Daily habits around food, drink, breathing and movement are among the many things that are neglected or overlooked in the journey to memorise the Qur’ān.
They are all of great importance. Often you’ll find yourself feeling low, lacking focus or not being sharp with recall. These can be symptoms of a lack of nutrition, good food, drink and movement.
There are many things that improve your memory and ability to learn things. It’s known that certain games can improve brain speed and memory (those based on logic, word, skill, and math). Things like storytelling, healthy eating, exercise, learning new skills or languages, and brain training can all improve brain health.
In this article, I’ll share some fundamentals and share some foods and herbs that can help improve your memory.
It’s not just about Halāl, but it’s also Tayyib!
Allāh revealed His guidance in the Qur’ān telling us to“eat from what is lawful (halāl and wholesome (tayyib)” (2:168).
Abu Hurayrah (may Allāh be pleased with him) reported that:
The Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ) said, “O people, Allāh is pure and He only accepts what is pure. Verily, Allāh has commanded the believers as He has commanded His Messengers. Allāh said: O Messengers, eat from wholesome foods and act righteously, for I know what you do (23:51). And Allāh said: O you who believe, eat from wholesome food We have provided for you,” (2:172). Then, the Prophet ﷺ mentioned a man who travelled far, becoming dishevelled and dusty and he raised his hands to the sky, saying, “O Lord! O Lord!” Yet his food is unlawful, his drink is unlawful, his clothing is unlawful, and he is nourished by the unlawful, so how can he be answered?” (Sahīh Muslim)
These are standards that the Prophet ﷺ came with and part of our journey in life is to embody the same. To become people who are pure (Tayyib) and have a pure (Tayyib) imprint on the environment around us.
Part of this is the food that we engage with – foods that are grown by ourselves, organic, fair trade, and healthy. The Prophet ﷺ engaged with superfoods and super habits. The Messengers were instructed to eat from pure foods and act righteously. This means that eating well and pure helps produce good action. Eating Halāl and Tayyib makes good action easier. The best of that good is adopting a good character. Some scholars have mentioned that being good to your parents is a major unlock for Hifz success. That those who excel in Adab with others, excel with Qur’ān.
In a tradition, it is mentioned:
عَنْ عَلِيٍّ رضي اﷲ عنه قَالَ: خَمْسٌ يَذْهَبْنَ بِالنِّسْيَانِ وَيَزِدْنَ فِي الْحِفْظَ وَيُذْهِبْنَ الْبَلْغَمَ: السِّوَاکُ، وَالصِّيَامُ، وَ قِراَءَةُ الْقُرْآنِ، وَ الْعَسَلُ، وَ اللِّبَانُ. رواه الديلمي
‘Ali ibn Abi Tālib (may Allāh be pleased with him) said: “Five things remove forgetfulness and increase the memory and remove phlegm: (1) the tooth stick (miswak), (2) fasting, (3) the recitation of the Qur’ān, (4) honey and (5) frankincense.” [Bayhaqi, Daylami and others]
These are all good pure natural sources and things that the Prophet ﷺ engaged with. There are many sunnah foods and practices that can improve memory including zam zam water (for its barakah), honey, olive oil, figs, pomegranate, dates, grapes, cupping and black seed.
Don’t stuff yourself
The Messenger of Allāh ﷺ said, “The son of Ādam cannot fill a vessel worse than his stomach, as it is enough for him to take a few bites to straighten his back. If he cannot do it, then he may fill it with a third of his food, a third of his drink, and a third of his breath.” (Sunan al-Tirmidhī, Ahmad, an-Nisā’i, Ibn Mājah).
This is important on so many levels. Notice how breathing right is also part of the equation. It means that quality and quantity matter. Larger waist size has been correlated with poorer memory and brain function. Sugar and starch are toxins to the brain that cause inflammation and insulin resistance, cut them out, however possible.
Studies have shown improvements in memory through the reduction of food. A recent study suggests that high caloric intake over time may actually raise your odds of developing memory loss.
Keep moving and stay hydrated
To think and process you need to be sound with the mind and body. Several studies show that well-hydrated people score better on brainpower tests. Movement is important too. Many of us do not move yet we are designed to. An active lifestyle and cardiovascular fitness are associated with better cognitive function.
Fasting to fasten the memory
You would have heard that fasting improves your learning and memory.
It reality is that it depends on various factors. Your health, your food and water intake, your activity, your age group, your sleep etc. Studies, in the same way, show conflicting results.
