بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
By Unaiza Ahsan
A typical scenario
Friend 1: No halal food here bro!
Friend 2: Ah, okay. Let’s just get a veggie pizza and some fries and go.
In the fast-paced life of today, usually the cheapest and most accessible option for Muslims on the go is a pizza, burger, or some other fast food. Popular sandwich and pizza chains are found in nearly every location including college campuses. Muslim grad students generally find it easier to grab a sandwich or pizza from these outlets during their gruelling studies. While there is nothing technically sinful in eating halal fast food items, there is one concern: they are not that great for health – that is, they are not ‘tayyib’.
What’s in a pizza?
There is nothing much wrong with eating a couple slices of cheese pizza – except if you know exactly how it’s prepared. Many of us do not keep in mind the second part of Allah’s commandment as mentioned in the Glorious Qur’an:
“O mankind, eat from whatever is on earth [that is] lawful and good and do not follow the footsteps of Satan. Indeed, he is to you a clear enemy.” (Qur’an 2: 168)
“Then eat of what Allah has provided for you [which is] lawful and good. And be grateful for the favour of Allah, if it is [indeed] Him that you worship.” (Qur’an 16: 114)
The Arabic word for ‘good’ is ‘tayyib’. The root of this word is taa-ya-ba (ط ي ب) and this word means good, clean, wholesome, gentle, excellent, fair, and lawful. All of these meanings are contained in ‘tayyib’. So the food we eat has to be halal (lawful) but it is an added benefit if it is also tayyib (pure and wholesome). It is important to keep in mind the distinction between the terms ‘pure’ as in wholesome, and ‘pure’ (tahir) from the Islamic Fiqh point of view. Therefore, if a certain food item is not beneficial for health, this doesn’t imply that it is impure (najas) and cannot be eaten.
The focus, unfortunately, remains on halal and not so much on how wholesome that food is.
Let us return to the cheese pizza example. According to a well-researched blog post on FoodBabe.com, most pizza outlets keep their ingredients highly secret. It is understandable that they keep their recipes secret. But ingredients? That doesn’t make much sense. The blog’s author, after several attempts to obtain more information about the ingredients, finally discovered that pizzas usually contain lots of MSG (monosodium glutamate) and MSG additives. MSG is proven to be linked to learning disabilities, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Lou Gehrig’s disease. Board certified neurosurgeon Russell Blaylock, M.D. warns that, “Excitotoxins have been found to dramatically promote cancer growth… It also causes a cancer cell to become more mobile, and that enhances metastasis, or spread… When you increase the glutamate level, cancer just grows like wildfire.”
There is a lot more about harmful ingredients in pizzas in this article. But just from the above mentioned facts, it can be concluded that restaurant-prepared pizzas are halal but not tayyib. While it won’t be sinful to eat them, it will not good for our health to eat them all the time.
There are a range of fast foods, dairy products, and snacks out there which have harmful ingredients in them. The ingredients are sometimes cleverly hidden, but at other times they are in plain sight. The list of foods that are currently in the high-risk category is too large to include in this blog article. But this is a real danger and one only needs to look up the non GMO shopping guide to get an idea of the alternatives available.
Here are some websites that offer further information on finding wholesome and pure foods:
Following are some practical tips to include wholesome and pure foods in your daily diet:
- Check the ingredients of everything – you will find common ingredients (in bread, cereals, crackers, etc.) such as high fructose corn syrup which is linked to heart disease, obesity, cancer, dementia, liver failure, tooth decay and more.
- If checking ingredients seem to be too much of a chore, Google for shopping lists and alternatives to GMO brands. The above-mentioned websites will help.
- If you have a choice between packaged/processed products (such as packed juices, flavoured yoghurts) versus fresh products (fresh fruits, plain yoghurt), always go for the fresh, unprocessed food items. Fruit juice boxes may have labels such as ‘all natural’ but they are far from being natural. They are usually loaded with added sugars and deprived of almost all nutritional value.
It may seem a little daunting at first to try to eat only healthy, wholesome food. But if you take it step by step, and don’t feel it has to be ‘all or nothing’, it is not impossible. Allah in His Infinite Wisdom, encourages Muslims to eat wholesome foods so as to not harm their health. It would be in our own interest to make this effort and encourage our families and neighbours to eat ‘halal and tayyib’ food.
© IIPH 2014
(No copyright infringement intended, image taken from www.flickr.com)