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`Ali’s food habits too were very moderate and frugal

`Ali’s food habits too were very moderate and frugal. Generally, he took bread made out of unsieved barley flour and a sweet beverage prepared from parched barley meal. The accompaniment for the bread generally was a little salt; sometimes he took a little vinegar, and sometimes, green vegetables and at times milk. He ate very little meat. Ibn Abil-Hadid says:

“If he used anything with the bread, it used to be the salt or vinegar. Sometimes he ate greens. He rarely took camel’s milk with his food. He seldom ate meat and used to say that people should not make their tummies the Grave yard of animals!”

Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s) says that `Ali (a.s) served meat and bread to his guests and he himself ate his bread with vinegar or olive oil.

He used to keep bread and Sattu in a sealed bag. Someone said that he was living in Iraq, a land of plenty, and what was the need to seal his supply of food? The Imam (a.s) replied that he did not seal his stock of food for the reason of scarcity and the real reason was:

“I do not like to fill my tummy with a thing I do not know about!”[1]

`Amr Harith says that once at noon time he had the privilege of visiting the Imam (a.s). He saw a sealed bag was placed in front of him. He took out a dried piece of bread from it, soaked in water, sprinkled a little salt over it and ate. Seeing the dry pieces of bread `Amr asked Fiddah at least she should sieve the flour and remove the chaff before kneading it for making the bread. Fiddah said that once she sieved the flour and the Imam (a.s) asked her not to do it again. Once she had put in the bag other eatables besides the dry bread, the Imam (a.s) started sealing the bag to avoid anyone putting other things in the bag.

`Adi ibn Hatam says that once he saw dry pieces of barley bread, salt and a pitcher of water in front of `Ali (a.s), He said:

[1] Al-Kāmil fit-Tārīkh

“You are busy with jihad during the days and occupied with prayers in the nights. Is the food you are taking sufficient for your nutritive maintenance?”

The Imam (a.s) looked at `Adi and said, “The psyche has to be trained for Mystic Exercise that it does not become rebellious.” Then he recited the following couplet:

Make your psyche accustomed to contentment otherwise, it will have excessive desires![1]

Suwayd ibn Ghaflah says that he went to the Imam (a.s) and saw that he had a bowl of sour yogurt in front of him and barley bread in his hand, which had flakes of barley chaff all over. He was breaking the bread, sometimes with his hand and others by putting it on his knee. Once he went to greet the Imam on `Id. He saw that `Ali (a.s) had bread and Khatifah. Suwayd asked the Imam (a.s), “Even on a festive occasion you eat such frugal food?” The Imam (a.s) replied,

“`Id is for those whom Allah has pardoned!”[2]

The Imam (a.s) never ate two types of food at one time. If, at any time, various dishes were placed in front of him, he would mix and make them one. Therefore, at the time of a festival, several dishes were placed before him. He mixed portions of the different foods and made it one. Once he got food that had meat in it but not any oil. Someone suggested if some oil could be added to it. The Imam (a.s) replied,

“We do not eat two things at one time!”[3]

The Imam (a.s) always ensured this. During his last days, once his daughter Ummu-Kulthūm placed barley bread, salt and milk in front of him. He asked her to take away the bowl of milk and ate the bread with salt.

In emulation of the Prophet (a.s), he abstained from things that Muhammad (a.s) avoided eating. Therefore, `Adi ibn Thabit says that once `Ali (a.s) was served a drink prepared from sieved flummery. He refused to take it; and said:

“A thing that the Prophet (a.s) has not taken, I do not like to take!”

[1] Manāqib ibn Shahrāshūb

[2] An Arab food that is prepared by boiling flour in milk.

[3] Kifāyat al-Tālib

While `Ali (a.s) avoided eating delicacies, never ate even the frugal fare to the fill. Ibn Abil-Hadid writes:

“He never ate to satiation of the appetite”[1]

While Amir al-Mu’minin (a.s) emulated the Prophet (a.s) in other matters, he was meticulous in following his food habits as well. He took care of the minutest details of seating at the meals, the way of taking the morsels and the style of eating. Imam Ja`far al-Sadiq (a.s) says:

Amir al-Mu’minin (a.s) was much like the Prophet (a.s) in his food habits and style of eating.”

He used to wash his hands before and after eating. He used to say that hands became clean of oily deposit if they were washed. And the eyes become bright He used to sit on his knees with folded legs. He disapproved of putting one leg over the other and sitting cross-legged. He used to say bismillahi before starting to take food. He also said that if someone missed reciting this before starting to eat, he could do so in the midst of the meal as well. He used to commence the meal with a little salt. He used to wait for the food to cool down if it was served hot. He used all the five fingers of the right hand for eating. He always picked his morsel from the front instead of taking the hand to different sides of the platter. He never picked up Tharid (the pieces of bread soaked in gravy) from the center of the service and always took his share from the periphery. Of all the beverages, he preferred water and particularly the rainwater. He said that the rainwater wards away diseases and cleansed the digestive system. Instead of throwing away the crumbs of bread from the spread, he used to pick and eat them. He said that this practice cured illness. He never drank from the mouth of the pitcher nor from the broken side of any container. He did not like blowing over foods and drinks. Once he asked his servant, Muslim, to fetch a tumbler of water. When he came in front of the Imam (a.s), he blew over the water because there was some particle floating on the surface. The Imam (a.s) said, “Now! You drink this water and bring another tumbler for me!”

[1] Sharh Nahj al-Balāghah, the Introduction.

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