Manners of Eating and Drinking


How should a muslim eat and drink? What is islamic etiquette in eating and drinking?

A believer needs to establish good manner as a characteristic in every moment of his/her life. Manners of eating and drinking of a believer should also be befitting to the traditions of the Prophet (pbuh). It is commanded to be careful about eating lawful food and avoiding wasting. The Muslim community has its own special table and eating manners. Knowing these manners and acting accordingly to them is a very significant part in living a happy and healthy life.

1. Manners of Eating

Before and after eating hands should be washed. This is very important for health and purity. In one of his sayings the Prophet (pbuh) makes the following warning:

“If anyone spends the night with grease on his hand which he has not washed away after eating, he can blame only himself if some trouble comes to him.” (Abu Dawud, At’imah, 53)

It is one of the beauties of Islam to begin eating like in every other good deed by mentioning the name of Allah. Jabir b. Abdullah reported Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) as saying:

“When a person enters his house and mentions the name of Allah at the time of entering it and while eating the food, Satan says addressing to his soldiers: You have no place to spend the night and no evening meal; but when he enters without mentioning the name of Allah, the Satan says: You have found a place to spend the night, and when he does not mention the name of Allah while eating food, the Satan says: “You have found a place to spend the night and an evening meal.” (Muslim, Ashribah, 103)

We can find what to do if we forget to mention Allah’s name at the beginning of a meal in the following advices of the Prophet (pbuh). Aisha (r.a.) narrated that once the Prophet (pbuh) had been eating with six of his companions. A bedouin came and finished all the food on the plates. Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) said that:

“If this man had begun eating by mentioning the name of Allah, it would have been enough for all of us. Therefore when one of you eats, he should mention Allah’s name; if he forgets to mention Allah’s name at the beginning, he should say:

“In the name of Allah at the beginning and at the end of it.” (Ibn Majah, At’imah, 7; Abu Dawud, At’imah, 15)

Another interesting incident similar to the above mentioned context happened as follows: According to the narration of Umayyah ibn Makhshi (r.a.), a man was having his meal next to the Prophet (pbuh). He did not mention Allah’s name until there remained the last morsel. When he raised it to his mouth, he said:

“In the name of Allah at the beginning and at the end of it.” The Prophet (pbuh) laughed and said:

“The devil kept eating along with him, but when he mentioned Allah’s name, he vomited what was in his belly.” (Abu Dawud, At’imah, 16)

It is a nice thing to have meals together when it is possible. Allah’s Messenger (pbuh), who said “there is mercy in congregation and torment in separation,” (Munawi, III, 470) advised to eat in groups. According to Wahshi ibn Harb’s report, some of the Companions of the Prophet (pbuh) said:

“O Allah’s Apostle! We eat but we are not satisfied.” He said:

“Perhaps you eat separately.” They replied: “Yes.” He said:

“If you gather together at your food and mention Allah’s name, you will be blessed in it.” (Abu Dawud, At’imah, 14)

One should not begin eating before his elders. Hudhaifa (r.a.) reported:

“When we attended a dinner along with the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) we did not lay our hands on the food until Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) had laid his hand and commenced eating (the food).” (Muslim, Ashribah, 102) This nice habit of companions has been adopted by the believing families for many centuries. It is considered a blameworthy act to sit before the elders of the family and begin eating.

