Eating with your hands is natural, enjoyable and beneficial to health. Although it is regarded as impolite and unclean, particularly in the West, it is actually the norm in many parts of the world such as Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Regardless of the customs of others, we as muslims know that it is from the Sunnah to eat with the right hand and to lick the fingers upon finishing one’s meal and there are numerous hadiths in this regard.
The Benefit And Etiquette of Eating By Hand in the Sunnah
Ibn ‘Umar narrated that The Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said:
When one of you eats, let him eat with his right hand, and when he drinks, let him drink with his right hand. Verily, the devil eats and drinks with his left hand. [Muslim]
‘Umar bin Abū Salamah (May Allah be pleased with him) said:
I was a boy under the care of Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه وسلم), and my hand would go around the dish while I was eating. So Allah’s Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said to me: “O boy! Mention the Name of Allah, eat with your right hand, and eat what from what is in front of you.” Since then I have applied those instructions when eating. [Bukhari]
In The Sunan of Abi Dawood it is narrated that ‘Aa’ishah (may Allaah be pleased with her) said:
The right hand of the Messenger of Allaah (صلى الله عليه وسلم) was for his purification and food, and his left hand was for using the toilet and anything that was dirty.
Abu Huraira reported Allah’s Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم) as saying:
When any one of you eats food he should lick his fingers, for he does not know in what part of the food sticking to his fingers the blessing lies. [Muslim]
I heard Allaah’s Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) saying: The Shaytaan is present with any one of you in everything he does; he is present even when he eats food; so if any one of you drops a mouthful he should remove away anything filthy on it and eat it and not leave for the devil; and when he finishes (food) he should lick his fingers, for he does not know in what portion of his food the blessing lies.
‘Abdullah bin Ka’b reported that his father Ka’b said to him:
Allaah’s Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم) used to eat with three fingers and when he had finished (eating), he licked them. [Muslim]
Ibn Al-Qayyim mentions in his Prophetic Medicine regarding the number of fingers the Prophet would use to eat his food:
He used to eat with his three fingers, which is the best way to eat. Eating with one finger or with two does not allow the one eating to derive pleasure nor does it give him any benefit, and it is a long while before he has enough; nor do the organs of taste or the stomach gain any pleasure by such small morsels. To eat with five fingers and the whole hand causes the food to crowd the organs and the stomach so the organs are forced to pass it through, and the stomach to bear it. This gives neither pleasure nor relish. The most excellent way of eating is that adopted by the Prophet and those who follow him, with three fingers.
What Personal Experience And Science Tells Us About Eating By Hand
Eating is a multi-sensory experience. All of the senses – sight, smell, taste, touch and even hearing – are involved and they all work in harmony together. The nerve endings in your hands send information to the brain and stomach concerning the make up, texture, temperature, nature and digestibility of the food about to be eaten. This instructs the stomach to release digestive juices and enzymes. The hands, in conjunction with the eyes and nose allow the entire digestive system to prepare for what is about to be consumed before it even reaches your mouth.
Using a spoon, fork or other utensil sends a message to the body explaining that this is something foreign and harmful, and should not be eaten, resulting in a completely different response to when eating by hand. The muscles of the neck, mouth and jaw tighten slightly and become stiff which can lead to aches, strain and tension. The whole posture and body language in terms of muscular activity and enjoyment is completely different. Not eating with the hands is a contributing cause to weak gums, dry lips and skin and stiff necks.
You know your food is hot because the hands are effective temperature sensors which makes it less likely that you will burn your tongue. This does not happen when using a spoon or fork as the food goes directly from the plate to your mouth and the brain does not get the message concerning the temperature of the food.
Using your hands encourages mindfulness as it allows you to concentrate on your food and feel more connected to it. Eating mindfully and engaging all the senses – feeling the texture of the food, smelling its aroma and really savouring it – brings about much more pleasure and satisfaction. It makes you eat more slowly and pay attention to how much you have eaten. Food simply tastes better when eaten by hand and the whole experience is something that cannot be replicated by using cutlery.
A study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology showed that families who ate by hand were more in touch with eating concepts, such as eating only when hungry and paying attention to how full they are. The study found that parents were able to help their 8 to 12-year-old overweight children cut down on binge eating by training them to eat by hand.
Another study published in the journal Clinical Nutrition found that people with type 2 diabetes were more likely to be fast eaters that used cutlery to eat, as compared to those without the condition. Eating with forks and spoons correlates with mindless and faster eating, which has been linked to blood-sugar imbalances in the body – contributing to the development of type 2 diabetes.
It is also more practical to eat with your hands in many cases. The fingers are very agile and designed to hold and manipulate objects. They allow for more appropriate and delicate placing of the food in the mouth. If the food is tough, the hand, teeth, gums and neck muscles act together in harmony with the pulling and biting combination strengthening the arms, gums and neck. It is easier to pluck meat out of bones. Many foods such as bread, chips, barbecued and fried food, pieces of meat, fruit, burgers, nuts, sandwiches and wraps are eaten with the hands.