Nourishing Traditions, Prophetic Nutrition & Modern Foods

My first elimination diet of sorts was the Whole30 method. Even though I felt great for the most part while it lasted – except for the occasional and unusual tingling in my hands and feet possibly from oxalate overload from all that spinach – I can’t say it was a very successful endeavor because it fell apart after Day 17 (I attended an Iftar invitation and ate literally everything that was on the ”no” list in one evening), and once I cheated I couldn’t get back on the bandwagon. However, my terrible migraines and joint pain for the next few days left me with a lot of questions.

At this point, I didn’t know much about Prophetic nutrition (I still don’t) but I knew that Sayyidina Muhammad ﷺ liked and ate barley. So I decided that I was going to try some homemade barley flat breads without yeast for the next few days. My joint pain continued. I wanted to eat wheat bread again. Did he eat wheat? An article I found online said he did, but only occasionally. I couldn’t really verify. Another shaykh I respect said he never ate wheat. Possibly – perhaps barley was the staple food in their region at the time, and maybe Harissa, a dish that was suggested to the Prophet by Gabriel, was also prepared with barley grains rather than wheat grains. So why was my body responding with inflammation not just to wheat but also barley? Everything I bought was labeled organic. At least barley was a Prophetic food, and as far as I knew up until that point, I didn’t have any intolerance to grains, so what was the deal? I was mostly concerned with the grains at this point (I will get to milk in a bit) and I found many of the answers in Nourishing Traditions, as well as a little later in life through experience and other discoveries.

Nourishing Traditions Bookcover

I had bought the book Nourishing Traditions after hearing someone I admired mention it as a cherished book of theirs, but as you may know from personal experience, some things have to be learned at a particular time in life. So when I first bought this book, a while before trying out Whole30, it was overwhelming to me (maybe because I was adjusting to married life and a whole new country, trying to crochet multiple projects, trying to catch up with my herbal studies, educating myself about childbirth, and taking lots of naps with my cat all at once).

This was the right time to dig into the book. Parts of the book described what methods ancient traditions used to prepare as well as to preserve food and coincidentally or not, these methods also increased the bioavailability of the nutrients and made it easier on digestion. This made a lot of sense. With our fast-paced modern lifestyles, we were no longer preparing our foods in the same ways. I was excited to incorporate some of these teachings, especially soaking my grains including brown rice & oats for long periods of times before cooking in order to reduce the phytic acid content. Phytic acid is an anti-nutrient that inhibits the absorption of important nutrients. There is a misconception that whatever nutrients there are on a food label, our body actually absorbs in entirety. This is not true. A lot of that depends on the way the food is prepared, as well as your body (whether your microbiome is balanced as well as diverse.) A little off-topic, but much of our soils are depleted, not just from modern conventional agriculture that uses monocultures, poisons and synthetic fertilizers, but also from some organic farming as there is a lot more taking than giving back to the soil in the process of harvesting. Regenerative forms of agriculture on the other hand do not leave the soil depleted; regenerative agriculture enriches the soil (and mitigates climate change). This in turn yields produce that is of much higher nutritional content. In summary, not all e.g. tomatoes are created equal. (I highly recommend you watch the documentary Kiss the Ground on Netflix).

Fast forward, some other experiences after changing countries also taught me that not all wheat is the same. Nourishing Traditions does cover some older and superior wheat varieties, but I never gave it much thought until going off of wheat after having my second baby, and then wanting to re-introduce it. This re-introduction came after discovering einkorn which is the oldest type of wheat, and a re-emerging variety in Anatolia. I had tried cultivating a sourdough starter many years ago, before I even knew what sourdough was just because it sounded cool and it was supposed to be healthier, and gave up on it after my brother asked what that rotten sock smell was in the kitchen and I remembered that I had left it in a bowl on top of the fridge for way too long. Like I said, some things are better learned at the right time. I was ready to give it a second shot this time. I was thrilled watching the bubbles develop after each feeding every day, and my first sourdough einkorn bread was a delightful success. This bread was filling in small quantities, and did not cause bloating or any other digestive issues I experienced from other types of bread. My husband was also on the same page which made life a million times easier. Eventually I started incorporating other types of flour, but almost always heritage varieties, as well as barley and rye. And always sourdough.

Sourdough Einkorn & Barley

Around the same time, a friend of mine introduced me to the teachings of Aidin Salih, a pious Ukranian woman with a medical background who converted to Islam after studying Greco-Islamic Medicine. I can’t do her teachings justice in a few words but if I had to summarize it, her philosophy revolves around improving and protecting our health as well as our fitra (innate disposition) by choosing pure, nourishing foods and following sensible guidelines inspired from Prophetic and Qur’anic teachings. Despite the simplistic nature of her advice, it may seem very difficult to implement in our age, because of tainted food sources but mostly because of cultural beliefs and practices. Spending hours in the kitchen preparing a dish that has many steps and many ingredients is not prophetic in any sense and yet this is the case in most Muslim cultures.

