The Strong Believer Article Five – Healthy Bodies, Minds, and Souls
Shaykh Irshaad Sedick
Article Five of Twelve in SeekersGuidance Scholar Shaykh Irshaad Sedick’s “The Strong Believer” Series: Outdoor Exercise Etiquettes for Muslims
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…”
By this point in the series, we’ve established that physical strength is a necessary quality for believers. An exercise is an excellent option for compensating for the general lack of physical movement in everyday life in areas where lifestyles are more sedentary.
For many Muslims, gyms may prove to be too challenging to navigate while maintaining one’s loyalty to Sacred Law. Outdoor and home exercises are often safer (from a Sacred Law perspective), more affordable, and more convenient.
Outdoor activities come with their own set of challenges. In terms of safety, many places are too dangerous to venture out alone. When it comes to observing Sacred Law, there are etiquettes that Believers must observe to safeguard themselves from the displeasure of Allah.
This article seeks to explore some of the basic etiquettes for outdoor exercise for Muslims.
Hidden Benefits of Outdoor Exercise
Some ubiquitous outdoor exercises are walking, jogging, running, cycling, swimming, surfing, football, cricket, rugby, and hiking. Although not comprehensive, the above list of outdoor exercises clarifies why many prefer outdoor exercises over working out in a gym.
Outdoor exercises offer a wide variety, allow for much-needed sun-time, are often less expensive than gym memberships, and facilitate social support. There are undeniable benefits to indoor exercises as well, but the focus of this article is the great outdoors.
Most of the exercises mentioned explicitly by the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace) are synonymous with the outdoors. He (peace be upon him) recommended swimming, archery, horse-riding, and racing.
Furthermore, many verses encourage believers to: travel the lands, explore Allah’s creation, reflect on signs of Allah’s Creation, and walk along nature’s paths. These benefits are often built inside outdoor exercise activities, even though few people take full advantage while exploring outdoor life.
The following verses from the Quran demonstrate the above instructions from Allah:
Allah says: “Say, (O Prophet,) ‘Travel throughout the land and see how He originated the creation, then Allah will bring it into being one more time. Surely Allah is Most Capable of everything.’” [Quran 29:20]
Allah says: “(He is the One) Who created seven heavens, one above the other. You will never see any imperfection in the creation of the Most Compassionate. So, look again: do you see any flaws?” [Quran 67:3]
Allah says: “Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of the day and night, there are signs for people of reason. (They are) those who remember Allah while standing, sitting, and lying on their sides, and reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth (and pray), “Our Lord! You have not created (all of) this without purpose. Glory be to You! Protect us from the torment of the Fire.” [Quran 3:190-191]
Allah says: “It is He who made the earth tame for you – so walk among its slopes and eat of His provision – and to Him is the resurrection.” [Quran 67:15]
Along with the obvious cardiovascular, respiratory, and endurance health benefits, outdoor exercise may be a reliable means for believers to incorporate the above instructions from the Qur’an and, therefore, make one’s activities both healthy and blessed.
Why Etiquettes Anyways?
One of the many benefits of outdoor exercise is the simplicity factor. One may simply grab a pair of good running shoes and hit the road. Believers, however, always have an added preliminary step to everything we do – we ask – “will Allah be pleased?” Understandably, someone who does not understand the purpose of Sacred Law may see “an added set of etiquettes” as inconvenient or cumbersome (Allah forbid).
Sacred Law seeks to protect Believers, not inconvenience them, even though some believers might see some laws as restrictive and, therefore, inconvenient. About fasting, Allah says, “Allah intends ease for you, not hardship, so that you may complete the prescribed period and proclaim the greatness of Allah for guiding you, and perhaps you will be grateful.” [Quran 2:185]
Considering the above, the framework of prescribed etiquettes presented below pose little to no inconvenience at all.
Etiquette Framework – The Rights of the Road
The Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Beware of loitering in the roads.” They said, “O Messenger of Allah, we have nowhere else to sit and talk.” The Prophet said, “If you insist, then give the road its rights.” They said, “What are its rights, O Messenger of Allah?” The Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Lower the gaze, refrain from harm, return greetings of peace, enjoin good and forbid evil.” [Bukhari; Muslim]
While not directly addressing the etiquettes of outdoor exercise, the above Prophetic narration mentions the “rights of the road,” meaning the behavior that believers should observe while being out and about on the open road. The recommendations from the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace), therefore, offers a suitable framework upon which believers can govern their outdoor exercise according to Sacred Law.
Lower the Gaze
Allah says: “Tell the believing men to reduce (some) of their vision and guard their private parts. That is purer for them. Indeed, Allah is Acquainted with what they do. [Quran, 24:30]
Allah says: “And tell the believing women to reduce (some) of their vision and guard their private parts and not expose their adornment except that which (necessarily) appears thereof and to wrap (a portion of) their headcovers over their chests and not expose their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands’ fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers, their brothers’ sons, their sisters’ sons, their women, that which their right hands possess, or those male attendants having no physical desire, or children who are not yet aware of the private aspects of women. And let them not stamp their feet to make known what they conceal of their adornment. And turn to Allah in repentance, all of you, O believers, that you might succeed.” [Quran, 24:31]
The above verses, along with other similar instructions from Sacred Law, demand that believers protect their own and others’ privacy, chastity, and dignity, for the sake of Allah. While the oft-used phrase mentions “lowering the gaze,” it must not be taken literally (this would certainly be a road hazard), but rather that believers should cover their bodies properly and not stare at the opposite gender with lust.
