The Strong Believer Article Four – Healthy Bodies, Minds, and Souls
Shaykh Irshaad Sedick
Article Four of Twelve in SeekersGuidance Scholar Shaykh Irshaad Sedick’s “The Strong Believer” Series: Muslim Gym-Etiquettes
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…”
The previous article explored the importance of exercise in Islam and some examples of lawful exercise activities. In the modern world, we are faced with the consequences of living largely sedentary lifestyles. Gyms (gymnasiums) have become a basic facility for many people who want to live healthier lifestyles to compensate for the lack of naturally incorporated physical activity.
In this article, we discover whether gyms are permissible or not and what Muslims need to know before signing up or renewing their gym memberships
Are Gyms Permissible?
I’ve seen a few pieces online stating that gyms are impermissible. It’s somewhat strange to declare a place impermissible unrestrictedly. By definition, sacred Law Rulings (ahkam) govern the actions of the duty-bound (mukallaf).
Scholars of Islamic Legal Theory (Usul al-Fiqh) define a legal ruling (hukm) as:
“The locution or communication from the Lawgiver (Allah) concerning the conduct of the duty-bound person (mukallaf) which consists of a demand, an option or an enactment.” [Zuhayli, al-Wajiz]
Based on the above definition, we ascertain that the question about gyms is somewhat misdirected. Instead of asking about the gym as a place, we should be asking about the behavior of gym-goers. In other words, if one defines ‘gym’ as a place where people exercise, then the place itself is inanimate and, therefore, does not receive a legal ruling. It’s what transpires therein that naturally causes people to associate the people’s actions with the place.
In modern western societies, it is not unusual to think of gyms as “un-Islamic.” In such societies, one may find inappropriately dressed men and women working out in sight of each other. There are often washrooms (saunas, steam rooms, hot tubs, showers, etc.) wherein men expose their nakedness before other men and women before other women. One would often find unlawful music playing quite loudly to accompany the gym-goers’ workouts.
In light of the above descriptions, it is not surprising to find articles declaring (working out at) gyms impermissible, but are those unlawful elements always imminent? Is there any way that Muslims could exercise at a gym without breaking Allah’s Laws?
Suppose there’s a gym that you could exercise at without seeing scantily-clad marriageable members of the opposite gender and avoid listening to unlawful music. Why would there be any problem for Muslims to work out there? In my humble opinion, the answer is that there would be no problem, and Allah knows best.
If you choose to work out at a gym, then the following set of basic gym etiquettes may prove helpful. Before anything else, always uphold the rules of Sacred Law, and don’t compromise your Deen for burning calories as you end up with fitness and flames. May Allah protect and guide us all.
- Work your muscles, not your nafs (lower self). One of the biggest problems with modern Western gyms is the usual gym dress code. If you can’t find a male-only/female-only gym (or fitness class), the next best option is to determine when the gym has the least number of gym-goers. You should then see whether it’s possible to find enough “private” room at the quiet times to avoid seeing anything impermissible.
- No matter how comfortable you may be in them, tight-fitting and scanty gym-wear is only appropriate before your lawful spouse or unmarriageable kin. Never compromise your faith by exposing your nakedness/body shape before those who may not see it.
Men often think that the above applies mainly to women, but this is incorrect. Men should be covered according to the Sacred Laws concerning them, as women should according to their unique set of laws.
Male runners and cyclists should therefore note that tight tights and short shorts which reveal the skin or shape of the area between their navels and knees are unlawful to wear in public or at the gym. Allah made it very easy for men to obey the laws of ’awra (private nakedness), and we should be grateful by obeying them.
- While there is some opinion difference about music, there is basically a consensus on the impermissibility of many modern forms of music, precisely the type played in most gyms. That does not need to prevent Muslims entirely from taking advantage of the facilities.
The first option is to find a gym that either does not play music or attends when it’s quiet enough to request that the music in a particular area be turned off. If that proves to be too difficult, then a good pair of Bluetooth active noise cancelling (ANC) earphones would be an excellent option for those who can afford them. There are many options available for this, and they don’t need to be expensive.
Using earphones or headphones will not only dampen or block out the sound, but you will also be able to listen to a good podcast (like The Strong Believer Podcast on Seekers Guidance) and take care of your mind while taking care of your body.
No Place Like Home
It should be obvious that working out at home or with a personal trainer, and avoiding typical modern gyms completely, would be ideal for a believer, but this isn’t always an option for everyone.
Working out at home or outdoors requires sufficient space, privacy (including from the kids or needy family members), safety (outdoors in some places is too dangerous), equipment (not always a requirement), self-discipline, and motivation. In addition, self-training may work for most, but at a certain level of athleticism, athletes require the gym’s equipment, trainers, classes, and possibly other role-players.
So, there’s no place like home for those who don’t need to workout at a gym. Make yourself comfortable there. If you can afford it, build your own gym and expand your dwelling as much as you need.
The Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace) said in prayer one night: “O Allah, forgive me my sin, make my house spacious and bless me in that which You provide to me.” [Tirmidhi]
Tip: Work on the strength of your connection with Allah.
If you sincerely want to be a Strong Believer for the sake of Allah and you are willing to make some effort to ensure that you do not break His Laws, Allah will make a way out for you.
Allah says: “And whoever is mindful of Allah, He will make a way out for them, and provide for them from sources they could never imagine. And whoever puts their trust in Allah, then He (alone) is sufficient for them. Certainly, Allah achieves His Will. Allah has already set a destiny for everything.” [Quran 65:2]
[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.