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Part 2: What are the justifications for maintaining physical health from an Islamic perspective?

29Jun 2012
Part 2: What are the justifications for maintaining physical health from an Islamic perspective?

Part 1, of this series, provided a definition of health, which included physical, mental, social and spiritual well being. It also highlighted the rising prevalence of cardiovascular disease within the Muslim world. In part 2, we will now consider the justifications for maintaining one’s physical health, using Qur’anic references and Prophetic traditions.

Three main reasons are presented below for striving for physical health, starting with the most basic reasons for preserving Allah’s (s.w.t.) creation and avoiding physical disease, and then moving on to the higher spiritual reasons of discharging one’s Islamic duties and cleansing the metaphysical heart.

1. Maintaining physical health to preserve the creation of Allah (s.w.t.) and avoid physical disease

Allah (s.w.t.) has ordered us to protect our body and preserve it in the perfect form he has fashioned. This is illustrated by the following Qur’anic verses:

“O man! What has enticed you from your gracious Lord who has created and well-proportioned you, and given you a perfect moulding?” (82:5-7).

“Anyone who tampers with God’s grace after it has been bestowed on him will find God to be stern in punishment.” (2:211).

The Prophet (p.b.u.h.) has placed emphasis on the value of good health: “No blessing other than faith is better than well being” [1]. In light of this and the above verses, we should aim to preserve our health in order to gain Allah’s (s.w.t.) blessings.


The health benefits to our cardiovascular system in consuming the foods prescribed by Allah(s.w.t.) (in moderation) can be demonstrated in light of today’s research; for example consumption of higher amounts of olive oil (olives being one of the foods mentioned in the Qur’an on several occasions) has been linked to lower mortality rates in Mediterranean countries compared to western countries [2].

Research has also shown the positive effect of exercise in controlling diabetes, lowering cholesterol levels and blood pressure; all factors linked with the development of cardiovascular diseases [3]. There is in fact a direct relationship between the degree of physical activity and likelihood of death from cardiovascular diseases, with research showing that adherence to a regime of physical activity and a Mediterranean diet (high in olive oil) can lead to a 50% reduction in death from cardiovascular causes at 10 years of follow up[MN1]  [4, 5].

2. Maintaining physical health to discharge one’s Islamic duties and to attain thawab (reward for performing good deeds)

From an Islamic perspective it may seem that little emphasis is placed on maintaining good physical health when one considers the extensive literature on Fiqh relating to Salah, Zakat, Hajj and the relative lack of guidance on diet and exercise. However, maintaining a sound physical but also mental state is a prerequisite to executing our Islamic duties and acting in accordance with Fiqh. This point is illustrated by the following hadith:

“No one will be allowed to move from his position on the Day of Judgement until he has been asked how he spent his life… and in what pursuits he used his health” [6]

For instance, amongst the main tenets of Islam are prayer, fasting and pilgrimage; fulfilling each of these practices necessitates a degree of physical fitness.

Additionally, in the early Islamic era, the practice of archery, horse riding and swimming enabled acquisition of military-style skills useful in defending and strengthening the Islamic state. In the current age, physical activity may be deemed to foster closer links within the community; another way of strengthening the Ummah.

3. Maintaining physical health to strengthen the spiritual heart

In The Holy Qur’an Allah (s.w.t.) has identified on numerous occasions that the disbelievers and those destined for hellfire have a disease affecting their spiritual heart. For example;

“As to those in whose hearts there is a disease, it only increases their uncleanliness, and they shall die infidels.” (9:125).

“ In their heart is a disease, and God increases their disease; for them is a painful chastisement because of the lies they were telling.” (2:10).

It is no coincidence that the main cause of mortality across the world also relates to the heart, though not in the physical sense. The above Qur’anic references together with the fact that significant global mortality is attributed to cardiac related disease demonstrate the heart to be a key component of man; shaping one’s physical and spiritual state. Thus, every effort should be made to rid the heart of disease, be it physical or spiritual. However, we should not isolate each aspect of the heart since important links between physical and metaphysical realms exist (metaphysical incorporates our spiritual, emotional and social health).

As already stated, physical fitness provides the energy and stamina to perform our prescribed religious duties that allow spiritual proximity to Allah (s.w.t.). To illustrate this point those with poor cardiovascular health, e.g. diabetics are frequently unable to fast due to an inability to control blood sugar levels and are therefore deprived of the opportunity to perform this Islamic duty. In addition, certain dietary habits can worsen the condition of the spiritual heart such as eating haraam foods or foods acquired through unlawful means.

Furthermore Allah (s.w.t.) has urged us to eat in moderation and has prescribed certain foods for us to benefit from; spiritually and physically:

“Eat of the good things we have provided for your sustenance, but commit no excess therein, lest my wrath should justly descend on you, and those whom descends my wrath do perish indeed”(20:81).

