Heavenly Honey: Understanding the Muslim Love of Honey
As Muslims enter the Holy Month of Ramadan, food receives more attention than any other time of year, and our love of honey blossoms generously. However, recent attention by the U.S. White House to declining pollinator populations indicate the natural supply of both honey and crops is endangered. This is alarming news for everyone, especially honey-loving Muslims.
With Ramadan coinciding lately with long, hot days of summer, fasting all day naturally tends to increase our interest in mouth-watering meals and honey-drenched desserts. Muslims understand honey is one of the heavenly foods served in Paradise. Also, “The Bee,” a book of the Quran, reveals that God provides healing to humans who consume bee honey. This is great encouragement to the inner pastry chef inside every Muslim cook, and an excellent excuse to every over-indulger of delicious Middle Eastern pastries. If honey bees are endangered, we need to say some prayers!
The Prophet’s Ramadan Sermon
The Prophet Muhammad (God’s Peace and Blessings be upon him) gave a sermon on the evening before the Holy Month of Ramadan, guiding the actions of Muslims:
…This is a month in which you have been invited by Him (to fast and pray).
Allah has honoured you in it.
In every breath you take is a reward of Allah, your sleep is worship,
your good deeds are accepted and your invocations are answered.
Therefore, you must invoke your Lord in all earnestness with hearts free from sin and evil,
and pray that Allah may help you to keep your fast, and to recite the Holy Qur’an…”
“…While fasting, remember the hunger and thirst (many will suffer) on Judgement Day…”
If anyone amongst you arranges for iftar (meal at sunset) for any believer,
Allah will reward him as if he had freed a slave, and Allah will forgive him his sins.”
A companion responded, “but not all of us have the means to do so.”
The Prophet replied,
“Keep yourself away from Hell-fire though it may consist of half a date or even some water if you have nothing else…”
Following this instruction, Muslims generously provide huge family dinners in their homes to break their fasts. And in every mosque around the world, every evening in Ramadan, donated food is delivered by Believers striving for blessings promised for feeding people who fasted all day. Huge feasts are spread on every table, with dishes of every delicious variety, and no end to delicious, honey-drenched desserts.
Honey in the Holy Quran
Honey is a natural crowd pleaser, perfect for dessert tables of crowded feasters. It satisfies our sweet tooth while promoting good health and healing all at the same time. The Holy Quran reveals:
“And the Lord inspired the bee, saying:
‘Take your habitations in the mountains
And in the trees and in what they (humans) construct.
Then, eat of all fruits and follow the ways
Of your Lord made easy (for you).’
There comes forth from their bellies a drink of
Varying colors wherein is healing for mankind.
Verily in this is indeed a sign for people who think.”
The Healthful Attributes of Honey
Honey is high in vitamins and minerals, consisting of carbohydrates, protein, yeast, and amino acids. Also present are polyphenols, antioxidants which cleanse the body of free radicals contributing to cancer and heart disease. They improve blood circulation and increase oxygen to organs, including the brain. The level of antioxidants in honey is similar to spinach, broccoli, strawberries, and apples.
Honey never spoils. All living organisms need water to survive, but honey’s low water content prevents organisms like yeast and bacteria from multiplying. However, enough bacteria may survive to make honey dangerous for infants. Children under the age of one should not be given honey, due to the threat of infant botulism. By two years of age, children’s digestive systems have matured, and they are no longer at risk from consuming honey.
Muhammad: “Make Use of the Two Remedies: Honey and the Quran.”
What Islam has been preaching for over 1,400 years, modern medicine has only recently proven. Studies show that honey offers antiseptic, antibacterial, antifungal, and antioxidant properties for our health.
Honey coats the throat, reducing irritation and blocking growth of oral bacteria. The glucose contained in honey is absorbed quickly, giving an immediate energy boost, while the fructose content is absorbed more slowly, providing sustained energy. This action keeps blood sugar levels fairly constant compared to other types of sugar or glucose-rich carbohydrates, making honey useful as a sweetener for Type 2 diabetics. Honey also helps the liver break down toxins and is used for treating indigestion, stomach ulcers, and gastroenteritis.
Because of its antimicrobial activity, researchers find that honey is an effective therapy when applied externally to various wounds, even postoperative wounds, infections, and burns. Its antibacterial properties assist in healing tissue and preventing infection, and its anti-inflammatory properties reduce swelling and pain. In documented cases, honey outperformed conventional ointments and dressings, including on severely infected burns and wounds not healing under standard antibiotic treatment.