A believer should eat with his/her right hand and start eating the food that is in front him/her from the nearer part of his/her dish. It is narrated by Umar b Abi Salama (r.a.):

“I was a boy under the care of Allah’s Apostle and my hand used to go around the dish while I was eating. So Allah’s Apostle said to me,

“O boy! Mention the Name of Allah and eat with your right hand, and eat of the dish what is nearer to you.” Since then I have applied those instructions when eating.” (Bukhari, At’mah, 2)

Salama b. Akwa’ reported on the authority of his father that a person ate in the presence of Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) with his left hand, whereupon he said:

“Eat with your right hand.” He said:

“I cannot do that,” whereupon he (the Holy Prophet) said:

“May you not be able to do that.” It was vanity that prevented him from doing it, and after Prophet’s (pbuh) curse he could not raise his right hand up to his mouth anymore. (Muslim, Ashribah, 107)

Today as a result of the effects of non-Muslim cultures and in the name of modernity some Muslims tend to adopt the habit of eating with their left hand. It looks like placing the knives on the right and spoons and forks on the left side of the plates in public places is the manifestation of this new tendency. It is obvious that this concept is against Islamic table manners. Believers must be very careful and scrupulous about it.

One should avoid frivolous acts and behaviors which would be considered as greediness. Jabala bin Suhaim narrated that:

“At the time of Ibn Az-Zubair, we were struck with famine, and he provided us with dates for our food. Abdullah bin Umar used to pass by us while we were eating, and say,

“Do not eat two dates together at a time, for the Prophet forbade us the eating of two dates together at a time.” Ibn Umar used to add, “Unless one takes the permission of his companions.” (Bukhari, At’imah, 44)

In this context, chewing food thoroughly and not taking a second morsel before finishing the first one are among the manners of eating.

One should not belittle his food or at least should not voice his dislike. Abu Huraira (r.a.) reported that the Prophet (pbuh) would never find deficiencies in his meals; if there was something he wanted he would eat, otherwise, he would not. (Bukhari, Manaqib, 23)

After finishing one’s meal clearing the plate is another Islamic manner. According to the narration of Anas b. Malik (r.a.), Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) would lick his three fingers at the end of his meals. In this respect, the Prophet (pbuh) said that:

“When any one of you drops a mouthful he should pick it up and remove any of the filth on it, and then eat it, and should not leave it for the Satan, and should not wipe his hand with towel until he has licked his fingers, for he does not know in what portion of the food the blessing lies.” (Muslim, Ashribah, 136)

It is stated in this saying that the Prophet (pbuh) would lick his fingers three times at the end of his meals. In those days for the lack of or the scarcity of spoons and forks meals were often eaten by bare hands. This was very natural under the circumstances of the day. By teaching to wash hands before and after the meals Islam has averted the problems which might result from this. In fact thoroughly washed hands can be much cleaner than the metal forks and spoons. Today insisting to eat by hand instead of using forks and spoons and considering it as a prophetic custom because of the above mentioned traditions should not be seen wrong. A Muslim should always act neatly and cleanly.

Islam prohibits eating from utensils made from gold and silver. Hudhaifa (r.a.) reported that Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) said that:

“Do not wear silk or Dibaja, and do not drink in silver or golden vessels, and do not eat in plates of such metals, for such things are for the unbelievers in this worldly life and for us in the Hereafter.”[1] (Bukhari, At’imah, 44; Muslim, Libas, 4) Another important point is to try to be with pious believers during meals and stay away from the tables of the sinners.

It is also forbidden to be at tables serving alcoholic beverages. Allah’s Apostle (pbuh) said that: “those who believe in Allah and the Last Day should not sit at the tables where alcoholic drinks are served.” (Tirmidhi, Adab, 43) In this day and age, when alcoholic beverages are so widespread, Muslims must be very careful not to eat or shop in places where alcohol is present. If it is not absolutely necessary, one should not act loosely in this matter because it is for the benefit of believers.

Leaning against something is not an appropriate manner of eating. Wahb b. Abdullah (r.a.) narrated that Allah’s Apostle said: “I do not take my meals while leaning (against something).” (Bukhari, At’imah, 44)

Abdullah b. Bushr related:

“I had given some lamb meat to the Prophet (pbuh). He sat on his knees to eat it. A bedouin expressed his surprise saying that:

“What kind of sitting is this?” Upon this Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) replied:

“Allah the Almighty certainly created me as a humble and generous servant and not an arrogant and stubborn one.” (Ibn Majah, At’imah, 6)

Such an act is not only a way of showing respect to the blessing itself, but also and more importantly it is a way of showing reverence to the Giver of these blessings. Eating food without leaning against something has also many health benefits.

