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Islam and Physical Health

24Jun 2012
Islam and Physical Health

Part 1: What is health and why is it important in this day and age?

This 4 part series aims to discuss the Islamic perspective on physical health in the light of the growing problems of obesity and heart disease in this day and age. Parts 1 and 2 will provide an introduction to the meaning of health in Islam and examine why the Muslim community should give greater consideration to maintaining physical health. Parts 3 and 4 will provide advice on how physical health can be optimised, using Quranic references and traditions of The Ahlul-Bait (peace be upon them).

Definition of Health

The World Health Organisation has defined the term health as “complete physical, social and mental wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” [1]. Within an Islamic context this definition is extended to include spiritual well being [2].

Why is physical health especially relevant to the Muslim Community in this day and age?

Globally, cardiovascular diseases including heart attacks and strokes are the main causes of death, and it is predicted that they will remain to be so in 2030 [3]. The largest increase in percentage of deaths attributed to cardiovascular disease is expected to occur in the eastern Mediterranean region and the largest increase in absolute number of deaths in South East Asia [3]. These are populations that consist of a significant number of Muslims from Arab communities in the former, and Indo-Pakistani communities in the latter. It is thus critical that factors influencing the development of cardiovascular disease be addressed within these communities, namely diabetes, high cholesterol, poor diet and lack of exercise. To further emphasise the importance of addressing these factors especially within the Muslim community, the following facts should be considered:

  • The prevalence of cardiovascular disease amongst Muslim men in the population is 60-70% greater than that of men in the general population [4]
  • The prevalence of diabetes between the ages of 25-75 in the South Asian community is 20% is five times greater than the community as a whole [5]
  • South Asians are 1.5 times more likely to suffer from heart disease and strokes compared to Europeans in the UK [6]

A number of factors are responsible for the increased prevalence of cardiovascular disease within the Muslim community, which can be grouped into environmental and genetic categories. There is evidence to indicate that South Asians in particular have a genetic predisposition towards “syndrome x” or the “insulin resistance syndrome” which involves an earlier onset of diabetes, central obesity, high blood pressure and higher levels of cholesterol [6].

Within the environment, dietary factors play a major part in perpetuating the problems of heart disease and stroke. The consumption of clarified fat (ghee) is a specific example. In addition, the Muslim community suffers from the same issues that affect the population as a whole including excessive consumption of fried foods and highly calorific sweets. This maybe especially relevant during communal gatherings; particularly within the holy months of Ramadhan and Muharram.


In this brief introductory article the definition of health has been discussed and the growing burden of cardiovascular disease especially within the Muslim world has been highlighted. In part 2 of this 4 part series, we will continue this discussion by examining the reasons Islam provides for maintaining one’s physical health.


[1] World Health Organisation [Internet]. About WHO – Definition of Health [cited 2011 July 17]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://apps.who.int/aboutwho/en/definition.html

[2] Al Khayat MH. The Right Path to Health: Health Education through Religion; 4. Health An Islamic Perspective. World Health Organisation Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean 1997 p7.

[3] World Health Organisation [Internet] c2011. Media centre Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) Factsheet No 317; 2011 Jan [cited 2011 Jul 17]; [about 5 screens]. Available from: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs317/en/index.html

[4] Working with a whole community; Muslim Doctors and Dentists Association 2009 Apr 28. http://www.healthcheck.nhs.uk/Library/Microsoft_Word__MDDA_APPROVED.pdf

[5] Diabetes.co.uk – The Global Diabetes Community. Sitefinders Net Ltd c2011. Diabetes a time bomb in the South Asian Community 2010 Feb 22 [cited 2011 Jul 17]; [about 4 screens]. Available from: http://www.diabetes.co.uk/news/2010/Feb/diabetes-a-time-bomb-in-the-south-asian-community-92298524.html

[6] Chaturvedi N. Ethnic differences in cardiovascular disease. Heart 2003; 89:681-

Credits: Pictures from flickr from users: mag3737 and mrgarris0n

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