Rabbee Zidnee

"And convey to my servants that surely I am the Ghafoor (the Forgiving) and the Raheem (the Merciful)". -- Suratul Hijr, Verse 49

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

To Eat or Not to Eat?

We’ve all been in a situation where we’ve had extra food on our plate yet our appetite has been satisfied. In such a case, should we go ahead and eat the food even though we’re full, or should we leave it and in doing so perhaps it will go to waste (israaf)? I posed this question to a teacher and his answer is paraphrased below.

Answer: First of all, in many cases the choice between wasting food and overeating is not an either-or situation ((مانعة الجمع. Many times we can avoid both of them by following some steps outlined below.

  • Through our life experience we can learn to serve ourselves that which we need in order to reach the point of contentment. Someone who is observant for some time about the amount of food he/she eats will come recognize how much he/she really needs to eat.
  • Sometimes people fear that if they don’t take a lot of food at the first go at a buffet there won’t be enough left over and they will go hungry. This behavior stems from forgetfulness that sustenance (rizq) comes from Allah and not from the buffet. In such a situation someone should for example just take a small portion of all of that is available.
  • Mistakes happen and sometimes we might end up taking too much food. Or we don’t have control over how much we are given. If we have extra food left on our plate after reaching the point of contentment, there is nothing wrong in asking for a container to take the extra food back home.
  • After eating to our full, sometimes the thought may occur to us that we’ve lost an opportunity [hayf = a غنيمت that you don’t make use of] to not have eaten more even though we are content. This happens particularly when the cook has outdone him/herself. We then use this as an excuse to overeat. Being able to recognize this trick of our soul (or the Shaytan) is important.

However, sometimes find ourselves in a situation where we have to choose between not eating extra and protecting ourselves from the spiritual harms of overeating vs. eating and protecting the food from being wasted. In such a situation, clearly the choice to look out for ourselves. If it someone else’s fault for serving us too much to eat, the sin for the wastefulness falls on the server and not the person who is eating. If we made the mistake and took too much to eat, we should seek forgivness of Allah (istighfar) for having taken too much, but we shouldn’t go ahead and eat. We need to choose the lesser of two evils.

What are the spiritual harms of overeating? This warrants a separate discussion, but they include needing to oversleep, and serving as a barrier for the light of Allah to enter the heart.

It’s important to apply this advice in moderation. We shouldn’t be overly rigid about not taking more to eat when the host will feel bad if we don’t eat at all once we reach the point of contentment. In that case we might be trying to perform a mustahab act but in doing so causing so much unhappiness in others that we clearly should take a little more in order to please the opposite party. In general we ought to go about all of our actions in a pleasant, soft manner that doesn’t offend others.

Source: Q&A with a teacher of the howza, the holy city of Qum, Iran, July 2006


At 9:55 PM, Anonymous Abbas M said...

Salams & Jazakallah
Very nice to have obtained islamic advice on issues we come across regularly , for which we do not have guidelines eaisly available...Hope to see more of these with your proximity to the wise people & language advantages..

At 9:29 PM, Anonymous Firdous rizvi said...

Left over food can be given to birds instead of throwing it in garbage. I think it will not be waste of food


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