Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Stressing the point

Many of us have just finished celebrating Caffeine Appreciation Week, otherwise known as finals week. It's the week when our friends find us drooling on top of textbooks at the library and Grey and his anatomy are no longer a priority. It's a unique experience for every student, but the one word that can most accurately sum up this week of macchiato-powered nights is stress. A stress is any physical, psychological, or emotional force that impinges on a person. Although we generally take it to be a bad thing, some stress can be positive- like the kind that keeps our body alert and prepared for danger. Stress becomes harmful when our lives turn into an endless series of challenges from which we have no relief and this is often the case for many of us in college. But students are not the only ones under this tension. In fact, most adults are under more stress more often because of their routine jobs and responsibilities. This type of stress and its persistence is becoming an increasing medical concern for our generation.

Stress is like the gateway drug of illnesses. It is the #1 killer today because it increases susceptibility to life-threatening disorders such as heart disease, high blood pressure, eating disorders, and diabetes. In fact, 90% of all primary care visits today are related to stress-linked complaints or illness. The most prevalent causes of stress are fear and lack of control. Uncertainty of what's going to happen and the inability to do something about it often drives people to become restless and uneasy, going so far as to cause severe emotional and behavioral disorders. However, this type of fear is not rational.

It is true that we must do our part in working towards what we want, but, as humans, we only have so much control over the situations in our lives. According to the teachings of the Qur'an, Muslims are encouraged to do everything they can to the best of their abilities and to then put their faith and trust in Allah to take care of the rest. Muslims ask Allah 17 times a day in prayer for this type of help.

"it is only You that we worship and only Your help do we seek."(1:4)

Although it doesn't come across in English, the Arabic word translated as "help" implies that the person asking for help has already taken substantial action towards the final goal and is now looking to Allah to help him/her complete the task. When faced with problems in our fast-paced, modern lives we often mistake our powerlessness for failure. We forget that we do not control all the variables of the world. While no one is immune to stress, some are better able to handle it than others. Remembering that Allah is in complete control gives us the strength to remain patient in the face of difficulty and protect ourselves from the negative effects of stress that can put our lives in jeopardy.*

I repeatedly find that people facing hardships will say that God hates them. But these afflictions that we must often endure are tests of our patience and expiation of our sins. Allah says in the Qur'an:

"Be sure We will test you with something of fear and hunger, some loss in goods or lives, but give glad tidings to those who are steadfast, who say when afflicted with calamity: To Allah we belong and to Him is our return. They are those on whom blessings descend from Allah and mercy and they are the ones that receive guidance." (2:155-157)

Allah blesses those who remain faithful to Him even when they have lost so much. Medical studies show that observant Muslims are less likely to develop stress-related heart conditions because of their consistency in praying and fasting. It is easy to forget Allah when we are stressed out and panicked, but it is in these times that we should remember Him most. Whether things go the way we hope or not, everything happens according to Allah's plan and only He knows what is best for us. Islam's comprehensive way of living is the prescription for a stress-free life.

*The Holy Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) explained "The affair of the believer is amazing. The whole of his life is beneficial, and that is only in the case of the believer. When good times come to him, he is thankful and it is good for him, and when bad times befall him, he is patient and it is also good for him." [Saheeh Muslim]

Friday, December 4, 2009

No Pork on My Fork

Over the past few days, I've had a number of pork-related conversations. It is amazing to me that pork is such a respected delicacy here is the U.S. I mean, you would think that one of the leading countries in the field of health and medicine would have been convinced about this issue by now. But instead, we hear people talking about how they just can't wait to dig into their Christmas ham. Subhan'Allah.

Islam irrefutably prohibits the consumption of pork. Verse 6:145 of the Qur'an states:

Say, "I do not find in the revelations given to me any food that is prohibited for any eater except carrion, running blood, the meat of pigs, for it is contaminated, or what is impious (meat) on which a name has been invoked other than Allah's." If one is forced (to eat these), without being deliberate or malicious, then your Lord is Forgiver, Most Merciful.

Muslims don't eat pork because it has been forbidden by Allah. But why would Allah forbid it? He tells us- "it is contaminated." Countless scientific and health studies show that eating pork provides almost no health benefits and causes an assortment of unwarranted destruction on the body. Fortunately, there are some people who have picked up on this, refraining from pork altogether. Unfortunately, the majority of people have not.

Pigs are in a category by themselves. For one, their digestive systems are much different from that of any other animal. They are gluttonous, omnivorous creatures who eat anything and everything and because of this, the sheer volume of food that they consume ends up diluting the acid in their stomachs. As a result, their stomachs are no longer protective organs against contaminants. Parasites, bacteria, viruses, and toxins are permitted to pass through, into their fat, and onto that plate in the center of the dinner table.

One of the most common parasites found in pig meat is trichinella, the worm that cause trichinosis*. How does the pig get it? By eating the waste products of other animals (I wasn't kidding when I said they eat anything). Raising a pig in captivity doesn't prevent it from being able to eat its buddy's feces. These toxins remain in the pig's fat (a.k.a. - lard) which is ironically what billions of people pay good money for every day.

In addition to all of this, pork has been found to be linked with cirrhosis (liver degeneration). Chances are that most people who eat pork to begin with aren't keeping their alcohol consumption down (Islam also prohibits alcohol, but that's a WHOLE other post). Cirrhosis occurs when your healthy liver tissue is replaced by excess collagen and scar tissue and thus effectively prevents your liver from being able to perform at its best. This condition is usually irreversible and its treatment aims only at preventing further damage from occurring. In its critical stages, the only option is a liver transplant. Having a glass of wine with your pork chop will only make your liver beg for mercy.

Pork is basically pure fat. It's the last thing you need to be eating, especially in a country like the U.S. where 63% of us are overweight and 31% of us are obese. If you want to be around to watch your grandchildren and great-grandchildren grow up you need to get the pork off your fork.

Joel Olsteen gave a sermon about the prohibition of pork in the Bible. It's a three and a half minute video that I think is worth watching.

*Trichinosis is a disease in which cysts burst open inside the intestines and grow into adult roundworms. The roundworms give rise to other worms that are able to move through the intestines and into the bloodstream. They tend to invade muscle tissues, including the heart and diaphragm and can also affect the lungs and brain.