The Importance of Encouraging Physical Fitness Among Muslim Women: Addressing Disparities in Participation Rates Across Faith Groups
Fitness is important for everyone, regardless of their faith, gender, or background. However, studies have shown that very few Muslim women participate in sports compared to other faith groups1. According to Sports England’s latest participation figures, less than one in five Muslim females exercise at least once a week – lower than any other faith group1. This is a worrying trend, as lack of physical activity can lead to various health problems, such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and depression.
So why are Muslim women less active than others? There are many possible reasons, such as cultural norms, family responsibilities, lack of time, lack of access to suitable facilities, or lack of motivation. Some Muslim women may also face challenges in finding appropriate workout wear that covers their body and hair according to their religious beliefs. Islam does not restrict women from exercising – in fact all Muslims are urged to take care of their bodies through healthy eating and exercise – but women face a special set of challenges in a culture of co-ed gyms and skimpy workout wear2.
However, these challenges are not insurmountable. There are many ways that Muslim women can overcome the barriers and enjoy the benefits of fitness. Here are some tips and suggestions:
- Find a women-only gym or fitness center, or join a women-only class or group. This way, you can exercise without worrying about being seen by men or feeling uncomfortable in your clothes. There are many options available for Muslim women who prefer to work out in a female-only environment, such as Zumba, yoga, Pilates, aerobics, or martial arts. You can also look for online exercise classes that cater to Muslim women, where cameras and mics are off as standard3.
- Wear modest and comfortable workout clothes that suit your style and preferences. You don’t have to compromise your modesty or your fashion sense when it comes to fitness. There are many brands and designers, such as AFFERMIE, that offer modest activewear for Muslim women, such as hijabs, jilbabs, abayas, niqabs, leggings, tunics, or jackets. You can also mix and match your own clothes to create a look that works for you. The main thing is to wear clothes that are breathable, flexible, and durable.
- Get inspired by other Muslim women who are into fitness. There are many examples of Muslim women who are breaking stereotypes and achieving amazing things in the fitness world. For instance, Zehra Allibhai is a hijabi mom and certified personal trainer who shares accessible workouts and nutrition tips on her Instagram account @zallibhai4. Ahlam Mohammed is a niqab-wearing fitness influencer who encourages Muslim women in the gym through her TikTok videos @bint3rabia5. Ibtihaj Muhammad is the first U.S. Olympian to compete while wearing a hijab in fencing4. Rahaf Khatib is a hijabi marathoner who graced the cover of Women’s Running magazine4. These women are challenging beliefs about what Muslim women can and cannot do when it comes to fitness.
- Make fitness fun and enjoyable for yourself and others. Fitness doesn’t have to be boring or stressful. You can make it fun by choosing activities that you like and that suit your personality and goals. You can also involve your family and friends in your fitness journey and make it a social activity. For example, you can go for a walk or bike ride with your spouse or kids, join a dance class with your sisters or friends, or play a sport with your community or mosque members. You can also motivate yourself and others by setting goals, tracking your progress, rewarding yourself, and celebrating your achievements.
Fitness is not only good for your body but also for your mind and soul. It can help you improve your health, mood, confidence, self-esteem, and happiness. It can also help you connect with Allah (SWT) by being grateful for the blessings He has given you and by using them in the best way possible. As the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “A strong believer is better and more beloved to Allah than a weak believer.” (Muslim)
So don’t let anything stop you from being fit and fabulous as a Muslim woman. You have the right and the responsibility to take care of yourself and your well-being. You have the power and the potential to achieve anything you set your mind to. You have the support and the inspiration from other Muslim women who are doing it. And you have the guidance and the reward from Allah (SWT) who loves you and wants the best for you.