Recreation and Fitness in Islam
"Teach your children swimming, archery and horse riding"
As Muslims, we believe Islam is a complete way of life, providing a foundation and framework for all its aspects. In a time when increasing emphasis is being placed upon physical fitness and recreation, we should know how to maximize our benefit from these pursuits in accordance with our Islamic values.
Recreation has always been a part of human existence. It can be a natural break which allows people time for refreshment and clearing the mind. We read in the Qur’ân how the brothers of Prophet Yűsuf used it as a way to appeal to their father:
“Send him with us tomorrow that he may eat well and play” (12:12).
We have many examples from the time of the Prophet during which the companions participated in many different forms of lawful entertainment and play. They engaged in sports like footraces, horseracing, wrestling, and archery. They spent time telling jokes and in lighthearted conversation. One of the Companions, Abű al-Dardâ’ is reported to have said:
“I seek recreation in something that is neither useful nor unlawful, and this makes me stronger on the truth.”
Almost everyone today is aware of at least a few advantages of being physically fit; one should also know that Islam also encourages those who take care of their health and body. The Prophet (saw) (on the authority of Abu Hurayrah) is reported to have said:
“The strong believer is better and more beloved to Allah than the weak believer, while there is good in both.”
While there are many kinds of strength, the obvious type is physical strength. A great Muslim mind from our history, ibn Taymiyya, also thought the Prophet was talking about physical strength. He wrote that it was preferable and more virtuous for a Muslim to have the ability to properly perform their prayers. A contemporary scholar of our times, Salih al-Fawzaan had the following to say about physical strength and its relation to our belief and actions:
“The believer who is strong in his belief, body, and actions is better than the weak believer, the one who has weak belief, or a weak body or weak actions. That is because the strong believer is productive and accomplishes things for the Muslims, and thus they benefit from his physical strength, actions, and his strong belief.
“So this hadith is an encouragement to have strength, as Islam is the Religion on strength, the Religion of honor, the Religion of prestige!
“So the strength that is sought from us in Islam is strength in belief and its tenets, as well as strength in our actions and bodies, because all of this brings forth good things for the Muslims.
“The believer who has strong belief is more likely to be fit and in shape. This is because he understands the importance of striving and staying in shape in preparation for it, while the weak believer may easily get fat and out of shape, from his overeating and laziness. Physical strength is a direct result of strength in belief.”
We see from the above that physical fitness and strength are highly valued in Islam. The Prophet is also reported to have said:
“Teach your children swimming, archery and horse-riding.”
The above sayings of the Prophet and accompanying explanations provide strong evidence and clearly demonstrate that physical strength and sound fitness are desirable and valuable qualities to find in a believer.
Additionally, as Muslims, we believe that the knowledge of how long a person has to live something known only to the Creator. However, if someone has been blessed with long life, should they not show gratitude by taking care of them self?
The Prophet is reported to have said:
“And your body also has a right over you.”
Everyone should always desire to be at their best to fulfill all their obligations. There is not a single circumstance when it is advantageous to be in a poor state of health. Staying healthy and physically fit it is perhaps the most practical method of implementing the above advice to avoid the health defects that aging is prone to.
Furthermore, as Muslims, we must always be aware of how valuable the time is that we have been given in our brief lives on Earth. Islam teaches us to place a premium on our time, and to get as much out of it as we can, defining for us the various ways we can employ it.
No recreational activity should ever take precedence over any obligation, nor should an individual burden themselves with so many responsibilities as to not allow any time for rest. We must keep our intentions pure when we engage in these activities if we want to earn the reward and blessings of our Creator. Is there any point to spend countless hours in the gym in an effort to lose weight only for attaining a figure similar to the ones which are on the covers of magazines today with no other more significant goal in mind?
We read in the Qur’an that:
“And we have made you a balanced community” (2:143).
We ask Allah to help us maintain a balance in our lives that will always enable us to improve our service to him, to ourselves and to mankind as a whole. ̹