Causes of illness

There are two types of causes, direct and indirect.  Indirect causes of illnesses may be part of the reason, or part of a mechanism in which a disease may be caused.  On its own, a disease may not result, except after the completion of other incomplete causes put together to make the combination of causes complete to result in a disease.

Like fire, not only is fuel and a flame required to trigger the combustion, but oxygen is also required, as is the absence of a deterrent which stops a fire from starting despite all other elements being present. Likewise, an indirect cause of disease needs a combination of events to occur for a disease to result.

Direct causes, on the other hand, are not dependent on other events to occur, but can rather be the cause of the illness without any other intervention, presence, or absence of deterrent.  The first one, is food!  In in today’s “all-you-can-eat, feed you family for less than $10 and foods that are packaged to be cheaper than the natural, healthy alternative, the issue of food is no easy task to tackle.

To start of this conversation, the Sheikh Tabrizian starts with the overconsumption of food.

Part 1 –  Overeating a Direct Cause

Excessive consumption of food is listed as the first item in the potential causes of diseases in Sheikh Tabrizian’s book, Volume 2.

Israaf, the Arabic term for extravagant or over the top, means to literally go over the intended limit.  So with regards to eating, Israaf is the over consumption of food over and above that which was intended.   Other definitions go to say that it means

  • To put something where it does not belong;
  • Exceeding the limits;
  • Exceeding the needs for its purpose;
  • Exceeding the level of equilibrium, or moderation;
  • Eating beyond when one feels full;
  • To move from what is halal (for example in consuming food) to what is haram (the point at which you are overconsuming);
  • To move from what is beneficial (eating to sustain life) to what is harmful (beyond sustenance of life).

While all these are beneficial to know and understand, its application is difficult.  For example, what is the limit in which something becomes harmful or moves to being forbidden?

Flamboyantly eating must be avoided and is first principle that must be adhered to.  Overeating is the cause of illnesses, and Allahﷻ has provided us with this guidance eloquently in the Holy Qur’an in the following Ayah:

وَكُلُوا وَاشْرَبُوا وَلَا تُسْرِفُوا إِنَّهُ لَا يُحِبُّ الْمُسْرِفِينَ

and eat and drink and be not extravagant; surely He does not love the extravagant.  (7:31)

Ignoring this basic and fundamental principle is one of the direct causes of illness. Extravagant eating or eating in excess, termed Israf in the Ayah above, has been explained in different forms and means by scholars,  a quote by the Prophet], however makes it clear for us that

Certainly, ‘Israaf’ is to eat everything that one desires
(Aldar-al-Mansoor 80:3, Sunan Ibn-e-Maaja 1112:2 H 3352, Sharh Nehj-ul-Balagha 188:19)

This stands true for both quantity quality of food. One must not eat beyond his/her appetite. One must carefully consider the type of food and its benefits and harms for the person. Imam Sadiq A.S says:

Something which is beneficial for the body is not ‘israaf’. ‘Israaf’ actually is corruption and wasting the resources and the thing which is harmful for the body.
(Al-Kaafi 54:4, W J 499:6 H 14)

This is very close to the meaning which many commentators on the Holy Qur’an have given. It can be said that something which is useful for the person, even if its price is high, cannot be taken as ‘israaf’

Someone asked Imam Sadiq A.S about using things such as honey and olive oil for massage. He asked that if it is ‘israaf’? Imam Sadiq A.S replied that

If it is beneficial for your body than it’s not ‘israaf’ even if it is expensive.

Israaf’ is using something which is harmful for your body even if it is cheap. This meaning is much deeper than the meaning other definitions. The Prophet] says

One must leave the stomach such that 1/3rd be for food, 1/3rd for drinks and another 1/3rd for breathing.
(Aldar-al-Mansoor 80:3)

This narration very well explains what actually ‘israaf’ means. If someone fills his stomach beyond a third of its capacity, this is considered over eating. Of course, the third is an estimation and proportional to each individual.

Imam Ali A.S taught Imam Hussain A.S principles after which promised one will never need medicine, they are:

Do not sit to eat until you are hungry.
Stop eating when you still have some appetite
And chew the food properly….
(Tibb Al-Aeema al-Ibn Saboor Ziarat: 3, AlKhisaal 228 H 67, Wasael 245:24 H 30451)

This narration gives the practical application as to how to avoid extravagant eating.

The application of this applies to both food and water.  Over consumption of water is detrimental as is its under consumption.  It is therefore farfetched to claim that everyone should be drinking eight cups of water daily, a long standing “medical” advice given by some.


  • Do not eat unless you are hungry.
  • Stop before you are full, desiring more.
  • Take your time, chew the food properly.
  • Do not eat everything that you desire, see, or are offered. Exercise restraint.
  • Consume what is good for you (natural fruits, vegetables etc).
  • Avoid what is not good for you (for example packaged food, manufactured foods, sausages, soft drinks etc).
  • Understand the “Stomach is the house of illness” – The Prophet], be aware of what goes in it, and how much of it.


ما من شئ أبغض إلى الله عز وجل من بطن مملوء

“There is nothing more despised to Allahﷻ than a full stomach”

Imam Mohammad Baqir A.S.
Al Kafi 6:270

Sourced: Medicine of the Divinely Guided – Farsi -1:59-61 and Study of The Medicine of The Prophet Al-Mustafaﷺ – Arabic 1:183-196