Islam is a complete system of guidance. If a Muslim follows the laws of Allah, as demonstrated by His Rasul sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, his 24 hours become worship even when he is engaged in mundane acts. One such act is eating. Not only Muslims, but deniers of Allah and even animals eat. The distinction is brought in following the directives of Divine guidance. Islam not only teaches us what we can eat in terms of Halal and Haram, but also teaches us method and quantity. Al-Allamah ash-Shami has discussed this matter in an extremely academic manner. An adapted version is presented for the benefit of people in general...
When is it compulsory to eat?
It is fard (compulsory) to eat to gain nutrition and to drink to quench one's thirst. It is also fard to cover one's private parts and to protect oneself from cold and heat. The obligation to eat remains even if one does not have permissible foods. Thus to save oneself from destruction one must then eat whatever is available, even if it be Haram such as carrion. Or the available food might be Halal in essence but legally unlawful for him when the lawful owner has refused permission. In such a case when he has fully exhausted all legal avenues of acquiring food and is on the verge of dying, he must forcibly acquire the food. This however does not absolve him from compensating the legal owner. This is established from the Hadith. Al- Bazariyah states that if one fear death by starvation and one's companion has food he should seize that amount which will save his life from hunger and pay him the market value. Similarly he should take that amount of drink which will save him from thirst. If the other refuses he may fight him without weapons. If the companion fears that he himself might die of hunger or thirst he should leave some for him.
If someone fears death due to thirst and has wine he must drink to the extent that his thirst will be quenched. He should only do this if he knows that the wine does in fact quench thirst. When forced to choose between wine and urine opt for the wine.
Human flesh is not allowed even in forced circumstances due to the nobility of humanity. Thus one should not accept a human organ when one's companion offers to amputate it for one's consumption.
In taking these measures of maintaining one's life, one is rewarded even when forced to eat Haram as discussed. Rasulullah sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam said, "Verily Allah Ta'ala recompenses everything, even the morsel His slave lifts to his mouth."
What minimum quantity is compulsory to eat?
It is compulsory to eat that amount which will prevent a human from losing his life. If one leaves food and drink resulting in death one is a sinner. Self- destruction is prohibited. The ruling of medication is different. If one abstains because one has no conviction that the medicine will help and then dies he is not a sinner.
In addition one must eat that amount which will enable one to fulfil one's obligations such as salah et al.
What is the maximum permissible quantity one may eat?
The permissible amount to eat is that which satiates and gives strength. In eating this amount one is neither rewarded nor punished. There is however a distinction between reckoning and punishment. One should bear in mind that when eating above the minimum obligatory amount one may be accountable on Judgement Day even if it is not a punishable sin. The Hadith states, "You will be accountable for everything except the robes to covers your private parts; bread to avert your hunger; shelter to protect you from heat and cold." Also, "Sufficient for the son of Adam are little morsels which straighten his back. He will not be blamed for subsistence eating."
What quantity is Haraam to eat?
It is Haram to eat after satiation. It is a waste of money and causes illness. The Hadith states, "The son of Adam does not fill any vessel worse than the stomach. If there is a necessity then a third is for food, a third for water and a third for air. The people who will be the longest punished are those who ate the most."
The same rule applies to drinking.
Some scholars have added further categories. It is mandub "Recommended" when one eats with the intention of gaining strength for optional worship, study and teaching. It is Makruh "Disliked" when one eats a little more than that which fills one. In doing so one does not feel humility and does not incline to worship.
Eating for pleasure and enjoyment
A Muslim should not intend mere pleasure and enjoyment when eating. Allah has condemned the unbelievers for their eating out of pleasure and enjoyment, "Those who disbelieve frolic in pleasures and eat like cattle eat. The fire is their abode."
Al-Bukhari, Muslim and others have narrated that Rasulullah sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam said, "A Muslim eats with one intestine. A non-Muslim eats with seven intestines."
"Seven," refers to exaggeration and excess. It is said that it is an analogy of Rasulullah sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam for a believer and his abstention; and an unbeliever and his greed. The believer thus eats to the extent of his need while an unbeliever eats lustfully and greedily, seeking pleasure. A little suffices the first; a lot is insufficient for the second.
