Report: Muslim countries among world’s most obese

Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Ummah Sports aims not only to feature Muslim athletes, but also to bring attention to health and fitness in the Muslim community. That goes beyond covering the brothers and sisters who are the most healthy and most fit among us.

Earlier this week, MSN.com posted an item ranking the world’s most obese countries. Having grown up in the United States and witnessing this country’s collective predilection for overindulgence in everything from food to entertainment, I admittedly assumed the U.S. would be No. 1 on the obesity list. I was surprised to see the list was instead topped by Kuwait, and was pretty much dominated by Muslim-majority countries.

These are top 10 most obese countries, according to the Global Food Security Index:

1. Kuwait (approx. 95 percent Muslim)
2. Saudi Arabia (95 percent)
3. Egypt (90 percent)
4. Jordan (95 percent)
5. United Arab Emirates (75 percent)
6. South Africa
7. Mexico
8. United States of America
9. Syria (85 percent)
10. Venezuela

No matter how you slice that pie, it appears the Islamic ummah may have a weight problem.

But how is that possible? Muslims are not (supposed to be) participating in America’s current obsession with bacon, let alone eating any fatty pork products. Many Muslim-majority countries are in hot climates where it’s easier to sweat off excess weight. For one month each year, many of the world’s one-point-something billion Muslims refrain from eating or drinking anything during daylight hours. Halal meat is better for a human being’s health than non-halal meat.

So what’s up with all of this obesity in the Muslim world?

According to the MSN piece, some of it has to do with booming economies in some Muslim-majority countries, resulting in overindulgence and increased consumerism. And some of it has to do with lifestyles centered around culture norms that are often — sometimes accurately, sometimes mistakenly — tied in to religious life.

“The conservative Saudi culture tends away from physical activity for women,” is one example given, “leading to health problems among 37 percent of the country’s female population.”

In Jordan, as another example, obesity affects twice as many women as men.

Quality of food is also a factor. In Egypt, the junk food game sounds like the drug game according to the MSN piece. “The abundance of junk food is so great that it’s even being smuggled over the border into the Gaza Strip,” it says of the third-ranked obese nation.

When I converted to Islam in the summer of 2013 and started regularly praying at a mosque, I quickly realized that I needed to get in better shape. I noticed that I couldn’t bow down in sujood and pop up as nimbly as some other brothers. At Friday jummah, I started making sure to arrive early so I could sit against a wall — otherwise I’d be in for a half-hour or more of constantly shifting my weight to compensate for the lack of core strength and flexibility required to sit comfortably on the floor and give full attention to the khutbah. And the reason why I try to arrive early is that I’m one of many brothers angling for seats against a wall.

In other words, I learned soon after becoming a Muslim that being in better shape would make me a better Muslim.

In a 2008 article titled “Health in Islam” posted on islamreligion.com, author Aisha Stacey writes:

Believers in Islam must take care of their spiritual, emotional and physical health. Our bodies, the most complex of machines, are given to us by God as a trust. They should not be abused or neglected but maintained in good order. As previously discussed, diet and nutrition play a big part in maintaining the best possible health, so does a lifestyle incorporating exercise. Islam lays emphasis on a simple diet combined with physical exercise.

Fulfilling the obligations of three of the five pillars of Islam requires that Muslims be of sound health and fitness. The daily performance of five prayers is in itself a form of exercise, its prescribed movements involve all the muscles and joints of the body, and concentration in prayer relieves mental stress. Good health is necessary if one intends to fast the month of Ramadan and the performance of the Hajj (or pilgrimage to Mecca) is an arduous task that requires many days of hard physical effort.

Any Muslim can tell you that the Quran and the sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) are life’s instruction books for all mankind, and included in the many lessons are recommendations for diet and health.

“A lot of things in Islam tie into a healthy and athletic lifestyle,” says Abraham Kromah, a linebacker in the Canadian Football League. “If you’re an athlete and you want to live a clean lifestyle with a healthy body, healthy mind and healthy spirit, Islam more than covers it. Every detail you want to know you can find in the hadiths and the Quran. They tell you what you should and should not eat, what the body rejects and what it needs for nourishment.”

And when it comes to eating and working out, moderation is key. From Stacey’s “Health in Islam” article:

Exercise and fitness play an integral part in the life of a Muslim, however it should not come at the expense of religious obligations, nor should it infringe upon the time spent with family members. In accordance with the holistic approach to life, which is Islam, every thing must be done in moderation. There is no allowance for extreme or fanatical behaviour. Letting an exercise regime or a sport take over your life is against the teachings of Islam that call for a middle path and a balanced approach. Exercise and fitness should also not involve unnecessary mixing of the sexes or wearing clothing that exposes the parts of the body that should be kept hidden.

Despite these teachings, the statistics cited in the MSN piece indicate that obesity is still a growing problem in the Muslim community.

Does it mean that those Muslims who are obese or in danger of becoming obese are bad Muslims? No. But it does reiterate the fact that the people who follow a religion should not be held up as perfect representations of that religion. Islam has it right when it comes to diet, health and fitness, even if a lot of Muslims aren’t getting it right.

Fortunately, Alhamdulillah, Allah (SWT) is the Most Forgiving and Most Merciful, and He has shown us the path to gaining and maintaining our physical and spiritual health and well-being.

Categories: HEALTH & FITNESS

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