An Islamic Perspective on the Obesity Crisis

Co-authored by Tasmiha Khan

With the advent of technology, many of us have become individuals prone to fulfilling our desires instantaneously. Whether it's Internet service or a commute, many of us easily become impatient. This idea has become so ingrained in American lifestyle that it has begun to affect our health. We often reach for the foods that are the easiest to obtain, rather than those that are healthy for us. Instant noodles, frozen dinners, and other fatty, unhealthy processed foods have become ubiquitous in American life. However, we rarely reflect on what we consume, and our food's tremendous affect on our life activities.

In Islam, we have several revelations that describe how humans should act with regards to sustenance. The Quran says succinctly, "Eat and drink, but avoid excess" (20:81), and that humans should, "Eat of what is lawful and wholesome on the earth" (2:168). In addition, a well-known hadith from Ibn Majah narrates that the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) stated that in order to avoid excess in meals, people should fill 1/3 of their stomach with food, 1/3 with water, and allow 1/3 to remain empty. Therefore, it is clear that the Islamic tradition urges restraint and proper consideration with regards to eating and drinking.

This guidance is needed more than ever in our lives today, as we are facing a global epidemic of obesity. Today, more than 23.5 million children and adolescents in the United States -- nearly one in three young people -- are either obese or overweight, putting them at significantly higher risk for developing chronic conditions such as type II diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure much earlier in life. Some studies have even shown that obesity puts individuals at greater risk for life-threatening infectious diseases and cancer. If we don't reverse the childhood obesity epidemic, the current generation of young people could be the first in U.S. history to live sicker and die younger than their parents' generation.

MomsRising has initiated a national obesity prevention effort in the Muslim community. It is particularly important because of the grassroots type of work they engage in. This organization attempts to combat the obesity epidemic by working with mothers across the country on providing healthy meals and promoting exercise among children. Through their programs, they seek to ensure all mothers have the information and the resources they need to not only help their own children, but also facilitate greater community engagement. The main goal is to create a generation of leaders -- from diverse racial, gender, religious, and socioeconomic backgrounds -- who are passionate about combating obesity.

As we enter the blessed month of Ramadan, it is important to remember the prophetic tradition of combating systemic injustice wherever we find it. The presence of food deserts makes it very difficult for many people to find or afford healthy food. For this reason, MomsRising also strives to influence the national conversation on obesity through several initiatives. For example, they are trying to improve the healthiness of school lunches, and prevent the marketing of junk food to children through several grassroots petition campaigns.

There are many examples of amazing individuals who have made positive differences in their communities. For instance, Sr. Jamilah Rashid created a community garden of fresh produce designed to counter the issue of food deserts in New Haven, Connecticut. The garden not only provided community members with healthy food, but also brought them and their children closer together.

We encourage each and every one of you to begin making a difference -- no matter how small -- in your own community. It can be as simple as holding a weekly youth groups on the topic of childhood obesity, or writing an article for the local newsletter about the problem of food deserts. We encourage you check out MomsRising and find more information here: