Allah says in the Qur’an, “O you who have believed, eat from the good things which We have provided for you and be grateful to Allah if it is Him that you worship.” (2:172)
This ayah emphasizes that food is among the greatest blessings from Allah, and so we should be utterly grateful to Him for it. Islam encourages eating wholesome foods and to avoid those commodities that are hazardous to health. The Prophet ﷺ has given elaborate guidance on the manners of eating and drinking as well as the treatment of food required from us. Let us examine this guidance in detail.
The Prophet ﷺ once said to Umar bin Abi Salama, “O boy! Mention the Name of Allah and eat with your right hand, and eat from the dish what is nearer to you.” (Bukhari) Starting a meal with the name of Allah and ending it with His praise is mandatory and a means of showing gratefulness to Allah for blessing us with nourishment. Eating with one’s right hand is also obligatory even if one is left-handed in all other aspects. This hadith further conveys that when several individuals are eating directly from a dish, one should eat from the nearest side, rather than eating from the centre or someone else’s side and hence depriving them of their share. The Prophet ﷺ also forbade eating in gold or silver plates, or drinking in gold or silver vessels, as these amount to sheer extravagance.
Respect for Food
The Prophet ﷺ showed much respect to food and asked us to do the same. For example, he said, “I do not take my meals while leaning.” (Bukhari) He always used to sit upright when eating rather than reclining on a surface or against a cushion. Moreover, if food is ready, then it should not be delayed even for Salat, as the Prophet ﷺ said, “If supper is served and the Iqama for prayer is proclaimed, start with your supper first.” (Bukhari) It is only after completing one’s meal that one should join the congregational prayer.
Avoiding Criticism of Food
We sometimes criticize food if it lacks taste or is not according to our liking. In the process, we show ungratefulness to Allah who has bestowed us with food in the first place. Abu Hurayrah narrated, “The Prophet ﷺ never criticised any food, but he used to eat if he liked the food, and leave it if he disliked it.” (Bukhari) Hence, one should avoid eating food that one dislikes, instead of pointing out its deficiencies. Criticizing food not only results in belittling Allah’s blessing but may also hurt the feelings of the one who has put time and effort into preparing it. In fact, the Prophet ﷺ had great regard for the one who prepares food for others. He advised, “When your servant brings your food to you, if you do not ask him to join you, then at least ask him to take one or two handfuls, for he has suffered from its heat [while cooking it] and has taken pains to cook it nicely.” (Bukhari)
The Prophet ﷺ had his likes and dislikes for certain foods, and we are entitled to have the same, although as stated earlier, we must not criticize what we do not like. For example, the Prophet ﷺ liked to eat dates, and sometimes his meals would consist only of dates and water. It has been conveyed that the Prophet ﷺ liked gourd. Ayesha says, “Allah’s Messenger ﷺ used to love the halwa [sweet edible things] and honey.” (Bukhari) On the other hand, the Prophet ﷺ refused to eat a roasted mastigure, which is a type of desert lizard, offered to him by his companion who then ate it himself.
The Prophet ﷺ disliked foods that emit bad odour. He said, “Whoever has eaten garlic or onion should keep away from us [or from our mosque].” (Bukhari) Even though vegetables such as onion and garlic are permissible, one should avoid eating them before visiting mosques or other gatherings because people could be greatly discomforted by the odour. The comfort of fellow human beings is of paramount importance in Islam and one should avoid any sort of behaviour that is a source of harm or botheration to others.
Moderation and Contentment
Another aspect much emphasized by the Prophet ﷺ is moderation in eating. He stated, “The food of two persons is sufficient for three, and the food of three persons is sufficient for four persons.” (Bukhari) While today, some of us “live to eat”, the Prophet ﷺ used to “eat to live”; he never ate more than what was necessary, and he would generously give away food to the poor, often leaving little or no food for himself and his family, as Abu Hurayrah says, “The family of Muhammad did not eat their fill for three successive days till he died.” (Bukhari)
When an article of food which the Prophet ﷺ preferred was not readily available, he would be content to use some other article as a substitute rather than complaining about what was amiss. Jabir reports: “The Prophet ﷺ asked for sauce and was told that there was nothing except vinegar. He asked for it and began to eat from it saying, ‘How excellent is vinegar as substitute for sauce! How excellent is vinegar as substitute for Udm!’” (Muslim) Thus, the Prophet ﷺ exhibited perfect simplicity in his eating habits and exercised great control over his appetite.
Avoiding Wastage of Food
The Prophet ﷺ taught us to be careful not to waste even a particle of food. When a morsel of dry food falls on the floor, we should clean and eat it, as the Prophet ﷺ said, “When a morsel of any of you falls, he should pick it up and remove any of the dirt on it and then eat it, and should not leave it for Satan.” (Muslim) We must not leave any food uneaten on our plates, as Jabir narrates, “Messenger of Allah ﷺ commanded the licking of fingers and the gleaning of the dish, saying, ‘You do not know in which portion the blessing lies.’” (Muslim) We thus learn that food is not only itself a blessing of Allah but is also a source of gaining further blessings. We should thus take care to eat the last grain of rice or other food particle, to avoid the risk of losing out on His blessings.
It is unfortunate that wastage of food has become a menace today. In restaurants, leftover food goes to the garbage in large amounts every day. Food is also wasted just to make practical jokes, such as throwing a pie at someone’s face. Moreover, the “food fights” that are popular in certain cultures waste massive quantities of food. While millions of people squander food through foolish activities such as these, millions more are going hungry each day, some of them starving to death due to an extreme shortage of food.
The Prophet ﷺ has similarly informed us of the etiquette for drinking water. He said, “Do not drink in one gulp like a camel, but in two or three. Mention the Name of Allah when you start drinking and praise Him after you have finished.” (Tirmidhi) As this hadith makes clear, we should drink water in a calm and an unhurried manner. We must express our gratitude to Allah by reciting Bismillah (In the name of Allah) before drinking, and saying Alhamdulillah (Praise be to Allah) afterwards.
It is best to avoid eating or drinking while standing, as Anas said, “The Prophet ﷺ forbade us from drinking while standing.” Qatadah reported: “We asked him [Anas], ‘What about eating?’ He said, ‘That is even worse, more detestable.’” (Muslim) Although there are reports that the Prophet ﷺ did drink water while standing, this seemed to be the case only in situations where sitting was not a viable option, such as drinking water next to the zamzam well.
Purity is an integral part of faith, and the concept of purity is incomplete without hygiene. For this reason, as Ibn Abbas reported, “The Prophet ﷺ prohibited us from breathing into the drinking vessel or blowing into it.” (Tirmidhi) The Prophet ﷺ also forbade raising a water-skin (or a water bottle), from which different people drink, to one’s mouth for drinking; rather, the water must be poured into a vessel.
It is thus evident that following the etiquette of eating and drinking taught by the Prophet ﷺ not only earns us a reward in the hereafter but also entitles us to good health and excellent manners.