Muslim Women in Sports
By Sr. Hikmat Beiruty
Reprinted from Nida'ul Islam Magazine
The benefits derived from sport can not be denied. Not only do they have physical and social benefits, but also essential psychological consequences. Since sport is also a compulsory part of the curriculum in all schools, it is important to address the many Islamic conflicts that us sisters may face.
The Need for Sport
Men and women alike are in need of sport and exercise. Physical fitness is certainly encouraged, just as a balanced diet is endorsed, and harmful substances are prohibited. Exercise is also conducive to a more balanced emotional state, as it aids in the release of harmful free radicals and excess hormones. Mundane routines must also be broken otherwise it could affect a women's input into society, as well as her relationship with her husband and family.
The Sahaabah were aware of these issues, and would exhort others for the same. 'Ali bin Abi Talib (r.a.a) said: "Refresh your minds from time to time, for a tired mind becomes blind." Abu Darda` (r.a.a) also commented: "I entertain my heart with something trivial in order to make it stronger in the service of the Truth."
The Prophet (s.a.w) advised his followers to engage in many forms of sport, which even today are considered of the best form of exercise. The Prophet (s.a.w) himself would engage in wrestling, racing, archery and horse races.
While Aisha (r.a.a) was on a journey along with the Apostle of Allah (s.a.w), she had a race with him and outpaced him. As time passed, the Prophet (s.a.w) wished to avenge for his loss, so he raced her again, in which case he outpaced her, and remarked: "This is for that outpacing."
The Etiquette's of Sport
The restrictions on women participating in sport or physical activity is more than that of men. All Islamic observances must be followed, regardless of any school policies or social stigmas. Our obedience to our Creator cannot be given preference to a creature of Allah.
When participating in sports, the clothing must be Islamically acceptable. This would therefore exclude shorts, t-shirts, leotards, swimming costumes etc.
It is very important to ensure that there are no males watching. Mixing of sexes is forbidden in normal situations, except in special situations under certain conditions, let alone in a sporting arena or exercise facility. It also restricts your activities, and modesty would not allow this in any case.
In most female-only schools, there are always male teachers around. Hence wearing even body suits is not sufficient, therefore to remove yourself from this activity is the only solution. There are some female-only baths or swimming complexes, yet even this is not suitable for the purposes of Muslim women. The following tradition treats this point:
"Some women from Homs or from Sham (now the area of Damascus) came to 'A'ishah. She asked, 'Do you enter the public baths? I heard the Messenger of Allah saying that a woman who undresses anywhere else other than in her own house tears off the Satr (shelter) which lies between her and her Lord .' " [At-Tirmidhi and Abu Dawud]
It is not only a problem of Satr, but also revealing yourself to disbelievers, an important point which ssisters are ignoranor careless of. Permission for a Muslim woman to reveal her hair, arms etc. is permitted to her husband, father, mother and so on.
Non-Muslim women are excluded from this permission, because contact with them might easily lead to disastrous results. That is why the Khalif 'Umar wrote to Abu 'Ubaidah Ibn al-Jarrah, the Governor of Syria, to prohibit the Muslim women from going to the baths with the women of the Ahl al-Kitab (the People of the Book). [At-Tabari, Ibn Jazir]. According to Ibn 'Abbas "...a Muslim woman is not allowed to display herself before the women of the unbelievers and non-Muslim poll-tax payers (Ahl al-Dhimmah) any more than she can display herself before other men" [At-Tabari].
This distinction between women on grounds of character and religion is intended to safeguard Muslim women against the influence of women whose moral and cultural background is either not known or is objectionable from the Islamic point of view.
Although many women-only gyms have become popular, we have the same problem as with baths, that being in the presence of non-Muslim women. However, as long as loose clothing is worn along with proper head covering, this problem can be avoided.
Particularly in Western countries, this is an important form of popular exercise. Sisters must be careful to train only with other women, to maintain loose clothing and head cover, and not to attack at the head, as the Prophet (s.a.w) has forbidden us to hit on the face while training.
Many sisters find themselves in situations where they will be watching sports on TV, at school carnivals, or going to matches. Stadiums are not advisable places for Muslims in general, because of the language, drinking and scenery. Allah has commanded the believing women to lower their gaze, and sport comes as no exception, especially with guys in shorts.
Sports and exercise should be judged according to the level of modesty involved. Games such as netball played in a public arena is not befitting to the honour of a Muslimah. No compromises can be made in terms of clothing or mixing. Public showers at female schools is totally forbidden. Many sisters will also apply deodorants after a work-out. What must be kept in mind is the Prophet's warning on a fragrant perfumes: "The woman who perfumes herself and passes through a gathering is an adulteress." Some fragrant-free deodorants are available, otherwise apply enough so that the fragrance is not apparent.
A married woman must also have the permission of her husband beforehand, and must ensure that non of her duties as a wife are being sacrificed as a result of her activities.
To keep in line with today's excessive and unwarranted demands for women to have a "supermodel" physique, many sisters will exercise for this sole purpose, only adding more stress and anguish to themselves. Keep it as a fun activity, involve your husband with it and make it an intimate part of your marriage life. Keep in mind that over-exercising can result in unrepairable tissue damage, and will turn you off it. Bodily exhaustion is not called for, as Allah (s.w.t) tells us: "Allah burdens not a person beyond his scope." [2: 286] .