A Closer Look at the Color of Honey
Taken straight from the hive, comb honey is called raw. Commercial beekeepers press this honey from the comb and filter it, removing particles like pollen grains, bits of wax, and sugar crystals. Fine textured crystals of glucose occur naturally in raw honey, especially at cold temperatures. Placing a container of crystallized honey in hot water for 15 minutes will help it return to liquid. For health purposes, raw honey is preferable because canned honey is pasteurized and pressurized, destroying vitamins and minerals in the process.
The color of honey is graded into “light,” “amber,” and “dark” categories, with the darker varieties having more medicinal value. Honey collected from the nectar of various wildflowers are typically lighter, with milder flavors. Honey collected from the nectar of flowering buckwheat grain is darkest, with a rich, strong flavor.
Pollen + Pollinator = Pollination
Revolving around the inside of flowers in the quest to lick every drop of nectar, grains of flower pollen stick to the bodies of bees. This facilitates the process of pollination, the natural fertilizing of a flower’s reproductive system with pollen arriving on the bee’s body. Without this critical symbiosis between pollen and pollinator, the natural supply of both honey and crops is endangered.
Current Challenges To Bee Colonies Require Serious Solutions
On June 20, 2014, U.S. President Barack Obama’s Administration released a fact sheet entitled, “The Economic Challenge Posed by Declining Pollinator Populations”, which includes the following:
“. . . The number of managed honey bee colonies in the United States has declined steadily over the past 60 years, from 6 million colonies (beehives) in 1947 to 4 million in 1970, 3 million in 1990, and just 2.5 million today. Given the heavy dependence of certain crops on commercial pollination, reduced honey bee populations pose a real threat to domestic agriculture . . .
. . . Contributing to these high loss rates is a phenomenon called colony collapse disorder (CCD), in which there is a rapid, unexpected, and catastrophic loss of bees in a hive. Beekeepers in the United States have collectively lost an estimated 10 million beehives at an approximate current value of $200 each . . .
. . . Some of the viral agents that are impacting honey bee colonies are also now reported to be adversely affecting native pollinators, such as bumble bees . . .”
U.S. White House Administrative Actions
Recommendations in President Obama’s 2015 budget include increasing research funds and doubling the acreage in the Conservation Reserve Program dedicated to pollinator health. Also, in response to the challenges facing commercial beekeepers, President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum on “Creating a Federal Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators,” addressing declining pollinator populations by instituting important steps, including:
“. . . Directing the Federal Government to use research, land management, education, and public/private partnership capacities to broadly advance honey bee and other pollinator health and habitat;
. . . Establishing a new Pollinator Health Task Force, co-chaired by United States Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency, to develop a National Pollinator Health Strategy.
. . . A coordinated research action plan to understand, prevent, and recover from pollinator losses, including determining the relative impacts of habitat loss, pesticide exposure, and other stressors . . .”
Certainly the time has come for an international rally in support of globally declining pollinator populations. If all nations adopt similar strategies to protect the endangered lives of pollinators, this critical situation might easily be remedied.
Islam Prohibits the Killing of Bees
With all the incredible advantages that Muslims recognize in honey, it is not surprising that Islam prohibits the killing of bees. The Prophet Muhammad declared that Muslims like the bees and use their honey for medicine. He prohibited Muslims from killing bees due to their benefit in medicine, nutrition, and agriculture.
Especially in the generous and holy month of Ramadan, the Muslim love of the honey bee is visible in every home and every mosque, every night after breaking fast in huge, happy communal feasts. During this blessed month of answered invocations, we must all include a request for healthy bees among our prayers. Among feasting Muslims, the love of honey sticking to the fingers and cheeks of elders and youngsters alike spreads with an infectious laughter that only a big mouthful of honey-drenched dessert can control!
A Taste Of Things To Come
The Prophet Muhammad declared:
“Honey is a remedy for all ailments, but cannot prevent aging or death.”
Death is the only door to Paradise, however, and God Almighty offers honey, among other delights, to those fortunate souls who enter:
(Here is) a Parable of the Garden which the righteous are promised:
In it are rivers of water incorruptible;
Rivers of milk of which the taste never changes;
Rivers of wine, a joy to those who drink;
And rivers of honey pure and clear.
In it there are for them all kinds of fruits;
And Grace from their Lord.
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