Another way of showing reverence to the Owner of the blessings is to pray at the end of meals. Whenever the Prophet finished his meals (or when his dining sheet was taken away), he used to pray saying:

“Praise be to Allah Who has satisfied our needs and quenched our thirst. Your favor cannot be compensated or denied. Praise be to You, O our Lord! Your favor cannot be compensated, nor can be left, nor can be dispensed with, O our Lord!” (Bukhari, At’imah, 54) Another prophetic supplication is reported as follows:

“Praise be to Allah Who has given us food and drink and made us Muslims.” (Abu Dawud, At’imah, 52)

In another saying of the Prophet (pbuh) the importance of praying after meals is expressed as follows:

“If someone says after a meal: “Praise be to Allah, Who has given me this food without my power and ability, which could affect this” his past sins will be forgiven.” (Abu Dawud, Libas, 1)

According to a report, Abu Haytham prepared some food and invited the Prophet (pbuh) and his Companions. When they finished it, Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) told the people with him:

“Give your brother a reward.” Companions asked:

“O Messenger of Allah! What is his reward?” He (pbuh) replied:

“If some people enter the house of a man, his food is eaten and his drink is drunk, and then they supplicate to Allah for him, this is his reward.” (Abu Dawud, At’imah, 54)

It is necessary to eat moderately and not to stuff one self. Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) said that: “Nobody filled a cup more dangerous than his stomach; whereas a few morsels, which could keep him up, would be enough for him. If someone needs to eat more then he should reserve one third of his stomach for food, one third of it for drink, and one third of it for his breath.” (Tirmidhi, Zuhd, 47)

The Prophet’s comparison of a stuffed stomach with a dangerous cup shows the close relationship between physical and spiritual health of eating and drinking.

The ruler of Iskandariya sent a doctor along with many gifts to the Prophet (pbuh). Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) told the doctor:

“You may go back to your family, for we are such people that we do not eat unless we are hungry. And when we eat we do not eat till we are full.” (Halabi, III, 299)

In both these traditions our attention is attracted to the difference between eating just as much as to live and making eating the purpose of life. The required amount of eating is the amount which gives enough strength to fulfill daily activities and acts of worship. It is obvious that this is something relative and differs from one person to the other. This is why ordering to leave one third of the stomach for air the Prophet (pbuh) showed a way which can be applicable to everybody.

It is an old saying that a person should eat to live not live to eat. People die during the times of famine not because of hunger but because of not satisfying their habitual style of eating.

Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) expresses the difference of the eating habits of a Muslim and non-Muslim in the following saying:

“Abu Huraira reported that Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) invited a non-Muslim. Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) commanded that a goat be milked for him. It was milked and he drank its milk. Then the second one was milked and he drank its milk, and then the other one was milked and he drank its milk till he drank the milk of seven goats. On the next morning he embraced Islam. And Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) commanded that a goat should be milked for him and he drank its milk and then another was milked but he did not finish it, whereupon Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) said: A believer drinks in one intestine whereas a non-believer drinks in seven intestines.” (Muslim, Ashribah, 186)

Nafi (r.a.) reported that,

“Ibn Umar (r.anhuma) would not eat without having a poor person as a guest at his table. One day I brought a needy man to Ibn Umar. The man ate much. Ibn Umar said:

“O Nafi! Next time, do not bring this man to me; for I heard Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) say that the non-Muslim eats in seven intestines.” (Bukhari, At’imah, 12; Muslim, Ashribah, 184)

In the following verse, Allah the Almighty describes the eating manners of the non-believers through a metaphor:

“…While those who disbelieve take their comfort in this life and eat even as the cattle eat, and the Fire is their habitation.” (Muhammad 47; 12)

