interventions at a sufficiently early age.

Mental health is thus closely linked to physical health, but what do we mean by the term ‘mental health’ and how do we improve it?

Good mental health can be characterised as having the ability to be able to feel, express and manage a range of emotions in a positive way. That means being able to feel anxious, sad, happy, or even angry, AND to be able to accept the feelings AND be able to speak about them AND deal with them in a healthy manner. So for instance, a healthy anxiety about sitting an exam might mean we study more than usual, talk to professors and friends to get their input on how we could do well, check out past papers , and write practice answers. We may still feel anxious, but we are trying to respond to it in a helpful way. An unhealthy response would be to just worry excessively, to stay up long hours revising, or to avoid talking about the exam. Other unhealthy responses might include self harm, panic attacks or avoidance.

Resilience and coping with uncertaintly are also very important for good mental health. Resilience helps us cope with setbacks. Resilience allows us to get through unpleasant life events such as losing loved ones, or jobs or experiencing changes in our roles, for example changing areas where we live, going to University, getting married, or divorced and starting new jobs.

So how do go about developing good ‘mental health’? Interestingly some of the strategies that work with physical health are also helpful. These include having a good diet and engaging in exercise. There is a lot of evidence demonstrating the positive effects of physical exercise on our brains and how exercise enables the release of ‘feel good’ neuro-transmitters like dopamine. Getting physically active is often an initial treatment for depression and of course we can exercise the brain in other ways such as learning new languages, doing puzzles, reading, crosswords, and problem solving activities.

Relationships with others are important. Social contact helps us to feel connected and this is especially so for young people. Sharing our achievements, our joys and our difficulties means that we get other perspectives on what may seem at the time to be an insurmountable problem. However it is important that we have healthy relationships, with individuals who support us, who care about us and who also have a positive outlook on life. It’s rather like having our own personal football team. We need the players to support and score goals for us not for the other side! Again for younger people, this is especially important. Being part of a social network where one is being bullied or criticised or abused in some way, is very destructive and can have serious consequences for one’s self esteem.

We develop resilience by being able to use positive coping skills to deal with setbacks. These skills can include getting perspective on a difficult event, seeing it for what it is rather than catastrophising about it. So setbacks are just that – they may push us further away from our goals, but they don’t remove the goals. Parents have a huge role here in helping young children develop good mental health, and much of this will come through their own ability to model coping strategies.

Mental health, like physical health, doesn’t always stay the same. It can change as circumstances change and as one moves through different stages of life. However, we need to value it and accord it the same care that we do for physical health.

Ref:
https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/statistics/mental-health-statistics-uk-and-worldwide

Features · Health and wellbeing

Eat to Live or Live to Eat?

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By Rabia Salim, Manchester

I am a mother of three fairly young children, and after I had the kids, I realised how great fasting was for setting a routine, getting healthy and simplifying my life. Also there are many Islamic etiquettes of eating that I have passed on to my children. When my oldest would try to eat on the go, my aim was to get her to sit down at a fixed time, eat with her right hand, eat what was in front of her and try everything on her plate (1). These things are in Islam because it affects spirituality and our morals (2). What also changed in our lives is my husband developed a disease of the colon, ulcerative colitis, which is the inflammation of digestive body cells. It is also related to the immune system, but I learnt it is largely connected to the food he ate. I knew we needed to focus more on the effect of food and eating.

Diligently my neighbour and I read up on conditions that bothered my family and hers such as asthma, eczema and the major things that were affecting our home, diseases called auto immune diseases. Her husband has Multiple Sclerosis and mine had Ulcerative Colitis. I say it in the past tense, as we had to get his colon removed ultimately, it was so severe.

Seeing as we were the gatekeepers of our kitchens, we both tried to cook differently. This meant foods low in sugar and carbs. And less processed. We could do this! She exclaimed to me one day that her son’s eczema had really cleared up. She also was amazed as her holistic doctor had prescribed a gluten and lactose free diet to achieve this! Which made me wonder; was my husband’s condition afflicted by common foods? It was too late to reverse the disease. Her son’s eczema was gone, our husbands still had a way to go.

8 years on we eat differently and my husband has improved. His colon had to go but would his body adapt? Spice and fat levels need to be constantly controlled. I learnt about eating to live, as we were doing a kitchen science on how food affected our energy levels, health and even mood.

At the same time I was realising how Ramadan was detoxing my poor gut from all that work. My body was healing and my time management improved when I fasted in this month from focusing on spirituality and those less fortunate than me. So this is how food affects our morals and empathy for others.

Our lives have changed but my husband can still eat; with embracing food that doesn’t stress his body out, with health benefits for me and the children too. I felt like chocolate bingeing today but we went for a smaller dose of chocolate, an avocado salad, vegetable rice, a protein, a fruit salad, banana pancakes, a smoothie, an omelette, homemade bread and nuts and milk for snack, and one sweet. None of it sounds that bad and it sure didn’t taste bad. I feel our approach fits in with Islamic guidelines as well of eating food that is pure (‘tayyeb’) and halal. My neighbour and I have many life changing, healthy, delicious recipes, shared by that holistic doctor who understood the link between food and health.

All praise belongs to God, gone are the pre operation, helpless days when the disease took over and my husband was eating boiled rice and steamed chicken just so he had enough energy to get up and gradually to get moving and back to work.

Sometimes if I get too conscious about what we’re eating, Chapter Al-Nahl of the Holy Qur’an really heartens me. It states God’s bounties for humans for example in verse 12, “Therewith He grows corn for you, and the olive and the date-palm, and the grapes, and all manner of fruit. Surely, in that is a Sign for a people who reflect”. (3) There is a mention of land animals and seafood too. (4) Sounds delicious to me, and it’s about eating balanced, and more of the good things, rather than overindulging in detrimental things. It depends on individuals lifestyles. My neighbour and I didn’t completely clear out our old foods, but only small changes made a difference. Some patients with major diseases have to completely transform their diets. Anyway our changes were worth my time, and money. As for people that can’t afford to go with cleaner ingredients, some recipes only require 3 basic items many of us have at home. It’s just getting the best you can afford and cooking it. May God bless us with brilliant health.

(1) Nasir, Syed Mahmood Nasir (1988). Selected Sayings of the Holy Prophet. Islam International Publications Ltd, Tilford.
(2) Ahmad, Bashir-ud-Din Mahmood Khalifatul Masih II, (1926). Way of the Seekers. Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam, Silver Spring, 2002 Edition
(3) The Holy Quran 16:12
(4) The Holy Quran 16 : 6, 15