Muslim Women Can Play Sports
By: Mariam Abdulla and Sarah Faysal
You see it everywhere: Gabby Douglas warming up before a performance, Cristiano Ronaldo winding up for a penalty kick, Serena Williams posing after one of many wins. And yet, we don’t see it enough in our Muslim communities.
The Prophet Mohammed (saws) encouraged physical fitness and if there is benefit in it, why shouldn’t Muslim girls participate? The idea of modesty being compatible with sports or exercise has been in history since the time of our prophet (saws).
We as Muslimahs need to take steps towards a healthy Ummah. We can’t teach Muslim girls to stay in the shadows anymore. Muslim girls are frequently faced with criticism or attention from the media nowadays, so we should teach them how to handle the spotlight that shines upon them.
There are many issues in the Muslim community that revolve around women’s rights, and one of the more controversial topics is Muslim women and sports. It’s common for people to claim women can’t play sports due to “immodesty”. If a Muslimah does play sports, she tends to get harsh judgments from those around her. Understanding that many Muslimahs in history were dedicated to a physically active lifestyle should allow us to realize the importance of being active.
One of the most prominent examples is Nusaybah bint Ka’ab. She is one of the few Sahabiyat who fought in battle to defend Muhammad (saws) and remains to be one of the biggest advocates in women's rights due to her courageous efforts on the battlefield. Prophet Mohammed (saws) himself said, “Wherever I turned, left or right, on the Day of Uhud — I saw her fighting for me.” At her request, he also asked Allah (SWT): “Oh Allah, make them my companions in the Garden.” She was content, as this was her only aspiration.”
In addition to the battle of Uhud, she was present in many other occasions including the treaty of Al-Hudaybiyah, the battle of Khaybar and campaigns of Hunayn amd Yamamah (al isabah vol 4 page 457). Eventually, Nusaybah was known for being the first woman warrior in Islam
Another example of a Muslim woman warrior in history is Khawlah Bint Al Azwar. She was not only a warrior, but also a nurse, companion of the Holy prophet (saws), a noble daughter and sister. She fought alongside her brother, Dhiraar Bin Azwar, and played an active role in the conquest of Syria, Jordan, and Palestine against the Byzantine/Roman empire.
She managed to save many lives of Muslim soldiers during battle, including the life of her brother during the Siege of Damascus. Khawlah was known for her courage during war.
After two of our own were involved in a public battle, how do people still argue over modesty in physical activity? Islam elevated the status of women in society to a point where a woman could be titled a warrior.
Besides warriors, many women in Islamic history were involved in physical activity, including the wife of Muhammad (saws). His wife, Aishah (ra), would race against him and when she was slim, she would win the race. After some time, they raced each other again, but the Holy Prophet (saw) won the race and said jokingly, “‘Aishah! Now the score is settled!” (Abu Da’ud).
A good modern role model for Muslimahs in sports is Ibtihaj Muhammad, an American sabre fencer who was the first Muslim-American woman to win an Olympic medal. Ibtihaj described it best when she said, “There will always be people who challenge the idea that you belong, but it's important to work hard, to focus on yourself, and prove that you belong in this space of high-level athletics.”
She stands for diversity and inclusion and believes that we should all be valued because of our differences. She fights against Muslim stereotypes and is a role model for up and coming hijabi athletes.
The argument over whether or not Muslim women should participate in sports normally revolves around the idea of sacrificing one’s deen over desires. However, if a sport’s culture makes you dress or act a certain way, you have the opportunity to change the standard!
Staying committed to modesty is harder than ever today and that is why Muslim women are essential to sports. We need to show that we can question Western standards of what to wear or who to be and fearlessly represent Islam.
By competing in sports while maintaining modesty, we are also taking part in conquering societal Jihad (struggles). We are showing that Islam doesn’t limit us from things that are beneficial for us.
Competing in sports gives Muslimahs the option of either giving in to Western norms, or strengthening their level of modesty and deen. By choosing to strengthen one's level of modesty, Muslim women are challenging themselves into not putting their desires of appearance over their modesty.
On top of all the physical benefits, sports provide a sense of confidence. In martial arts, women and girls learn the art of self-defence. They learn how to punch with proper form, to kick with strength, and to never feel powerless. Jiu-Jitsu, karate, kickboxing — there are so many options.
Soccer, basketball and softball on the other hand, are a balance of independence and teamwork. Players spend hours with their teammates, creating bonds like no other. Muslim women deserve to share these experiences, to say, “I can and I will.”
JazakAllahukhairan for reading. As you’ve read, we believe that sports, in fact, need Muslim women. What’s your favorite sport?!