Shaykh Irshaad Sedick
Article Eight of Twelve in SeekersGuidance Scholar Shaykh Irshaad Sedick’s “The Strong Believer” Series: Prophetic Guidelines on Nutrition – Ostentation and Vanity in Your Health Journey
The Strong Believer is a podcast (and now, a series of articles) for young Muslims seeking to improve their bodies, minds, and souls. This podcast series by Shaykh Irshaad Sedick is intended to assist Muslims aged 20 and up who want to live healthy, strong, active, and wholesome lives without compromising their faith.
Our goal is to encourage and guide Muslims with fitness and nutrition advice while also fulfilling their Islamic duties. We are motivated by the words of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace), who said: “The Strong Believer is better and more beloved to Allah than the weak believer, while there is goodness in them both…”
In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful and Compassionate.
May Allah guide us to what pleases Him and forgive us for our shortcomings, Amin.
It is not uncommon for people to compete “against each other” in sports and fitness. What is the Sacred Law Ruling on competitiveness in sports? Some teams would taunt others at competitions, calling them names or planning strategies against them, but is this permissible? At the end of a match, players and teams may boast openly and march about showing their triumph at the expense of their opponents, but isn’t this incongruent with the teachings of Islam?
In this article, we explore these critical questions that may arise in the course of our health journeys. We will attempt to improve our understanding of these matters so that every aspect of our lives, even our recreational activities, pleases Allah.
In most cases, humility should be the default state of the believer, but there are certain situations wherein inappropriate behavior becomes conditionally acceptable. Still, even in those situations, a believer should not transgress the boundaries of Allah. A touch of competitive sportsmanship is harmless, but you should not insult others in the process, and Allah knows best.
What is Arrogance (Kibr)?
The Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace) said: “No one who has the weight of a seed of arrogance in his heart will enter Paradise.” A man said, “But a man likes to have nice clothes and nice shoes.” The Prophet said (may Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Verily, Allah is beautiful, and He loves beauty. Arrogance is to disregard the truth and to look down upon people.” [Muslim]
According to Islam, arrogance is a spiritual disease that consists of two primary factors:
- A disregard for the truth;
- Looking down upon others.
The Battle of Badr
The disbelievers marched arrogantly toward the believers for the Battle of Badr, and Allah addressed their behavior in the Quran and said:
“O believers! When you face an enemy, stand firm and remember Allah often so you may triumph. Obey Allah and His Messenger and do not dispute with one another, or you would be discouraged and weakened. Persevere! Surely Allah is with those who persevere. Do not be like those (pagans) who left their homes arrogantly, only to be seen by people and hinder others from Allah’s Path. And Allah is Fully Aware of what they do.” [Quran, 8:45-47]
Based on the verses above, we learn that Allah commands that believers should not be like “those who left their homes arrogantly in battle.” Competitiveness in sports may have a place, but it should never decline into absolute arrogance, not even in battle, and Allah knows best.
Not Quite Arrogance
Sometimes and occasions call for qualities that ostensibly appear to be arrogance. The story of the Companion Abu Dujana (may Allah be please with him) beautifully demonstrates this.
Abu Dujana was a brave companion. He was always ready to sacrifice his life in the way of Allah and His Messenger. He wrapped a red turban as a sign of this readiness in both the Battles of Badr and Uhud. When the Ansar saw this, they said, “Abu Dujana wrapped the turban of death again.”
Abu Dujana started to proceed to the ranks of the enemy proudly, holding the sword that the Prophet gave him on condition that he would use it as it was necessary.
In the meantime, the Companions did not like it when they saw that Abu Dujana walked proudly. They feared that he might be destroyed because of this deed. Thereupon, the Prophet stated the following, indicating that it was permissible to walk proudly against the enemy: “Allah does not like this kind of walking anywhere except on battlefields.” [Mubarakpuri, Rahiq al-Makhtum]
Competitive in Sports
There is enough evidence in the Sunna showing that the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace) participated in sport-like activities and, at times, displayed moderate competitiveness.
Still, the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace) cautioned believers to uphold the boundaries of Allah in every situation and not let their competitive aggression cause them to react in unlawful ways.
The Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and give him peace) said: “The strong man is not good at wrestling, but the strong man controls himself in a fit of rage.” [Bukhari; Muslim]
The Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace) passed by some wrestling people. He asked, “What is this?” They said: “So-and-so is the strongest; he can beat anybody.” The Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Shall I not tell you who is even stronger than him? The man who, when another mistreats him, controls his anger. He has defeated his devil and the devil of the one who made him angry.” [Bazzar, Bakhr al-Zakhkhar; Ibn Hajar, Fath Al-Bari]
The Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace) Raced with His Family
The well-known foot races between the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace) and our mother, Sayyida ‘Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her), indicates that the Prophet had a playful yet moderate competitive nature.
ʿAisha said: I went out with the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace) on one of his journeys when I was still young and had not put on weight. He (may Allah bless him and give him peace) said to the people: “Go on ahead.” So they went on ahead, then he said to me, “Come, let me race with you.” So I raced with him, and I beat him, and he said nothing.
Then when I had put on some weight, and I had forgotten about it, I went out with him on one of his journeys, and he said to the people: “Go on ahead.” So they went on ahead, then he said to me, “Come, let me race with you.” So I raced with him, and he beat me, then he smiled and said: “This is in return for that.” [Abu Dawud]
Vanity or ‘ujb is a spiritual sickness that causes one to become impressed and even obsessed with oneself, especially one’s outer appearance.
Vanity is when a person deems oneself to have some blessing and forgets it is from Allah. It does not necessarily mean that a person is looking down on another. Dignity (‘izza) is when a person recognizes the blessings that Allah has bestowed upon them (faith, life, health, beauty, wealth, knowledge, prestige, etc.) and walks humbly with recognition of those blessings; while not deeming themselves better than others.
It is easy for the person traversing their health journey to start noticing one’s performance, fitness level, weight loss, and muscle gain. If one’s hard-earned results lead to a greater appreciation of Allah’s favors and an increase in one’s spiritual productivity, this is a tremendous blessing from Allah.
On the other hand, if all of the above lead to an increased obsession with one’s looks, flexing before the mirror, constant selfies, and social media posts purely for boasting, this is a red flag and needs immediate spiritual attention and remedy.
When you feel pleased about your beauty, we strongly recommend that you immediately remind yourself that this is a blessing from Allah Most High. If Allah wills, this will protect you from vanity.
Have fun and, by all means, be sportsman-like, competitive, and ambitious in your health journey, but don’t break the laws of Allah. It is permissible to demonstrate a competitive streak in appropriate situations but observe the boundaries of Allah in every situation.
Working on your health will likely lead to welcomed physical developments and outcomes. Still, they should lead you to an improved relationship with Allah, not vanity, pride, and arrogance.
Planning, strategizing, and “having a go” with your opponents may be acceptable, but don’t ridicule, defame, or mock one another.
Allah says: “O believers! Do not let some (men) ridicule others, they may be better than them, nor let (some) women ridicule other women, they may be better than them. Do not defame one another, nor call each other by offensive nicknames. How evil it is to act rebelliously after having faith! And whoever does not repent, it is they who are the (true) wrongdoers.” [Quran, 49:11]
[Shaykh] Irshaad Sedick
Shaykh Irshaad Sedick was raised in South Africa in a traditional Muslim family. He graduated from Dar al-Ulum al-Arabiyyah al-Islamiyyah in Strand, Western Cape, under the guidance of the late world-renowned scholar, Shaykh Taha Karaan.
Shaykh Irshaad received Ijaza from many luminaries of the Islamic world, including Shaykh Taha Karaan, Mawlana Yusuf Karaan, and Mawlana Abdul Hafeez Makki, among others.
He is the author of the text “The Musnad of Ahmad ibn Hanbal: A Hujjah or not?” He has served as the Director of the Discover Islam Centre and Al Jeem Foundation. For the last five years till present, he has served as the Khatib of Masjid Ar-Rashideen, Mowbray, Cape Town.
Shaykh Irshaad has thirteen years of teaching experience at some of the leading Islamic institutes in Cape Town). He is currently building an Islamic online learning and media platform called ‘Isnad Academy’ and has completed his Master’s degree in the study of Islam at the University of Johannesburg. He has a keen interest in healthy living and fitness.