May 15, 2013

Exercise in Islam

By Sabah Chaudhry


So you want to be fit. You want to feel alive, youthful and experience that boost in energy all day long? Or do you prefer sitting around and are content with your inactive digital device dominated lifestyle? But wait a second, I am Muslim. Is it even okay to run, swim, lift those weights being who I am in this society? Sure we all want to become those macho movie stars we see on TV or the slim chic magazine cover models we stare and sigh at as we wait in the doctor’s clinic? But is it possible to accomplish all this when there is no fitness program specially geared towards “us” to match our needs and comply with our religious obligations.

This misunderstanding has left many Muslims in a whirlpool of confusion that there is no place for exercise in the life of a Muslim. But in fact this is absolutely not true. Islam not only allows but encourages physical fitness and exercise.

Prophet Muhammad sal Allaahu alayhi wasallam states, “The strong believer is better and more beloved to Allah than the weak believer, while there is good in both.” (Sahih Muslim) 

Shaykh Al Islam Ibn Taymiyyah explains that the Prophet sal Allaahu alayhi wasallam here was talking about physical strength and having this allowed a Muslim to properly perform their prayers. A strong believer can strive harder for his or her deen, be a better worshipper, be successful at giving da’wah and spread Islam, not being overcome by laziness. And how can we obtain this physical strength best? It is through exercise.

The strong recommendation of exercise in our deen coincides perfectly with a new national awareness that Americans need to return to the gyms and focus on their physical health. Living in the 21st century in a highly technologically advanced country, our fast paced lives have resulted in lazy and inactive lifestyles. Technology has replaced outdoor activities and sports with digital devices as forms of recreation and entertainment. So the need is high to get in shape and as Muslims we also must answer to this call. We are able to go to gyms and Muslim women can find all women’s gyms or women’s rooms to start up their workout routines. Though the fitnah is strong in gyms especially for men, they can find a way to go to the gyms when there are less people or there is less chance of encountering those of the opposite gender.

And if we look back at the stories of our great prophets, they were revered for their “quwwa” which is the term used in the Qur’an for power or strength. Prophet Nuh alayhi salaam built the large ship, the Ark, all by himself. Prophet Ibraheem alayhis salaam built the Ka’abah with his own two hands alongside his son Isma’eel alayhis salaam. Evidence of our beloved Prophet Muhammad sal Allaahu alayhi wasallam’s strength has been recorded to the minutest detail in ahadeeth. Shaykh Yaser Birjas paints a picture of the physical description of Rasulullah sal Allaahu alayhi wasallam. He explains in his lecture “Fitness in Islam” that Rasulullah sal Allaahu alayhi wasallam had wide shoulders, full arms, legs, feet, and back meaning he was very muscular and physically fit. Abu Hurayrah radhiAllah anhu said, “I did not see anyone walk faster than the Messenger of Allaah sal Allaahu alayhi wasallam. (It looked) as if the earth had folded for him. A few moments ago, he’d be here, and then there. The companions radhiAllaah anhum found it difficult to keep pace with him while they walked with him, and he walked at his normal pace.”

Just as doctors and dieticians highly stress and push us to take care of our physical bodies by exercising, our religion also holds us to account for managing our body health. The Prophet sal Allaah alayhi wasallam said in Sahih Bukhari, “... And your body also has a right over you.” Exercising and staying fit is one of the closest guarantees we have to maintaining a sound healthy body. Our bodies are a trust or “amaanah” from Allah subhaanahu wa ta’ala. We will be called to account on the Day of Judgment by Allah for how we took care of our bodies and nourished them, not allowing them to weaken and succumb to disease.

Indeed physical fitness is essential to our physical and mental well being, but we must remember to maintain a balance in this routine in that it does not interfere with our religious obligations. Also, we do not need to spend hours upon hours in the gym performing our workout routines without giving ourselves any time to rest. And most importantly, we must purify our hearts before engaging in any activity. A true Muslim combines diet, nutrition, and exercise with the proper intention to fulfill all of his or her religious obligations to Allah, thereby pleasing Him.