The Prophet (p.b.u.h.) has similarly advised us to be careful of our eating habits and of the adverse effects of gluttony on the spiritual heart:

 “Don’t indulge in over-eating because it would quench the light of faith within your hearts” [7]

“Good health comes from eating little; illness and hard-heartedness from satiety” [8]

Some Islamic authors have underlined the critical relationship between physical and spiritual fitness; highlighting a boosted morale and a clearer mind as some of the non-physical benefits from physical exertion and improved bodily strength [9].

Modern day research has outlined the psychological benefits of exercise; improving one’s mood, self-confidence, self-esteem and functional capacity [3, 10, 11]. Exercise has a hedonic effect i.e. it is pleasurable for the person undertaking it. This makes exercise an important component in helping people who suffer with anxiety and depression; major ills of our time, with estimates that as many as 30% of the population currently suffer from depression [12].

This positive impact on the mental state could be interpreted as a defence against the diseases
affecting the spiritual heart. For instance, psychological stress; a key trigger to anger and one of the main ailments of the spiritual heart [13], is also reduced by frequent physical exercise [14]. This shapes the person into a patient and calm person; one less prone to committing sins which darken the spiritual heart such as slander, backbiting, ill-speaking and defamation (illnesses identified by Ayatollah Amini in [13]).

Furthermore, the reduction in fear and anxiety as a result of an elevated mood offer optimism and positivity which may overspill into other aspects of one’s life, enabling development of superior personality traits such as inner peace and tranquillity, which are recommended Islamically.


Ayatollah Ibrahim Amini, in his text entitled “Self building” [13], has outlined a method of attaining spiritual growth of the heart, through firstly self-purification and refinement of the heart via abstinence of sin, and secondly through self-nourishment via performance of righteous deeds.

His framework can similarly be applied to diet and physical exercise and its benefit on the physical heart. For instance, the first and most basic reason for healthy eating and exercise is to preserve the form created by Allah (s.w.t.), namely the human body, from the physical harm of medical diseases (the self-purification stage). Secondly, the more indirect and arguably the dominant reason is to enhance the metaphysical aspects of man; the psychological state and the spiritual heart. Both these justifications for optimising physical health ultimately lead to a more productive human being, able to discharge the obligatory Islamic duties (the self-nourishment phase) but also be better prepared for the arrival of the awaited Imam (a.f.).

In part 3 we will turn our attention towards the dietary measures we can take to improve our physical health, as recommended by Islamic traditions.


[1] Related by Ibn Majah following Abu Bakr. In [2].

[2] Covas MI, Konstantinidou V, Fito M. Olive oil and cardiovascular health. J Cardiovasc Pharmacol 2009;54:477-82.

[3]Fletcher GF, Blair SN, Blumenthal J et al. Statement on Exercise: Benefits and Recommendations for Physical Activity Programs for All Americans. A Statement for Health Professionals by the Committee on Exercise and Cardiac Rehabilitation of the Council on Clinical Cardiology, American Heart Association. Circulation 1992;86:340-344.

[4] Powell KE, Thompson PD, Caspersen CJ, et al. Physical activity and the incidence of coronary heart disease. Annu Rev Public Health 1987;8:253-287

[5] Knoops K, de Groot L, Kromhout D, et al. Mediterranean diet, lifestyle factors, and 10-year mortality in elderly European men and women: the HALE project. JAMA 2004; 292:1433-9

[6] Authenticated by Al-Tirmizi as reported by Abu Barza al-Aslami. In [2].

[7] al-Mustadrak, volume 3, p81. In Amini AI. Self Building. Translated by Alamdar SH. Ansariyan Publications 3rd Ed 2003;301.

[8] Sfeir, L.The status of Muslim women in sports: Conflict between cultural tradition and modernism. International Review for the Sociology of Sports 1985; 20(4):283-306. In Al-Dousari B. The History and The Philosophy of Sport in Islam. Unpublished BA dissertation. Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana 2000;19.

[9] Al-Dousari B. The History and The Philosophy of Sport in Islam. Unpublished BA dissertation. Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana 2000; 8-9.

[10] Penedo FJ, Dahn JR. Exercise and well-being: a review of mental and physical health benefits associated with physical activity. Curr Opin Psychiatry 2005;18:189-93.

[11] Crews D, Lochbaum M, Landers D. Aerobic physical activity effects on psychological well-being in low-income Hispanic children. Percept Mot Skills 2004;98:319–324.

[12] [Internet]. Leeds: Egton Medical Information Systems Limited; c2011. Depression; 2010 Jun 9 [cited 2011 Jul 31]; [about 14 screens]. Available from:

[13] Amini AI. Self Building. Translated by Alamdar SH. Ansariyan Publications 3rd Ed 2003; 64.

[14] McLafferty C, Wetzstein C, Hunter G. Resistance training is associated with improved mood in healthy older adults. Percept Mot Skills 2004;93:947–57.

Credits: olive oil by: Faisal Aljunied


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