Saturday, September 26, 2009

Fit Muslimah Wannabe

Did anyone see this article in the New York Times? Exercise Tailored to a Hijab. It was reprinted in the 'Life' section of the N&O on Thursday, I think. Since I don't subscribe to the N&O, I wasn't aware until someone mentioned it at my monthly Faith Club meeting. Two other members who do subscribe informed me about it (saying that there had been articles "every other day" about Muslims lately.) One even showed me the article, which you can see. It even had the same picture, with the two ladies stretching while wearing hijab.

My mom even brought a copy of the paper home for me to read (she gets copies at work sometimes.) It's an interesting article, I think--I don't see any particular bias for or against Muslims, which was kind of nice to read. Maybe someone else reading had a different impression. As yet, I'm still way behind on my Google Reader (thanks to not reading anything in Ramadan) so I haven't read what anyone else might have commented on regarding the article. Reading it myself I felt like saying "Huh. I could've told you that..." but that's just me.

Mostly the article talked about special considerations that Muslim women who cover (in hijab) have to make in order to exercise. Obesity is not a problem absent, unfortunately, from Muslim communities, but still, exercise isn't emphasized more by Muslims than any other religious group, at least here in the United States.

I have a thought that in general, society (Muslim and otherwise) views religion as dealing with their spiritual life, and fitness to be a part of their non-spiritual life. For Muslims, however, this shouldn't be the case, since we know that Islam encompasses all aspects of life (therefore, why not our health?) and because physical and spiritual aspects are frequently intertwined in a single act. Take ritual purification as an example, where the individual washes himself in such a way to promote good hygiene (physical) but yet as an essential part of a religious obligation (e.g., preparing for prayer.)

Similarly, promoting health and fitness (or failing to do so) can impact a person's spiritual life. There are, for instance, some Muslim brothers and sisters who have tremendous difficulty praying their daily obligation just because of their weight. They might be forced to sit during the qiyyam (especially during taraweeh), or have to sit during ruku' and sujood because they would not be able to lift themselves from the floor. That is an extreme case, but also consider how carrying excess weight can cause a person's bones and joints to fail at a young age, which would also require special accommodations during prayer, or at the very least make it uncomfortable, perhaps even painful to perform prayer.

And if it's painful, that makes it harder to maintain the obligation, and even harder to add in extra salawat. Now of course our deen allows accommodations to people who have medical difficulties (whether related to weight or not,) and it is a beautiful mercy from Allah. But to know that some of these problems can be avoided or at least delayed by just eating right and exercising should be an encouragement for us, from our religion.

So upon deciding to engage in a healthy lifestyle, a brother or sister must still consider religious obligations. For women, a exercise outdoors or even in a public gym open to men and women provides a problem. Exercise is easiest in light, formfitting clothing, which isn't exactly appropriate for a Muslim woman. For men, especially in exercise environments (like parks and gyms,) there might an abundance of women who are dressed in form-fitting clothes that don't cover much at all--and if they do, leave little to the imagination.

I would love to see more women's-only gyms, or gyms with accommodations for women to exercise in private. There is (was) a gym in downtown Raleigh (although the company recently went under) that had a women's-only room. I would have preferred to exercise there but it was too far from my home for it to be logistically feasible. The article in the paper mentioned a women's-only gym which it said had more Orthodox Jewish women. I think that's important because women wanting to exercise in privacy is not something unique to Islam. Women of many faiths value modesty.

I have at times seen other women in hijab at the gym. Frankly, it's not the easiest thing to do. For covering the arms and legs, it means pants and a long-sleeve shirt or a jacket. Honestly, it is cumbersome to do this. After an hour of a hard workout knit fabrics can be soaked through (for heavy sweaters,) and can feel heavy or cumbersome when doing exercises. Wearing a hijab is similarly troublesome. It's just extra fabric where sweat accumulates and prevents some heat from escaping the body. It's not comfortable, and for my own part I would prefer not to wear one, even though I do the best I can with a cotton slip-on, which is probably the best option to go with for working out. I've seen other sisters wearing extremely loose t-shirts (which can work if you're very small and can buy several sizes above what "fits"), and also wearing a sort of exercise dress. For that, the sister had a dress which was long sleeved and extended past her knees, made out of a light fabric, which she wore with some variety of track pants underneath, with a slip-on hijab. It was less form-fitting than other options. While I don't mind wearing hijab on a normal day, even outside on a warm day, wearing it while exercising is annoying, but for me it seems one of the only real options available to me right now. So I hope, truly, that a gym for women lurks somewhere in my near future--it would beat exercising in sweats, for sure.



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Brad said...

Asalaam Alaikum!

Great post! I was just thinking about the connection between Islam and staying healthy today while I was at the gym.

I agree that working out while wearing the hijab is probably not very comfortable. May Allah(swt) bless you for the extra burden you carry to follow his command by staying modest. Ameen!

Have you ever heard of a chain called Curves? It's for women only and is based on circuit training. You spend a specified amount of time at each machine, then move on to the next. I don't know if you have one in your area, but if you do, it's worth checking out.


Amy said...

Wa alaykum assalaam, Brad!

I did look in to Curves when I started looking at gyms because I thought they catered to women only, but I found out that only some locations are exclusively for women. (Although, there are plenty of locations around here.)

However, it's not a "gym" in the traditional sense, as far as I'm concerned, because you are only allowed to do their circuit training workout. They have a particular program that you are supposed to follow, the circuit that's supposed to take like 30 minutes.

While I'm sure it's a great an effective program, it's not what I was looking for, and a traditional gym with a variety of equipment for varying workouts just worked better for me. When I go to the gym, I usually spend at least an hour and a half, doing a combination of weights and cardio. The 30-min circuit just wasn't what I was looking to do. So far I've been pretty happy with my results. (When I'm working towards achieving my goals, anyway, I'm fairly successful.)