Now here are 10 mind blowing benefits of exercise taken from various scientific articles:

1. Exercise helps you lose weight and prevent obesity. This is critical, since being overweight or obese can put you at risk for a variety of health problems such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and more.

2. Exercise protects you from heart disease and lowers blood pressure. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for American adults. Exercise can actually change how your heart works, making it stronger, more efficient, and better able to function as you age.

3. Exercise boosts brain power. It improves your learning and makes you smarter. Exercise increases the level of brain chemicals called growth factors, which help make new brain cells and establish new connections between brain cells to help us learn. Some experts believe that exercise can, in fact, keep our minds sharp because it improves circulation throughout the body and the brain, which boosts your attention and ability to concentrate.

4. Exercise boosts the detrimental effects of stress and anxiety. Stressful episodes cause hormones like adrenaline to be released into your bloodstream. Vigorous activity helps your body to be rid of these. Just 30 minutes of such activity can blow off tension by increasing levels of “soothing” brain chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.

5. Exercise lifts depression and boosts your mood. Research suggests that burning off 350 calories three times a week through sustained, sweat-inducing activity can reduce symptoms of depression about as effectively as antidepressants. That may be because exercise appears to stimulate the growth of neurons in certain brain regions damaged by depression.

6. Exercise boosts your energy. Studies show that exercise increases feelings of energy and lessens feelings of fatigue. Exercise also teaches the body how to produce more energy, making it more efficient at burning fat.

7. Exercise helps ward off disease and strengthens your immune system. Increased blood and lymph flow makes it easier for cells to protect you from an infection, or track down and kill invading germs that have already succeeded in infecting you.

8. Exercise builds stronger bones and muscles making a better you. Weight-bearing activities, such as walking, make bones stronger. Strength-training activities, such as lifting light weights, make muscles strong.

9. Exercise enhances your self-esteem and confidence. You obtain a positive feeling of accomplishment when you finish your work out.

10. Exercise inspires you to be a healthier eater. You will start thinking of food as fuel for your engine. You will be more aware of how your body feels when you try to take out your troubles on unhealthy foods. Overall, exercise reminds you to take care of yourself.


I'd love to hear your views on this topic. Please post in the comments section below! :)


Is it ok for a muslimah to run with loose clothing and hijab on?

I'm desperate to get fit!! And honestly I find it kind of ironical to come across so many Islamic posts that encourage it but yet don't tell you how exactly you're supposed to exercise while being covered in an Abaya and a hijab. :S (except for those gyms for women). I find it very very very difficult to do any sport without comprimising on religious dressing codes, hence I haven't done sport in years).

Other options are exercising at home... I have an indoor bicycle and do pilates (via dvd). I find that's enough. If you cant afford that there is always walking. Walking up hills gets your heart rate up and personally I find it more beneficial than running. Plus running is pretty hard on the joints. If you've got a bike then go cycling. I wear long pants, and put clips round ankles so they dont catch on the chain then a knee length top. Cotton scarfs are pretty good for exercising. Still not compromising on dress codes :) If you wear abaya then walking up hills is definitely the way to go, you can power walk up them. There is always a way to manage, you just need to think creatively.

Exercise is so important for our health, Sabah mentioned that it helps prevent diabetes, however exercise can actually help reverse type 2 diabetes in its early stages (ie when its diet controlled or even when have just started on oral antiglycaemics) because exercising causes muscles to take up glucose by a completely separate mechanism which in non-insulin dependent- hence lowering your blood sugar levels and helping to regain sensitivity to insulin.

Its easy to use our deen as an excuse, everyone is good at coming up with excuses for not doing exercise, but really its all in your mind. A colleague once told me the biggest barrier to exercise is putting on your running shoes. So true!! Once you start/ get going its fine, its just getting over that mental barrier.

Sisters we need to stop finding excuses and start exercising.

Sister2- there are websites that show you many different ways to exercise, but one sister in particular has done a very good job. You can also find her on facebook under 'fit muslimah'

May Allah reward sister Sabah for her beneficial post

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