As for the first aspect of extravagance Allah says, "Do not be extravagant."
An exception (to eating after satiation) is if one intends to gain strength for the coming day's fast or wishes to avoid embarrassing one's guest or some similar reason. This exception obviously applies to the above interpretation (of eating more than a third). Overeating to the extent of damaging one's intestines or sickening oneself cannot be permissible.
Al-Qahstani says that not embarrassing the guest refers to having eaten to his need and then a guest arrives.
What is the minimum one may eat?
It is not permissible to undertake an exercise of such minimal food which weakens him from the fulfilment of compulsory 'ibaadah (worship). Included in this restriction is that the compulsory 'ibadah must be fulfilled in its complete form e.g. Salah whilst standing. If it does not weaken him it is permissible to subsist on the minimal diet.
What is the ruling of dessert?
There is no sin in eating different types of fruit/dessert. However, to leave it is better. Indulgence in luxuries is detrimental to one's spiritual station. This is alluded to in what Allah says, "You have received your pleasures in your worldly life already." Extras should rather be given in charity to increase good deeds.
What is the ruling of eating several dishes at one sitting?
To have different dishes at a single meal is extravagance. To place unnecessary amounts of bread on the table is also extravagance. The exception is if one he intends gaining strength for worship or to entertain guests.
What are the Sunnahs of eating?
The Sunnah of eating is to recite, "Bismillah," in the beginning and praise Allah in the end. If one forgets one should recite, "Bismillahi 'ala awwalihi wa akhirihi." He should recite, "Bismillah," aloud to remind his companions. He should not say, "alhamdulillah…" aloud until they too have completed eating. This is to avoid embarrassing them that they are still eating. "Bismillah," must only be recited if the food is Halal. When forced to eat Haram one does not recite Bismillah. "Alhamdulillah," must be recited under all circumstances.
The hands should be washed before and after eating. Washing before eating prevents poverty. Do not wipe the hands on the cloth so that the effect of washing remains. Washing after eating removes insanity. The cloth may be used to remove the remaining food. It has been narrated that blessings of food is in the remainder. There is however no harm in removing the little from the hand.
Rinsing the mouth is not Sunnah like the washing of the hands. It is however Makruh for a Junubi (one who is required to take a compulsory bath) to eat before rinsing. The case of a menstruating woman is different. It is not Makruh for her to eat before rinsing her mouth.
Youngsters should begin washing hands before eating and elders should begin after eating. Youngsters eat more and elders less. The Hadith states, "He who does not honour our elders is not of us." Letting them wash first is honouring them.
It is Makruh to put the salt container or bowls on top of bread or to wipe one's hands or knife with bread. Bread should not be left lying on the dining cloth. There is no harm in eating and leaning or eating bare headed. However, Rasulullah sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam did not lean and eat.
It is wasteful to only eat the centre and leave the crusts or to only eat fluffy parts unless someone else is going to eat the leftovers then there is no problem. This would then be the same as eating a roll and leaving another.
Included in the honour of bread is not to wait for the curry when the bread is already present. A morsel which falls from the hand should not be abandoned. That is waste. Rather it should be eaten first.
Part of the Sunnah is not to eat from the centre of the dish because blessings descend on the centre. If the food is of one kind one must eat from one place. If there is a variety (e.g. fruits) in a single dish one may eat from the various places. All these are established from narrations.
Another Sunnah is to stretch the left leg and raise the right. The food must not be hot and one must not blow in it. It is also said that it is not Makruh to blow into food except if a sound accompanies the blowing.
It is disliked to remain silent while eating for that is the way of Fire- Worshippers. Speech should however be on good matters.
Rasulullah sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam said, "When one licks the dish clean after eating from it the dish prays - may Allah free you from the Fire just as you freed me from Shaytan." Another narration states, "The dish seeks forgiveness for him."
Another Sunnah is to begin and end with eating salt. In fact therein is a cure for seventy diseases. The plate and fingers should be licked before wiping them with cloth.
[Reference :Raddul Muhtar: Book of Restrictions and Allowances: pp338-41: al-Imam Muhammad Amin bin 'Abidin ash-Shami, commentary of Ad-Darr al-Mukhtar]