Conventional outdoor sports attire often contravene the limits of Sacred Law and is, therefore, inappropriate for true believers. Unfortunately, many Muslims prefer to conform to the conventional standards rather than Sacred Law (Allah forbid).
Some believers claim to find the Islamic dress code challenging in outdoor sports because of two “reasons” offered to explain this challenge. The first claim is that it is uncomfortable or impractical to engage in intense physical activity while being covered the way Sacred Law demands due to heat and restricted movements. The second, wearing clothes in conformity with Sacred Law will attract unnecessary attention from onlookers because of one’s “unusual” dress code.
As for the first excuse, there are many options for Islamically appropriate sportswear for both men and women. I have personally trained in Mixed Martial Arts and running clothing, produced from high-quality sport-specific fabric designed for intense sports and efficiently controlling heat and sweat. Slight inconveniences beyond that are easily tolerated by a believer who desires, at all costs, to avoid the “inconvenience” Hell-fire.
The unnecessary attention from onlookers due to one’s “unusual” dress code is more a personal psychological barrier of self-consciousness than a real phenomenon. One may easily overcome this by joining others who want to dress more appropriately but need social support to overcome their barriers.
More importantly, a believer must realize that the attention they fear in this instance is far superior to the unlawful attention one may garner by dressing inappropriately. In the former, one draws the attention and Merciful Gaze of al-Rahman, and in the latter, unlawful gazes and possibly, the wrath of Allah.
Refrain from Harm
On the authority of Abu Sa’id Al-Khudri (may Allah be pleased with him) who said: I heard the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and give him peace) say, “Whosoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then [let him change it] with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart — and that is the weakest of faith.” [Muslim]
Throughout Sacred Law, the theme of “causing no harm” is a prevalent feature. This does not only imply physical or verbal harm but also inconveniencing others. The Muslim sportsperson should always be highly considerate of others.
Refrain from polluting the environment, cross the road at the appropriate and designated areas, allow passers-by enough room to pass safely, give others the right-of-way, and leave rest-rooms cleaner than you found them. The above are simple examples of how the Strong Believer can practically implement the Prophetic instruction to “refrain from harm,” especially while engaged in outdoor exercise.
Return Greetings of Peace
Abdullah bin ʿAmr bin Al-ʿAs (May Allah be pleased with them) reported: A man asked the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and give him peace): “Which act in Islam is the best?” He (may Allah bless him and give him peace) replied, “To give food, and to greet everyone, whether you know or you do not.” [Bukhari; Muslim]
The above Prophetic instruction is clear about greeting and simple enough to apply without much elaboration. There exists something beyond the greeting that is arguably, the intended wisdom in the Prophetic instruction – character.
The most crucial “Sunna” that a believer must strive to embody is the character of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace). Character, based on the explanation by Imam Ghazali (may Allah be pleased with him), is an internal, positive disposition towards others. All the friendly behavioral acts, such as smiling, etc., are the fruits of good character. [Gazali, Ihya ‘Ulum al-Din]
Therefore, the Prophet’s (may Allah bless him and give peace) instruction may be a call towards embodying good character, especially while outdoors and engaging in exercise.
Enjoin Good and Forbid Evil
Allah says: “You are the best community ever raised for humanity—you encourage good, forbid evil, and believe in Allah. Had the People of the Book believed, it would have been better for them. Some of them are faithful, but most are rebellious.” [Quran 3:110]
The final Prophetic etiquette mentioned in the “Rights of the Road” narration above is to enjoin good and forbid evil. In the verse above, Allah eternalizes the description of this “Umma” as being the “best” and then explicitly highlights our trait of enjoining good and forbidding evil.
In practical terms, this means that when Strong Believers are out exercising, they are conscious of their roles as ambassadors of Islam and vicegerents of Allah. Believers will not walk by obstacles in a road/path without attempting to remove them for others. Believers will not inconvenience neighbors by being overly noisy in residential areas. Believers will not pass by suspicious activity without alerting authorities. Believers will rush to the aid and assistance of others, whether they know them or not (within reasonable safety limits).
There is no doubt that outdoor exercise can be fun, healthy, and a critical part of modern living, but it can also be a means to either displease Allah or earn His pleasure and tremendous rewards in this life and the next.
Islam is simple, and implementing it in every aspect of one’s life is simply beautiful. It only requires a sincere intention, a little knowledge, and a determined heart to go from simply “Strong” to “the Strong Believer.”
[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 pursuing his Master’s degree in the study of Islam at the University of Johannesburg. He has a keen interest in healthy living and fitness.