From the time immemorial, people have sought means of physical training and invented all kinds of sports to make their bodies strong, but each to its purposes and conditions. A nation where fighting and battles were the norm, sports like weightlifting, archery and dueling would be very common, while swimming became the favorite sports to people living on sea-shores. In the Arabian peninsula, people got used to hunting and horse-riding due to their conditions of frequent traveling and moving from one place to another.
Islam does not oppose having a strong body via practicing sports. Muslims are commanded to be of sound bodies and sound minds in addition to having sound morals. In the Hadith, we read: “A strong believer is better and more beloved to Allah than a weak one.” (Reported by Muslim) A sound strong body is capable of fulfilling both the religious and the worldly duties. Islam never accepts anything that leads to neglecting these duties, save in some cases where some exemptions are made so as to make matters easy for believers.
In his well known book ‘Zad-Al-Ma`aad’, Imam Ibnul-Qayyim states that movement is the core of sports. It helps the body get rid of waste food in a very normal way. It makes it active, enhances its immunity and protects it from diseases. Each organ has its own sport that suits it. As for horse-riding, archery, wrestling and racing, they are sports that benefit the whole body.
Sports appearing in Islamic rituals
In Islam, we see that many Islamic rituals contain sports that help the body attain physical fitness once they are practiced properly. The rituals of pilgrimage, paying visits to Muslim brothers, visiting the sick, going to and fro the mosque and participating in many social activities are no more than sports.
Etiquette of sports in Islam
The fact that Islam encourages the practicing of sports makes one realize how great, flexible and comprehensive is this course of Allah given to mankind. In this context, Islam stresses the importance of spiritual and moral training that should accompany physical training so that the latter yield its desired effects.
In supporting a team, hooliganism should be avoided. Also, there is no place for gloating. Having an upper hand in games does not warrant jeering at a defeated opponent. Islam views sports as a means of enhancing mutual love and cooperation among people, not a means of hurting feelings. That’s why the winning party should never be carried away with joy to the extent of insulting the opponents, nor must the defeated party be eaten up with envy at his counterpart’s advantage. He must keep in mind that his today’s loss will pave way for his tomorrow success, if he keeps patience and tries to improve himself.
This reminds us of the occasion when a nomad’s camel outpaced the Prophet’s she-camel which was known to be ever-first in racing, Muslims felt sad. Commenting on the issue, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “Almighty Allah has decreed that nothing shall have a permanent glory (meaning that every situation has its ups and downs and no condition is permanent).” The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) made this statement to cool down the feelings of those who found his camel being outpaced a difficult thing to swallow.
In contests, a true Muslim never forgets the etiquette of giving the counterparts good treatment. Casting aside morals in contests and competitions is a form of hypocrisy to which the Prophet referred when saying: “There are four characteristics if found in a person, he is a pure hypocrite. If one of them is found in a person, it gives him a characteristic of hypocrisy until he drops that: if trusted with something, he breaches trust, if talks, he tells lies, if makes a promise, he does not keep his word and if is in a quarrel with someone, he proves deviant (resorts to vile speech and corrupt conduct.)”
Tips for a Muslim practicing sports
1-A Muslim should not occupy himself with sports to the extent that leads to neglecting religious and other duties.
2-A Muslim is not permitted to give himself loose rein in practicing sports in a way that involves inflicting harm on others. Practicing sports in crowded streets, for example, thus causing traffic jam is not an Islamic way for example.
3-Blind fanaticism in favor or against a team has nothing to do with Islam, for this really contradicts the Islamic teachings calling for unity and love.
4-While practicing sports there should be no room for foul words, bad behavior and slandering.
5-Islam does not allow matches or games that involve both sexes, in a way that opens channels for seduction, temptation and corruption.
6-Islam rejects also all games and sports that stir sexual urge or encourage moral perversion such as women practicing dancing and being watched by the public.
Males are to practice sports that suits their nature and vice versa. In Islam, it is not allowed for females to practice sports that are unique for men.
In conclusion, it is to be made clear that upon declaring something permissible, Islam places some stipulations that aim at maintaining morality and that cope with the general wisdom of legislation. Sports are to be practiced following these stipulations so as to avoid any undesired harms. The general rule of Shari`ah is that any act that involves transgressing limits whether in eating, drinking, clothing or anything else, is prohibited. The Qur’an declares: [O ye who believe! Forbid not the good things which Allah hath made lawful for you, and transgress not. Lo! Allah loveth not transgressors.] (Al-Ma’idah 5: 87)
By Sheikh `Atiyyah Saqr**
** Sheikh `Atiyyah Saqr is a former head of Al-Azhar Fatwa Committee.