To give a few examples, she advises that we should consume fruits before the main meal on an empty stomach as fruits are digested quicker than other foods such as grains and meats (very contradictory to the fruit platter that arrives right after dinner in a Turkish or Arab household). She also suggests that dairy and meats are not combined, very Kosher in practice, not obligatory in Islam but nevertheless a Sunnah. She suggests that different meats are also not combined, like chicken and lamb for example, as different foods require different enzymes, and this is burdensome on the digestion. She emphasized the importance of drinking living water. She is a strong advocate of frequent fasting, especially for those experiencing health issues. We have a fear that revolves around hunger. It seems contradictory to ‘starve’ an ailing person, but even recent findings or I prefer to call them re-discoveries are concluding the benefits of fasts on a body that needs a break from constantly digesting foods, and harmful inflammatory foods at that, in order to direct energy at healing. Unless you live alone most of the time or your entire family is on board, her advice is difficult to implement all the time. However, starting somewhere is better than nothing and I was very thankful to be introduced to her teachings. Sadly, she passed away several years ago. Nevertheless, her guidance continues to bear fruit and benefit many people.

O believers! Give from the good of what you have earned and of what We have produced for you from the earth. Do not pick out worthless things for donation, which you yourselves would only accept with closed eyes. And know that Allah is Self-Sufficient, Praiseworthy. (2:267)

I will never forget an experience I had many years ago. I attended a Mawlid event with a fundraiser, and there was a section of potluck dishes that were supposed to represent ‘foods that the Prophet liked’. With all due respect to everyone who contributed, no doubt with good intentions, nearly the entire table consisted of junk sugary products, because the Prophet liked ‘sweet foods’. It was disappointing as well as shocking to a degree. It made me wonder if these were truly fit to offer to the Prophet had he been amongst us. If I knew better then, I would have prepared something different, but my contribution to the potluck was couscous salad with dates and cucumbers. Initially I planned to prepare it with pearl barley but I was at a different event prior to the potluck, and cooking couscous was quicker than barley.

In cattle too, there is a lesson for you. We provide you from what lies in their bellies, between waste matter and blood, pure milk, palatable to those who drink it.

The Chapter of the Bee, 16:66

Amongst other foods that were liked by the Prophet is milk. Prior to deleting all of my social media, I came across a couple of accounts promoting in simple words the drinking of milk as a Sunnah and the benefits of milk. Going back to not all tomatoes (or wheat) being equal, similarly not all milk is equal, and not all cows are equal. There is a world of difference between the milk that comes from a heritage cow that happily grazes on green, living pasture and lives its life in a way that befits its innate nature with limited physiological and psychological stressors, and milk that comes from a hybrid cow that lives, or rather, tries to survive a torturous lifestyle under the oppression of human workers who treat them as a milk making machine, feeding them all sorts of garbage from GMO corn & soy to pesticide laden grains, pumping them with antibiotics and sometimes growth hormones. These cows never step a foot on grass. They live and die a sad life. Their milk is so lacking in nutrients that are otherwise found in real milk that it is then ‘enriched’ (just as refined wheat is) with synthetic vitamins. This milk doesn’t reach our tables in ways that befit prophetic conduct, it is not the milk the Prophet drank and it will not yield the same benefits, not physically nor spiritually. I could discuss honey as well, and why honey bought from conventional stores is best avoided as well as the large scale damage the honey industry is causing, but this will suffice for now.

Living in an urban area for the last few years with the convenience of grocery delivery, I asked my daughter not too long ago where the food came from, to which she responded ”Migros.” Initially I laughed, but then found it alarming. If you asked her a few more questions, she’d recall that food actually comes from seed and the soil, but it made me think of how our lifestyle made it very hard to experience that first hand. Our state as grown ups isn’t much different. We may be aware that milk comes from a mammal, but we should dig a little deeper when making decisions if we want to reap true benefit as well as cause the least amount of harm possible, to ourselves but also to animals and the earth, especially when we are claiming to follow in the footsteps of our Prophet ﷺ.

Reflections on Marriage

As my husband and I approach 7 years of marriage, I have been reflecting on some important lessons from our union. I also asked my husband a few nights ago what he has learned and what he values about our marriage. It’s nearly impossible to not mention the kids during our conversations, they are just a part of us now, but I am mainly going to stick to what concerns us two for this post.

