Women, Sports and Islam

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Sport is an activity that involves physical and mental exertion where individuals come together, sometimes with the aim of competing against one another or other teams for entertainment, a trophy or the general fitness of the body. Sports today range from football, basketball, lawn tennis, boxing, swimming, hurdles, athletics, to board games like chess and gymnastics.

Sporting activities mainly involve those that exert energy, tone the muscle and ensure the physical wellbeing of the sportsperson. To get maximum benefits of this though, one has to combine sporting activities with a good diet.

The concept of sport varies from one type to the other. While some are restricted to the use of legs, hands, and equipment alone, some others involve the use of all parts of the body. In the end, though, it is all about the fitness of the body and mental attention.

It should be noted that the physiology of women and men differ, and so participating in sporting activities affect them differently. Consequently, officials have put in place mechanisms to regulate the use of equipment so as not to be strenuous for women. Eventually, even the basketballs for women are smaller compared to those of the men.

Just like the fight for inclusion of women in the working sector, and the struggle for women not to be marginalized in this sector, so also did women fight for the right to participate in sporting activities. Over the years, there has been an evolution in women participation in sports. Lately, women have been introduced into boxing and heavyweight matches.

Muslim women are brought up to be religious, kind, caring, and respectful. They are required to follow the dictates of Allah and His messenger (saw). They are also required to be clean and healthy, psychologically, spiritually, and physically.

Physically, there are different ways to be healthy. It entails eating right and exercising right. Exercise for Muslim women though has been a controversial topic. While some say that women are permitted to do sports, others say that it is forbidden. The controversy on the hijab and sports would be discussed below.

The essence of the hijab is to cover. It entails covering in all aspect, from a shell to a curtain, to a house, and to a veil. The veil ensures that people, both male and female, are modest, clean, and present themselves in a Godly manner. It does not encourage the display of adornments, body parts, and body shape. The question that begs to be asked is: Can such a principle allow women to partake in sports?

To perform better in some sports, there is the necessity to not wear apparels that cover completely. For instance, wearing gorgeous clothing would hinder one from running fast and swimming as this would impede movement. Some of these activities negate the principle of modesty, but does that mean that Muslim women cannot partake in any other sport?

There is a Hadith that relates that the Prophet (saw) ran races with his wife Aisha. Many have taken this as a basis to include women in sports. It relates that “Once, I was accompanying the Messenger of Allah (saw) on a journey, and we ran a race, and I won. Afterward, when I had grown fat, we again competed with each other in a race, and this time, he won. Upon it, the Prophet (saw) remarked, this is for that race”. (Abu Daud).

Apart from the Hadith, history relates to us women warriors who fought in battles alongside the Prophet (saw). Among these notable women were Nusaybah bint Ka’ab, also known as Umm Ammarah. She was the first woman fighter in Islam and a partaker of the second pledge at Aqabah. Nusaybah strove to make Islam grow. A narration of the Prophet (saw)  said: “whenever I looked to the right or left, I saw her fighting in front of me”.

In the Battle of Uhud, when things began to change for the Muslims after the archers left their place, she used her body as a shield to protect the Prophet (saw). She sustained injuries which made her faint. When she came round, she inquired first about the health of the Prophet (saw) wanting to know if he survived the battle.

Other than Nusaybah, we have Aisha, Asma bint Yazid ibn Al-Sakan, amongst others. Nowadays, we find Muslim women in the police, army, and naval forces. Women engaging in activities such as wars and doing sports is not a new invention.

It would be interesting to note that western agitation against Muslims and Islam has encouraged Muslims all over the world to be conscious of Islam. Islamophobia, though an ugly ideology, has encouraged people to read more and understand the stance of Islam.

We find more people accepting Islam, and more girls observing the hijab. It is with this thought that Muslim women athlete are brave enough to observe the hijab, even while playing sports. The first Muslim woman to represent the United States of America, in the hijab, is Ibtihaj Muhammad. Her sport is fencing. An important thing to note is that she chose her sport because it allowed her the freedom to wear her veil, without altering the sportswear.

The ban on hijab by FIBA, an international governing body for Basketball has put a stop to playing professional basketball for players like Bilqis Abdul Qadir, who choose to wear the hijab. Sportswomen find themselves at a loss because they are not only pressured to not wear the hijab to play sports but are also told to not play sports by some scholars.

While some will use this as an opportunity to claim that Muslim women are relegated to the background and decisions made for them, it would be important to note that the religion of Islam has its clear guidance and principles for adherents to follow.

Islam requires its women to be respectful and bashful, and not show their adornments to the non-mahram. Participating in an event that does not conform with the Islamic dress code, and exposing them to the full glare of men would be a violation of this principle.

Women are allowed their freedom to exercise and engage in sporting activities. These exercises though should be in a closed area and women should be the only ones there. If there is a necessity for a female to do sports outside, she must ensure that the proper hijab is observed.

Sporting events like athletics, boxing, swimming, body skating, and gymnastics that require women to expose their body or wear skin tight apparels should not be done. Rather, sports like Tae Kwon Do, board games, fencing, and basketball that allow loose dresses can be encouraged among Muslim women.