All that matters for non-believers are their stomachs and desires. They do not even think about the afterlife. They are ambitious for the world and unmindful of their end. Therefore, a believer should act different than the non-believer and be moderate in his eating and drinking. The believer should not regard this world and its blessings more than is needed. For it is stated in a saying of the Prophet (pbuh):

“Eating whatever your self desires is certainly wasting” (Ibn Majah, At’imah, 51) In addition, such acts are considered as immoderation by the Messenger of Allah (pbuh). According to the friends of Allah, in Shari’ah eating after one’s stomach is full is considered immoderation; in tariqah eating till feeling full is considered excessiveness; while in haqiqah eating without thinking of Allah is considered wastefulness.

Once when a man started belching before the Messenger of Allah from excessive eating, he (the Prophet) warned him saying:

“Stop burping. For those who fill their stomach excessively will be the ones who will stay hungry for the longest period of time in the Hereafter.” (Tirmidhi, Qiyamah, 37)

Another good manner of eating is to not attend gatherings after eating something, such as onion and garlic, which may bother and disturb people because of their smell. Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) said that:

“Whoever has eaten garlic or onion should keep away from us (or should keep away from our mosque).” (Bukhari, At’imah)

Someone once brought an unpleasant smelling vegetable dish to the Prophet (pbuh). He did not eat from it, but he told one of his companions:

“Eat. (I don’t eat) for I converse with those whom you do not converse with (i.e. the angels).” (Bukhari, Sifat al-Salah)

Angels and other spiritual creations are pleased with people who are clean and smell nice and dislike the opposite. This is why the most appropriate behavior would be to not go to the mosques and other places where people gather smelling like onion, garlic, cigarette, heavy perfumes and other kinds of scents.[2]

As it is stated in the following verse: “O you who believe! eat of the good things that we have provided for you, and be grateful to Allah, if it is Him you worship.” (al-Baqara 2; 172) This verse shows that eating all kinds of lawful food is essentially permitted in Islam. However, just like in all other aspects of life, it is necessary to be moderate in eating and to avoid wasting and excessiveness. This is stated in the Qur’an as follows:

“…Eat and drink, but be not prodigal. Lo! He loves not the prodigals.” (al-A’raf 7; 31)

Every action has a goal and intention which plays an important role in deciding the value of our actions. So food gives strength in accordance with the intention it is eaten. This is why the intention of eating should be to gain strength for obedience and worship to Allah the Almighty and not for pleasures which the animal-like soul yearns for. In other words, eating should not be the goal of life and it should be seen as a means on the path to the real goal. What is dangerous in eating is to commit sins because of a full stomach.

Rumi (q.s.) stated the relationship between eating and drinking and human spirituality as follows:

“Instead of being like an acarid and perching on dirty skin and swelling, be like the birds with half empty stomachs so that you may fly in the skies.”

It is advised to cover utensils at night. In this context Allah’s Apostle made the following warnings:

 “When it gets dark, restrain your children from going out, for satans spread around at that time. And when a part of the night is passed, free them and shut the doors remembering Allah’s name for the Satan cannot open a closed door, put out your candles mentioning Allah’s name. And tighten the lids of water cans and mention the name of Allah. Cover your utensils and mention the name of Allah even though you should just put something on them, and extinguish your lamps for mice may knock them down and burn the family members.” (Bukhari, Bad’ul Khalk, 11; Muslim, Ashribah, 96)

In another hadith, Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) said that:

“Cover the vessels and tie the waterskin, for there is a night in a year when pestilence descends, and it does not pass an uncovered vessel or an untied waterskin but some of that pestilence descends into it.” (Muslim, Ashribah, 99)

2.        Manners of Drinking

The Prophet’s traditions also teach us manners of drinking water and other beverages. According to sayings of the Prophet (pbuh), if it is possible water should be drunk from transparent cups. He also forbade the drinking of water directly from the mouth of big water-skins for the possibility of containing harmful substances. (Bukhari, Ashriba, 23)

