Everyone it seems, whether Muslim or not, has their own ideas about the laws of Islam. But one of the things that everyone knows is that Muslims can’t drink alcohol, right?
Well, technically that’s not true.
A Muslim can drink if they want to.
In fact, Muslims always have a choice in everything that they do whether praying, fasting, or eating pork.
Muslims can even murder if they like.
Say that again?
Following Islam does not stop a person doing anything, in exactly the same way that British law does not physically prevent crime. Rape, robbery and fraud happens every day in this country even though they are all illegal.
The point of Islam, like any legal system, is to modify human behavior in order to prevent harm, whether to the individual or others.
One beer won’t hurt?
It’s true that alcohol in small quantities causes minimal harm to the human body. But it is also true that alcohol causes enormous harm in our society.
Think about the street fights, car accidents, and vandalism that happen as a direct result of alcohol. Think about the homelessness, the marriage breakdowns, the domestic violence, and the depression caused by alcohol. Think about all the people, as you read this, who are dying, yellow and bloated, because of alcohol-induced liver failure.
Alcohol costs Britain billions of pounds each year, and infinitely more in human suffering.
So whilst Muslims can drink alcohol if they wish, they should understand why Islam teaches them that they should not.
This is shocking but not surprising.
Obesity is by far the leading cause of type 2 diabetes and more children are getting fat.
It really is as simple as that.
But why are children getting fat?
Our body makes use of every precious calorie that is fed into it. Allah has made our biology incredibly efficient. Nothing is eliminated unless it needs to be and any excess nutrients are stored for later use, mainly as fat.
The maths of gaining weight are easy:
calories eaten each day minus calories used each day is more than 0,
you will gain weight.
A 500 calorie daily excess equates to roughly one-kilogram of weight gain each week.
So eating an extra chocolate bar and packet of crisps every day would make us about a stone heavier in just six weeks.
And the opposite is true:
In order to lose a stone in 6 weeks, we need to consume 500 calories less each day than we use.
From this you can see that losing weight quickly by dieting is hard
However, the thing that makes dieting work is time; eating 500 calories less each day may be hard but eating 50 calories less each day is easy – that’s the calories in one Jaffa cake, or half a medium-sized banana.
It may take you 60 weeks instead of 6 to lose that stone, but it will happen.
Couldn’t I just exercise more?
Well, yes, you could but that requires hard work and dedication too.
According to fitnessblender.com there are at least ’50 Ways to Burn 500 Calories’, here is a selection:
11) Jump rope for only 42 minutes;
28) Kayak for 55 minutes;;
32) Do one hour on the stair stepper;
38) Do 65 Minutes of water-skiing;
48) Ice skate for 50 minutes.
So to lose a stone in six weeks by exercising alone, you would need to do one of those activities every single day, whilst not eating a calorie more than usual. And as we all know, exercise makes us hungry.
But again, time is our friend. We can burn 50 calories in about 5-10 minutes of average-pace walking; the weight loss won’t be fast but it will happen.
Too many people set themselves unrealistic goals when it comes to weight loss: aiming to lose a stone over a year is much more achievable than any fad-diet.
The biology of weight loss is simple – the reality is much more complex
Hunger is one of our most basic survival instincts. Our bodies evolved at a time when food was scarce: you would be lucky to have one meal a day when you had to go out and hunt it yourself. And food back then was much lower in calories. Today we have incredibly energy-dense foods that our bodies can process with ease.
It is now possible to eat more calories than you can burn off without even feeling full.
Just think about that 500 calorie chocolate bar and crisp combination: it might get you through a mid-morning slump but you will still be hungry come lunch-time.
Activity levels have fallen at almost the same rate that calorie intake has increased. People drive, work in offices, order everything online and sit on the sofa watching TV. You could quite easily live your life these days without walking much more than a hundred steps a day.
Then there is the fact that basic biology education in schools is limited, and making filling low-calorie foods require a basic knowledge of cooking, which is surprisingly absent in many people in Britain today. Poverty, of course, has a key role to play.