A study in 2011 profiled the effect of fasting during Ramadān on the cognitive function of a group of healthy Muslim athletes. There are 18 male Pencak silat martial artists, between 17 and 29 years of age. They underwent computerised neuropsychological testing during fasting and after fasting. They were given standard meals, more or less the same training regime they had before Ramadān. The duration of sleep was significantly shorter. The duration of daytime naps though was increased. The results showed that there was an effect on visual learning and working memory (although not significant). Performance was better in the morning and declined in the late afternoon. We can see from many studies that during fasting there is a change in recall. Especially in the early hours of the day (9am+).
Outside Ramadān is where it gets more interesting. We know it is a sunnah to fast twice a week and fasting on the white days of the month (13, 14, and 15th of the lunar month). Research has found that intermittent fasting provides numerous benefits for many health conditions and shows that positive correlation between a calorie-restricted diet and verbal memory, improved global cognition and executive function. Recently, it has been argued to improve long-term memory.
Fasting has been mentioned in narrations attributed to Sahābah and the pious in terms of one of the things that aid memory. One of the reasons for this is that it increases elements of taqwa when it’s done well (in Ramadān). Another is that the ego is weakened and you’re not feeding it by filling your belly.
Eat foods with DHA
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is essential for the growth and functional development of the brain in infants. DHA is also required for the maintenance of normal brain function in adults. The inclusion of plentiful DHA in the diet improves learning ability, whereas deficiencies of DHA are associated with deficits in learning.
DHA is a type of omega-3 fat. It’s the one that the brain wants. Your body needs natural sources to convert to DHA. Plants and fish like wild salmon, or supplements for example can be taken.
Many studies have proven how this improves memory. You should aim for an intake of 4g of DHA every day – people who consume this amount have a 70% reduced risk of dementia, as compared to people who eat less.
Almonds and nuts
It’s well known that our desi parents have had many of us take almonds every morning for our daily brain food. Soak them overnight, peel the skin off and grind them to release nutrients. Eat them on an empty stomach or have them with a healthy drink (a smoothie for example). There has been research on this too.
This is also spoken about by modern brain food experts too. Almonds are a great source of multiple types of vitamin E (this is important for memory, as well as B12). I’ve been taking them since I was a kid! Walnuts, pistachios and cashew nuts are also great.
Raisins are a good source of boron, a trace element necessary for brain function, such as hand-eye coordination, memory, and attention. Imām Zarnūji (author of “Teaching The Student The Method Of Studying”) and many others have mentioned taking 21 raisins on an empty stomach:
“Using the siwāk, drinking honey, eating incense plant with sugar, 21 raisins a day on an empty stomach generates good memory. Everything that diminishes phlegm and bodily fluid increases memory, and everything that increases phlegm induces forgetfulness.”
A scholar in Lebanon recommends his students eat a handful of raisins and 21 pine nuts for the brain.
Having enough protein and controlling stress
40% protein depending on your activity levels is ideal according to many food doctors as I like to call them. This is really important and a lack of it can affect your brain and overall health. Deficiencies are linked to depression, anxiety, ADHD, autism, tiredness, and cognitive decline.
Stress can also deplete memory function. It’s really important to have healthy means of creating balance within your life.
Holy Basil (Tulsi)
This is known to be excellent for stress, anxiety, mental fog, and expanding and sharpening awareness. It is a cerebral stimulant when combined with rosemary, bacopa, and ginkgo. It’s commonly used as tea.
This is famous for memory and is said to be one of the best natural herbs for boosting total brainpower. Smelling Rosemary reduces test anxiety and significantly enhanced memory. Not only short-term memory but also preventing Alzheimer’s.
Sage slows memory loss and improves memory and mood. It’s known to also fight Alzheimer’s.
Research has proved that sage can improve memory, confirming centuries-old theories. British scientists have carried out the first clinical trials with healthy, young adults and found that those who had taken sage oil capsules performed significantly better in a word recall test.
Other herbs and supplements
- Smelling peppermint essential oil is known to improve memory.
- Turmeric has numerous benefits including memory improvement.
- Cacao has also been shown to improve memory, especially in adults.
- Coffee can also help. Beyond boosting alertness, a 2018 study suggests that caffeine may also increase the brain’s capacity for processing information.
- Ashwagandha has also shown to improve memory.
- Taking vitamins B, C, or E, beta-carotene, or magnesium may improve brain function if a person has a deficiency in any of them.
These are some of the many things that can help improve your memory. There are so many things that can potentially help you (oily fish, berries, vegetables and more).
I encourage you to do your own research. Speak to your medical team to find any deficiencies or issues. It’s important to remember that every one of us has different circumstances and needs depending on our condition.
May Allāh grant increase!