One should mention the name of Allah and take three breaths while drinking, and thank Allah in the end. Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) would take three breaths while drinking (Bukhari, Ashriba, 26) and say in this respect: “Do not drink your water in one breath like camels. Drink it in two or three breaths. When you drink something, mention the name of Allah and send your praises to Allah in the end.” (Tirmidhi, Ashriba, 13)

Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) explained the benefits of drinking water in three breaths as follows:

  1. Those who drink water and breathe outside the vessel three times quench their thirst.
  2. This way of drinking is also healthier. (Muslim, Tahara 65; Ashriba, 121)

If water goes down to the stomach slowly and gradually, the human body directs it to the places where it is needed. Whereas, if much water is taken to the body at once, it disrupts the balance of the body; so it cannot function properly. One who feels cold will feel colder because of the coldness of the water going down to the stomach. Likewise, a warm body reacts to the sudden flow of water improperly and cannot get the proper benefit from it. However, such harmful effects will not be in question if it is drunk slowly and gradually.

Breathing upon the beverage is not deemed appropriate for whatever the reason is. According to narration of Abu Said al-Hudri, Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) prohibited breathing upon the drinks. A man asked the Prophet (pbuh),

“What should I do, if I see something in my drink?” Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) replied:

“Pour it down.” The man asked again:

“I cannot quench my thirst when I drink in one breath.” Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) told him:

“Then take your mouth from the vessel (or drink it in three sips.)” (Tirmidhi, Ashriba, 15)

Prohibition of breathing upon beverages or drinking in one breath is a very important principle of good manners; because breathing on water is something that animals do while drinking. It is also possible to drop something into the water from the mouth while blowing upon the beverage. This may repel the people around. Breathing carbon dioxide upon water may also pollute the water and cause health problems. Mentioning the name of Allah before drinking water or other beverages, drinking in two or three sips and without breathing upon it, and finally thanking Allah for His blessings are among the Islamic principles of manners.

If it is possible water and other beverages should also not be drunk while standing. Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) forbade drinking while standing.

Anas reported that Allah’s Apostle (pbuh) forbade that a person should drink while standing. Qatada reported:

“We asked him:

“What about eating?” Thereupon he (Anas) said:

“That is even worse and more detestable (abominable).” (Muslim, Ashriba, 113)

However, it is reported in some traditions that the Prophet (pbuh) sometimes drank Zam-zam water while standing. Ibn Abbas (r.anhuma) said that,

“I gave Zam-zam water to Allah’s Apostle and he drank it while standing.” (Bukhari, Hajj, 76)

Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) sometimes drank water while standing thus showed his ummah that this is not something that is forbidden. Though later the reason of his disapproval might be to discourage people because of its health hazards. To show his preference and encourage others, Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) stated his disapproval about drinking beverages while standing and regarded it more appropriate to sit and drink. Another spiritual reason of this is to guide his ummah and direct them to good manners; for drinking while sitting is a more elegant and appropriate way of behavior and it provides better quenching of the thirst and tranquility while drinking. It also enables the human body to send water to where it essentially needs to go.

In a gathering one should begin offering the beverages from the person on the right. When Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) drank something, he would offer some of it to the people around him. He would always offer the beverage starting from the person on his right and continue in that direction. It was narrated by Anas b. Malik (r.a.):

“Milk mixed with water was brought to Allah’s Apostle (pbuh) while a bedouin was on his right and Abu Bakr (r.a.) was on his left. He drank of it and then gave it to the bedouin and said,

“The right” “The right (first)!” (Bukhari, Ashribah, 14, 18)

Another report narrated by Sahl b. Sad (r.a.) is as follows:

“Allah’s Apostle was offered something to drink. He drank of it while on his right was a boy and on his left were some elderly people. He said to the boy,

“May I give it to these (elderly) people first?” The boy said, “By Allah, O Allah’s Apostle! I will not give up my share from you to somebody else.” On that Allah’s Apostle placed the cup in the hand of that boy.” (Bukhari, Ashribah, 19)

If there is a respectable person in a gathering, the offering should first be presented to him/her and continued with the next person on his/her right. It is also a nice manner to take a piece from what righteous believers ate and drank with the intention of expecting to get some blessings from it as well.

