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Sports: Why Muslims Should Have No Ambivalence About Participating in It

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Talent, whether inborn or developed, is highly motivating. Those with a penchant for law, for example, are attracted to the gifted attorney-his or her oratory, style, compelling arguments and so on. Many who excel in sports, whether its basketball, hockey, baseball, or cricket, are elevated to the point where they become household names. Talented people, especially in the domain of sports, bring excitement and joy to hundreds of millions of people. They also exemplify certain values that Islam appreciates greatly. Foremost among them is physical fitness and strength, without which certain acts of ibadah will be difficult to fulfill. This, along with other factors, suggests that Muslims should not be nonchalant about sports but should rather take an active role in it.

Islam and Physical Wellbeing

Islam attributes great importance to the physical wellbeing of human beings. It will logically encourage the honing of any ability to achieve this. In this regard, sports -particularly competitive sports-occupies a position of unequalled merit. To compete is to place a high value on winning. This being the case, the body will have to be strong to withstand the physical rigors and demands the game entails. This is in keeping with the premium value Islam places on physical fitness. The Prophet (PBUH) said, “The strong believer is more beloved to Allah than the weak believer, although both are good.” While the meaning of this Hadith is not limited to the physical aspect of a believer, it places strong emphasis on being physically fit and healthy. In terms of sports, feebleness, which is not compatible with the world view of Islam, will not simply be frowned upon; it’s presence will have an exclusionary effect.  

Sports For All

This rule of exclusion cannot be circumvented except in limited circumstances. For example, many people with physical disability play competitive sports in contemporary times, albeit with modified rules that befit their circumstances. The fact that provisions are made for this demonstrates how much society has evolved in terms of appreciating the worth of all human beings from the point of view of sports and how far it is prepared to go to allow for an expression of that worth. This is an indication   that sports could be viewed as a conduit of emotional and physical wellbeing-that is, as conducive to mitigating stress and the feeling of low self-esteem. Arguably, this applies to all who play sports, not simply those with disabilities. And with all the demoralizing experiences Muslims suffer daily, sports can be a mechanism to boost the morale of millions of Muslim fans, especially in the televised context in which it is played and viewed.

Displaying Exemplary Behavior

In cricket, for instance, we have witnessed behaviors that would make us proud of being Muslims. Upon winning a series, for example, English players would celebrate in their traditional manner: pop the champagne bottle and then spray the contents upon themselves. The only exception to such impropriety would be the Muslim players on the team. They would excuse themselves from such indecorous celebrations by retreating to the back, virtually making themselves less noticable. For a practicing believer, sports does not get in the way of his values; he shows that he can be both a sportsman and a believer at the same time. This negates any notion one may have of any adversarial relationship between sports and Islam. Such conduct positively impacts not only Muslim fans; others too are moved by it. In this context, Australian Matthew Hayden, one of the two coaches of the Pakistan’s team, prominently comes to mind.

“Matthew Hayden in awe at how Pakistan cricket team’s whole culture is underpinned by Islam” was how the Hindu Post on November 8,2021 captioned Matthew Haden’s clip on the behavior of Pakistani cricketers. To put your religion on par with sports during a game, as is suggested here, underscores the fact that even sports, where emotions and sentiments run deep, cannot be a distraction for conscious Muslim sports men. Basketball is also replete with inspiring examples. One example will suffice here. Speaking about fasting in Ramadan while playing professional basketball, Portland Trail Blazers center Enes Kanter said, “It just feels amazing out there because I know that I’m doing something that I’m supposed to do, but at the same time, I am playing basketball.” Such fervency gives confidence to Muslims and may even leave an imprint on the top echelons of the game. Simply put, the mannerism and religious spirit displayed while playing sports can be pivotal in terms of changing perceptions of non-Muslims. Displaying exemplary behavior during a game, and earning a livelihood at the same time, seems to underpin the attitude of some Muslim sports people.

Muhammad Ali – the Advocate

Some have even become rich from the economic opportunities provided by sports and have used their wealth to ease human sufferings and to bring about a more equitable and humane world. An example par excellence is the late Muhammad Ali. “Muhammad Ali was a transformative humanitarian and peace advocate dedicated to improving people’s lives, reducing suffering, and recognizing human dignity.”  And some, in defiance of conventions, go so far as to use their prominent status in sports as a platform for speaking out against oppression and other forms of injustices. Again, the late Muhammad Ali comes into focus. “Throughout his life, Ali used his fame to shine a spotlight on suffering worldwide, to advocate for peace, and to amplify the voices of those unheard, particularly the youth.” This shows emphatically that the argument for Muslims participating in sports is not one dimensional- not only about talent and physical prowess coming into play. Today, fortunately, the multifaceted aspects of sports seem to have a galvanizing effect on Muslim organizations, including the masjids.

Sports and Youth

 Masjids have apparently taken notice of the salubrious effect of sports and seem to be giving sports an increasingly strategic position in their master plan. This is an apparent recognition that youths are naturally enamored of sports and that sports should be recognized as essential for physical development and strength. This trajectory seems also to consider the need for bringing about a different orientation among the youths – understanding that the masjid is the nucleus of our lives. Such an approach is undoubtedly an effective antidote to the many distractions facing our youths.

Again, it is not difficult to appreciate why Muslims should not be indifferent to sports. On the contrary, the efficacy of sports, in terms of the building a strong body and in the matter of setting great examples, constitutes a strong argument for fully endorsing it. Yes, Muslim communities should work diligently to inculcate their followers, especially the youths, with a love of sports.

Sheik Ayube

                                                                            References: 

  1. HinduPost Desk. (2021, November 8). Matthew Hayden in Awe at How Pakistan Cricket Team’s Whole Culture is Underpinned by Islam. Hindu Post. http://hindupost.in
  2. NBC.SPORTS.COM. (2021, April 13). Enes Kanter says fasting during Ramadan restores his ’superpowers’. www.nbcsports.com
  3. UL UNIVERSITY LIBRARIES. Muhammad Ali: A Transcendent Life: Humanitarian and Peace Advocate. https://library.louisville.edu