How I would tackle childhood obesity (in five easy steps)
Teach basic nutritional science to children at a young age – even primary school would not be too early. Make sure that everyone understands the direct link between eating too much and gaining weight.
Make doing activity easier. This would mean making sure there are open spaces, cheap or free leisure centres, better public transport and more cycle lanes. Have daily PE lessons in schools and incentivise pupils for walking or cycling each day.
Make the most energy-dense foods less attractive, either by increasing the price, banning adverts or putting it in plain packaging, a bit like cigarettes. At the same time make healthier options cheaper and more convenient.
Make food technology a compulsory lesson at secondary school up until the age of 16 and normalise the idea that both boys and girls can and should enjoy cooking.
Encourage everyone to try intermittent fasting.
Steps 1-4 are already done a greater or lesser extent: the government introduced a “sugar-tax” earlier this year making many fizzy drinks more expensive, and in supermarkets chocolate bars have been moved away from the checkout to discourage impulse buying.
Step 5 is the one that I suspect would be the hardest to convince most British people of, but for me it makes logical sense. Let me explain:
Lots of people have very inflexible views when it comes to food – I say that because I have spoken to hundreds of patients who have struggles to lose weight.
The idea of ‘three square meals a day’ is entrenched in most of them – anything less and they might waste away. I have lost count of the number of patients I have seen who have tried dieting, only to give up because they felt hungry all the time.
Once again, Islam has the answers
During Ramadan this year the period of fasting between sunrise and sunset was just a little over 19 hours on the longest days.
The first few days are always the hardest but amazingly quickly our bodies adapt and we feel less hungry. When we do break our fast in the evening we will often end up eating only a small amount.
Islam teaches us that our bodies are perfectly able to survive without food or water for an entire day. Not only does this help us to understand our bodies and the strength that we all have within us, it also makes us appreciate food in a way that nothing else can.
If you can fast for an entire day, you have to wonder whether you really need to have that extra chocolate bar.
Burkas have their origins in the Middle East. What to they have a lot of in the Middle East besides oil and war?
And not soft, damp beach sand. Hot, dry desert sand. The kind of sand that can be whipped up into a storm by the slightest breeze.
Sandstorms are painful
I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced a sandstorm but if you have you will probably have run for cover, shielding you mouth and eyes as you did. Millions of tiny grains crashing into you at high-speed is not a pleasant experience. In an environment where sandstorms are common, covering as much of yourself as possible makes complete sense. Even covering your eyes with a mesh doesn’t seem like a bad idea.
Do you know what else they have in abundance in the Middle East?
If I were to venture out into the desert at midday I would burn in minutes. I have weak melanin. Even people with naturally darker skin can’t stay out for long in those temperatures. When people started wearing burkas, Nivea had not yet started making sunscreen and air conditioning was not a thing, so the only way to prevent skin damage and stay cool was to stay out of the sun as much as possible.
Sunburn is not fun and skin cancer is even worse
So maybe wearing a burka or niqab had more to do with protecting women from the harsh desert than from the carnal desires of men?
Certainly there are tribes in the Sahara, like the Tuareg, where men routinely cover their faces as protection from the sun and sand.
Most Muslims, at least that I know, do not think it is a good idea for women to wear the burka or niqab in Britain. Just like everyone else, Muslims communicate with our faces: smiling, frowning, biting our lips, gritting our teeth and a million more micro-expressions that can signal any one of our complex emotions. By covering her face a woman denies others the ability to read these signs and this certainly affects her ability to have a full and active role in modern society. She may not be being oppressed by a man or a religion, but she is choosing to oppress herself.
I support any woman’s right to wear a burka in Britain, but it is not a decision that she should take lightly. Are the advantages, as she sees them, worth the negative consequences?
When people convert (or revert) to Islam they will often choose a new name to signify that something fundamental about themselves has changed. It symbolises a fresh start and a commitment to a new way of life.