We had a chance to pose a few questions to Munir Ravalia, a dentist, committee member at the Kingston Mosque, and an avid beekeeper, about the UK’s Muslim Beekeeping Project.
BH: I’ve read that one of the inspirations for the beekeeping project was the threat of colony collapse. Could you briefly explain this issue and why Muslims should be concerned?
MR: Colony Collapse Disorder was first noted in the USA where large apiaries (bee farms) noticed that multiple hives (bee houses–or the small boxes where bees live), were wiped out literally overnight. No one really knows the real reason and many theories are out there, but many say it has to do with resistance to pesticides. In reality, these things usually have multifactorial causes.
Muslims and all humans should be worried as bees are part of an ecosystem, so not only does it affect pollination of plants and honey production but it is a wider warning that we as humans are killing our own selves over time as we play around with nature: genetically modified crops, drug resistance, pesticide resistance, etc.
Another inspiration for the project was the longstanding Islamic tradition of using honey for its medicinal purposes.
BH: What are some of honey’s uses and how are these related by our tradition?
MR: Honey can be used as a preventive medicine, and as we know prevention is the best cure. Honey is also used in conjunction with other sunnah remedies as a cure from the common cold to more complex diseases and ailments. We know this from multiple hadith and Qur’anic passages that were relayed to us, for example, in Surah Nahl where Allah states:
Your Lord revealed to the bees: “Build dwellings in the mountains and the trees, and also in the structures which men erect. Then eat from every kind of fruit and travel the paths of your Lord, which have been made easy for you to follow.” From inside them comes a drink of varying colours, containing healing for mankind. There is certainly a Sign in that for people who reflect. (Qur’an, 16:69)
In other examples:
Narrated Ibn ‘Abbas: (The Prophet said), “Healing is in three things: A gulp of honey, cupping, and branding with fire (cauterizing).” But I forbid my followers to use (cauterization) branding with fire.”
Narrated Abu Said Al-Khudri: A man came to the Prophet and said, “My brother has some abdominal trouble.” The Prophet said to him “Let him drink honey.” The man came for the second time and the Prophet said to him, ‘Let him drink honey.” He came for the third time and the Prophet said, “Let him drink honey.” He returned again and said, “I have done that ‘ The Prophet then said, “Allah has said the truth, but your brother’s abdomen has told a lie. Let him drink honey.” So he made him drink honey and he was cured.
Even ‘modern’ medicine is turning back to these old remedies’ use for centuries to combat health problems, such as antibiotic resistant infections after surgery.
BH: What kinds of honey are best for medicinal purposes? Can one just buy anything off the shelf and use it as medicine?
MR: Any pure honey is good for you. A famous honey is from the sidr tree (lotus tree), and it’s the sidr honey that we recommend that people use. Don’t just buy any honey from off supermarket shelves as most are mixes or the bees have been fed artificial sugar solution to increase the crop yield of the honey. Even though it may be honey it is not the purest form as the source is not natural. We would advise going to your local farmers’ market or inquiring with your local bee keepers association who usually sell their fresh honey directly.
BH: So, how do bees survive during the winter?
MR: Mainly they utilize the honey they made as a food source. However we humans take a large percentage of this in man-made hives so we feed them artificial sugar “fondant” or, ideally, honey. Bees go into partial hibernation in the winter so they are awake, but utilize less energy. The average hive drops in bees’ numbers from around 50,000 in summer to less than 5,000 in winter to conserve supplies and ensure the colony survives for the new season.