“And in this way we made you a balanced nation…” (2:143)
There are few things as satisfying as discovering a hidden talent and achieving excellence through it. Whether it’s art, music, photography, or any one of the numerous fields where Muslims have exceeding reserves of ability, our community has never been one to hold people back.
Except when it comes to athletics.
Go into film and you’ll be lauded and praised as an example of how Muslims need to get involved in ‘non-traditional’ fields.
Go into journalism and you’ll be told you are our community’s best hope for representation in mainstream media.
But pursue athletics? You’ll be questioned and interrogated, with the chorus being, “Can’t you do something useful with your time?”
Our community seems to have decided that athletics has no room in the lives of our youth. And while there has been a growing movement for Muslims to diversify and pursue their interests, athletics is a field that remains neglected.
It is thus truly baffling that when we look back, we find that regular physical activity was actually encouraged by the Prophet Muhammad (SAW).
The Prophet (SAW) was known as someone who was exceedingly fit: in a hadith in Tirmidhi, Abu Huraira narrated that, “I did not see anyone walk faster than him, as if the earth folded for him. A few moments ago he would be here, and then there. We found it difficult to keep pace when we walked with him and he walked at his normal pace.”
He (SAW) would race with his wife; in a hadith reported in Sahih Bukhari, Aisha (RA) stated that, “I raced with the Prophet and I beat him. Later, when I had put on some weight, we raced again and he won. Then he said, ‘This cancels that (referring to the previous race).’”
He even participated in wrestling – in a hadith reported by Abu Dawud, it was narrated that the Prophet (SAW) once wrestled with a man named Rukhanah who was well known for his strength, throwing him down more than once.
Regular physical activity is incredibly beneficial, endorsed by the Sunnah, and yet repeatedly discouraged. Rather than encourage our youth, we send the message that sports and athletics are a waste of time, or nothing serious, compounding the growing problem of inactivity in the 21st century. Worse, by discouraging participation in sports and athletics, we prevent our youth from following their passions and using their talents, forcing them to take up activities that they are neither good at nor interested in.
Islam has never been a religion founded on ignorance or stagnation, but on growth and positive change. We were the community that originated the concept of zero, that invented soap, and that founded the first modern university. We were the community whose Prophet (SAW) would compete in archery, and whose companions would wrestle inside the Mosque.
Who are we to turn away from sports?