Another principle of manner is that the person distributing the beverages drinks last; for in a prophetic saying it is stated that “The person distributing the water drinks from the water last.” (Tirmidhi, Ashriba, 20) Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) stated these brief and meaningful words during a journey. During that long and tiring journey believers became really tired and they were out of water. Harith b. Rib’i (r.a.) did his best in his duty of serving the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) even though he was very tired. When believers got very thirsty Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) asked for his water-skin which contained a little water. Then the Prophet (pbuh) manifested a miracle. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) began to pour water in a small cup and Abu Qatada gave it to the companions to drink. And when the people saw that there was a little water in the water-skin, they fell upon it. Upon this the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said:

“Behave well; the water is enough to satiate all of you.” Then the Companions began to receive their share of water with calmness without showing any anxiety and the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) began to fill the cup, and Abu Qatada began to serve them till no one was left except him and the Messenger of Allah (pbuh). He then filled the cup with water and said to Abu Qatada: “Drink it.”

Abu Qatada replied:

“O Messenger of Allah, I would not drink till you drink.” Upon this he said:

“The server of the people is the last among them to drink.” So Abu Qatada drank the water and the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) also drank it and the people came to the place of water quite happy and satiated.” (Muslim, Masajid, 311)

One should also avoid drinking water from golden and silver cups. Hudaifah (r.a.) said that “The Prophet forbade us to wear clothes of silk or Dibaj, and to drink in gold or silver utensils, and said, “These things are for the unbelievers in this world and for the (Muslims) in the Hereafter.” (Bukhari, Ashribah, 28) According to the narration of Umm Salama (r.a.), the Prophet (pbuh) said: “He who drinks in the vessel of silver in fact drinks down in his belly the fire of Hell.” (Muslim, Libas, 1-2)

[1] Islam prohibits golden and silver utensils and other household items for both males and females. Muslim scholars agree upon that the negation in the related prophetic sayings means prohibition. This prohibition is an unconditional one and only some items exempted from it. While Hudhaifa was in Madain, he asked for water. The chief of the village brought him a silver vessel. Hudhaifa threw it away and said, “I have thrown it away because I told him not to use it, but he has not stopped using it. Then he narrated the following hadith:

“Do not wear silk or Dibaja, and do not drink in silver or golden vessels, and do not eat in plates of such metals, for such things are for the unbelievers in this worldly life and for us in the Hereafter. (Bukhari, At’imah, 44; Muslim, Libas, 4)

It is permissible to have golden and silver utensils, trays, etc. as ornaments. It is not prohibited to use household items, which are not made from pure gold and silver, but only veneered and decorated by them. Having gold teeth or a golden crown on a tooth is also acceptable as long as it is done for necessity not just for adornment. In fact, a companion named Arfaja b. As’ad had lost his nose during the Battle of Kilab before the advent of Islam and had a silver nose implanted. When the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) saw him, he advised Arfaja to have a gold nose. So he changed his nose with a gold one. (Abu Dawud, Hatam, 7; Tirmidhi, Libas, 31) It is because gold is healthier and does not make smell. Today if an implant is needed for the body, doctors usually choose gold and platinum ones.

[2] According to experts, scientists use substances in perfumes which attract opposite sex’s attention and do serious research in this regard. Researches about the effects of scents on the sense centers of brain are done and findings are used in cosmetics industry. Therefore believers should be very careful in this respect.

Source: An Excellent Exemplar, Osman Nuri Topbaş,  Erkam Publications

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