A few years ago, I met an old friend for coffee. I can’t quite remember the exact question, but she asked me something on the lines of how to tell if someone is right for you. And I can’t quite remember my exact answer, but I remember not being content with it. I think I said something like… discussing some core expectations and values and see if they align. My husband and I did discuss core values and sort of what we pictured married life and raising kids to be like in the first couple of e-mails that we exchanged before moving onto phone calls, but that’s not the main way you can tell if someone is right for you. The truth is, no matter how certain you may think you are, marriage is a risk. There is even a possibility that if the marriage is wonderful the first few years, things can change at some point down the line and your paths may separate. There’s just no guarantee. You just have to make a mindful decision, and then pray for the best. So a few years later, I found myself still reflecting on what I would have answered this sister if instead, and here’s what I think (in addition to your world paradigm):

Gut feeling is important. If you have a healthy relationship with your parents and/or other family members, their gut feeling is important. How they treat you is important, but what is more important is how they treat others, so observation is key. A prospective spouse will most likely treat you well, at least at first, even if they are not genuine, but the way they treat others and especially their close kin will be a good window to their true nature. Asking some trustworthy community members, maybe some teachers, mutual friends or colleagues about their experience with the individual in question is a good consideration. You may think that you want someone who is God-fearing, and that them telling you they do their ‘rituals’, them dressing a certain way is a good way of knowing that but it is not. And if they use their supposed religiosity as a way to manipulate you, to make you feel like they are better than you, to make you question your self-worth, to make you feel bad about doing certain things while they get away with it (i.e. not for Allah’s pleasure but for themselves) or to act like you are already husband and wife before they even meet your family, you better turn around and run. Nip it in the bud.

My grandmother used to tell me that ‘akhlaaq’ (manners) comes before anything, and without manners, someone is not truly Muslim. That really stuck with me. I had the privilege of observing my husband before even meeting him, so I got a feel of some important behavioral habits he had (you might consider this a form of stalking but so be it!)

Of course we all have room for improvement, and to me life is an ongoing journey of becoming the best version of ourselves. So I am not saying that the individual in question will be perfect once you move in together if you feel that they may be the right person. However, some core manners and values, including being receptive to improvement will lay a strong foundation from which you can both grow together. I can see that both my husband and I have grown in many ways since we got married. We are not perfect, I don’t think we ever will be, but that’s OK because that’s not the point; we are perceptive of the ongoing journey. We value communication, and we practice self-evaluation. We have disagreements and we sometimes rub against each other in the wrong way, but we are mindful of respect, we are comfortable with apologizing if necessary, and we learned not to discuss anything until our minds have cooled down. Often when my mind is busy with something that is bothering me, or I am actually trying to pinpoint what it is that is bothering me, and my husband picks up on that, I affirm that I am indeed upset but I need some time before I can talk about it. He respects that, gives me space, and eventually we do talk about it.

Something that my husband stressed on for what marriage has taught him was that marriage, and having kids, changed his perception of the world and this life to a great extent. Having a wife and children made him recognize the value of family and connection. It also gave him an opportunity to see himself in a different light, that he would not have otherwise discovered had he not gotten married. This allows for further reflection and change.

I described to my husband that for me our union meant safety, not just physically but also spiritually. He told me that for him it was feeling supported. I also feel supported by my husband, and I am sure he would agree he feels safety through our marriage too, but with varying emphasis because of the nature of our relationship.

And of His signs is that He created from among yourselves mates that you may find tranquility in them; and He placed between you love and mercy. Indeed in this are signs for people who reflect. (30:21)

Life is often full of trials, from trivial every day things — requiring us to think twice before reacting — to much more significant events. I wouldn’t have wanted my marriage to be my main trial in life, but rather to be the safe haven from those trials and I believe that is what is intended for marriage by our Lord Most High. I am not trying to encourage divorce here before emphasizing on the importance of trying to sort things out with your spouse through healthy and honest dialogue and even therapy if there is some work that needs to be done (except for cases of abuse and manipulation which shouldn’t be tolerated) but divorce is halal in Islam for a reason. Sometimes couples just do not click, even if both sides are good people, and sometimes the issue at hand is more grand. Marriage should be a means of growth, elevation, comfort and serenity, not suffering, and you should be able to experience the pleasures of life together with your spouse. Alhamdulillah, I feel just that through my marriage that began with simplicity and with honesty, not just towards each other but towards Allah.

As a final note, this is by no means a message to my single brothers and sisters that to have any self-worth, growth or valid aim in life they must be married. I recognize this is a sensitive issue, especially because of cultural pressure on single people to get married (usually for the wrong reasons) so I don’t want to add salt to injury.

Actually, this reminds me of something that I want to add… one time my brother asked my mom if I ever regret marrying and having children so early, and my answer is: no, not at all. However, I do regret all the time I wasted before marriage. So all you singles out there, enjoy all the time and freedom you have, but be mindful of it!

