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How your faith supports good nutrition

For years, civil society groups have been pushing the nutrition agenda into public discourse. Securing public funding for nutrition programmes can help boost supply on…

For years, civil society groups have been pushing the nutrition agenda into public discourse. Securing public funding for nutrition programmes can help boost supply on one hand.

On the other hand, demand is crucial. A small group of proponents are taking the fight into churches and mosques.

For five days, Islamic and Christian leaders met in Abuja to develop key messages about nutrition they can feed into their sermon for congregations.

Leaders from both faith trace nutrition back to the creation story and have found support for the cause in both the Bible and the Qur’an.

“More than 55 verses [of the Qur’an] talk to Muslims to take care of your physical body, and the internal parts will be supported,” says Mohammed Usman, an Islamic scholar from Kano.

“That means for you to understand the message of Islam, you have to be healthy. the Islamic religion places great value right from the inception of the child in the womb of the mother, to the time of delivery, up till adulthood.”

The nutrition gamut that civil society groups are concerned about starts from before a woman conceives, goes through the first 1,000 days of a child—from foetus up until two years of life—and extends to the fifth year of life.

Inadequate nutrition practice—more than just a lack of nutrition—steeps many children into malnutrition.

“Even God Almighty categorically states that the child should be given nutritious food for as long as two years minimum. That means the child’s later life depends on the type of nutritious food given to him. It will help to grow well in his physical form. if that is not taken care of, he will have physical deformities, he will not be able to worship god, will not be able to support himself, his family and entire humanity,” says Usman.

“And secondly his mental faculty—the way he thinks , perceives things, understands and relates with people. that cannot be done positively if that child does not get the good nutritious care he is supposed to have right from when he is in his mother’s womb and the first two years.

“The Quran emphasises the first two years, and then the next five years. there is great importance attached in Islam. Even before education and training the child, the first thing is what type of nutrition are you giving the child?”

But the messaging has to contend with fanaticism, says Mohammed Ali, chief imam of the Middle East mosque in Lafia, Nasarawa.

“There are fanatics among us. We have them in Christianity and Islam. They don’t believe in anything from the west. Even before the advent of western education in Nigeria, there are certain proteinous food. We are trying to inform our people. We are trying to sensitize them.”

The Civil Society Scaling up Nutrition in Nigeria works across focal states to get stakeholders and policymakers to support nutrition interventions. In some states, it has advocated for nutrition budget lines.

The recent focus on religious leaders is deliberate—getting clerics to develop messages to feed into their sermons, essentially taking nutrition to the pulpit.

“There are several roles people need to play at various levels to be able to improve nutrition,” says Ifedilichukwu Innocent, chairman of the national steering committee for CSSUNN and an advocacy, campaign and policy manager for SURVIVE projects at Save the Children.

“After developing the sermon guide, we will go down to the states, hand this guide to them and develop a checklist as a way of monitoring to ensure this message goes out.”

The guide details Islamic and Christian perspectives about nutrition and rolls out a plan to guide preachers in feeding nutrition into their messages to congregations.

“It is necessary because when you look at religious leaders, they have a way of taking control over their congregation,” says Rev Canon Christian Ononiwu, of the Enugu diocese of the Anglican Communion.

“In most instances, they are revered. Whatever they say, the congregation takes. It becomes of paramount importance that the religious leaders come into it to emphasise this. When we emphasise it, the congregation is bound to accept it. They see it as ordained by God. and which is right: nutrition is ordained by God. it started from the Garden of Eden.”

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