Reflecting on the Creation

This was supposed to be my second post of a 30-day writing challenge, inspired from an e-mail I got from Discover Praxis. After deciding to commit myself to the challenge, my second day proved to me that it wasn’t a realistic goal – my little Fatima experienced colic which is unusual for us, wouldn’t sleep at her usual time and wanted to be held for a few hour until we went to bed together. I decided I could still commit to writing more frequently than I do, but just not every single day for the next 30 days, hoping to still reap the benefits of writing frequently. At least I’m grateful for the encouraging e-mail, so thank you Praxis.

Back in high school, nearly 8 years ago, one of my three A level classes was in Biology and my teacher had suggested a book called ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’ by Bill Bryson. I went ahead and ordered the book. I started reading it, or at least I must have because I found a bookmark at page one-hundred-and-something but I never finished it. A week ago, I was looking for a book in my mom’s library and I found this uncompleted book of mine. I decided to give it a go and I am really enjoying it to say the least. There was a section on supernovae (plural of supernova; a powerful and luminious stellar explosion) and the author was comparing the size of the closest supernova candidate in our galaxy to the size of our Sun (it takes a massive star, much larger than our Sun, to produce a supernova). I took a moment to absorb that, to fathom the overwhelming magnitude of what surrounds us and I literally felt my body quiver. We tend to think of the Milky Way as so wide and complex, yet we’re only a tiny part of an entire galaxy of solar systems which is also a small part of many other galaxies, and who knows what else beyond those.

© Photograph by Babak Tafreshi, Nat Geo Image Collection

While reading the chapter on the Cosmos, theories on how it came to be, what keeps entire bodies of planets and stars ‘hanging’ and allows them to move in an orderly manner, I kept recalling the verse from the Qur’an:

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The creation of the heavens and the earth is indeed greater than the creation of mankind, yet most of mankind know not. (40:57)

Islam is a religion that regards reflection as highly esteemed and encourages mankind to reflect on the creation in order to come to know God, the Creator of the Cosmos and everything within it and beyond it.

What I find even more interesting is that despite how tiny we are amidst all this enormous creation, there is still so much detail in our small world: the many different satisfying tastes of herbs and fruits that we sense with our tongue, the beautiful colours and scents of flowers, the cellular structures, the strong impact of our complex emotions, to name a very few.

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Those who remember Allah standing and sitting and lying on their sides and reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth: Our Lord! You have not created this in vain! Glory be to You; grant us salvation from the torment of the Fire. (3:191)

Fire Cider: Traditional Natural Remedy

Fire cider was initially a recipe shared by Rosemary Gladstar. Over the years fire cider became a generic term among the herbal community referring to spicy vinegars. A few weeks ago, I shared the traditional recipe in this blog post. Today I wanted to dedicate a post just for it. I know it’s nearly spring time and maybe a different topic was more befitting, but I’m sure there’s still some people out there who could be fighting off sinus infections and colds. Also fire cider is a remedy that stays for a long time, so you can have it made now and ready for winter time.

Fire cider is ideal to ward off colds, respiratory infections and thin out & expel excess mucus in the case of sinus congestion. It also boosts circulation in the body with a spicy kick. It’s taken by the dropperful or spoonful, depending on the person’s palette or the strength of the vinegar. If you experience gastrointestinal inflammation, heartburn and peptic ulcers, you might want to limit your intake or stay away from it.

The traditional base remedy includes ginger, garlic, onions, horseradish, jalapeño or cayenne, apple cider vinegar and raw honey which is added after the vinegar is ready and strained. In addition, you could add whatever herbs you like.

I added olive leaf and powdered turmeric in addition this time. Olive leaf and turmeric have immune boosting properties. Olive leaf is an antiviral. I like to use olive leaf in fire cider especially because I feel there is a sacredness to it in Islamic tradition. In a section of Dalail al-Khayrat, which is a book of litanies dedicated to the Prophet Muhammad, the author Imam al Jazuli pleads to God with ‘His name that is written on the olive leaf’. Likewise there’s mention of the olive both in the Qur’an and narrations of our master Muhammad. According to tradition, the three gifts that were presented to the newly born ‘Isaa (Jesus) were myrrh, frankincense and actually turmeric, rather than gold.

As was the case last time I made fire cider, I didn’t have horseradish in hand. I don’t think one can find that in Istanbul. Also instead of jalapeños I used hot red peppers in dried form. I did not de-seed them so I am a little worried about the level of heat! I threw the onion, garlic cloves and ginger in the blender instead of chopping them up by hand.

I added all the ingredients into the glass jar and added raw apple cider vinegar all the way to the top, covering all the ingredients. This needs to sit in a dark, cool place away from direct sunlight for 4-6 weeks. Don’t forget to label it with ingredients and date like I did 🙂 but I know I made this on February 26th as that’s when the pictures were taken on my phone so this needs about another week or two to go. Every now and then, give it a gentle shake. Once the infusion time is over, strain it using a cheesecloth. Add honey to the final product according to personal taste.