0812-Physical Activity and Exercise: An Islamic Perspective

Paper presented at The Annual Training for Better organization and Islamic Health Conference organized by the Islamic Medical Faculties of Indonesia at Universitas Islam Sultan Agung Semarang on 20th December 2008 by Dr Omar Hasan Kasule Sr. MB ChB (MUK), MPH (Harvard), DrPH (Harvard) Professor of Epidemiology and Islamic Medicine Institute of Medicine Universiti Brunei and Visiting Professor of Epidemiology Universiti Malaya. EM: omarkasule@yahoo.com, EM: http://omarkasule.tripod.com


The paper defines physical activity and explains its physiological, health, social, and religious benefits. It then describes Islamic guidelines for various types of physical activity such as walking, running, sitting, and standing as well as Islamic guidelines on physical sports.




Physical activity is any physical movement involving the musculo-skeletal system. Physical activity is a type of physical activity that is undertaken for the specific purpose of improving fitness, promotion of health, or prevention of disease.



Being physically active has many religious and social benefits. The physically active have the strength to undertake physical acts of ‘ibadat like salat or hajj. They have the energy to undertake work to be economically productive and thus support themselves and their community. The physically active are able to travel and engage in social activities such as visiting relatives, visiting the sick, and participating in social activities. All these have social and psychological benefits that would not be achieved in the absence of physical fitness.


Physical activity while doing useful work

In the modern technological society, physical exercise is undertaken as an end in itself with the result that most activities benefit the individual physiologically and in health promotion but have no contribution to society. We need to change the concept of exercise to be able to accrue maximum advantage. This can be achieved if people exercise while doing some socially beneficial work. This will be an appropriate return to the start of human history when people were active physically in hunting, gathering, and agriculture that were direct social benefits.


Legal rulings on physical activity

Physical activity is mustahabb or manduub for its physiological and health benefits. It is waajib when it is required as part of disease treatment. It is also mustahabb as a recreation. Participative sports are preferred over spectator sports. Males and females should be separated in sports activities. Sports involving show of cruelty, high risk for participants or spectators, or gambling are either haram or makruuh.



Types of walking:

Bipedal walking of humans has enabled humans build a sophisticated civilization. The Qur’an has mentioned walking in various instances: walking on earth, mashyu ‘ala al ardh[1], walking in the earth, mashyu fi al ardh[2], walking in the markets, mashyu fi al aswaaq[3], and walking in homes, mashyu fi al masaakin[4]. Allah made the roads[5] to enable humans work in comfort. He also provided landmarks for them to know the way and to know the direction of the road. The road is not always easy and Allah in His mercy made hajj obligatory only for those who have the ability to travel, istitaa’at al sabiil[6]. It is not permitted to travel in order to visit mashahid and qubuur. It is not permitted to make a specific travel to visit any mosque except the three mosques. Tourism without any purpose is forbidden, al siyaahat fi al ardh biduun gharadh shara’e manhiyu ‘anhu. Walking may take the form of jogging, hiking, mountaineering, competitive speed running.


Purposes of walking

Humans unlike animals should not walk and wander aimlessly. Walking can be for any of the following worthy purposes: work and employment, ‘ibadat, seeking knowledge, physical exercise for fitness, recreation or race walking, and social visits. Walking for purposes of ‘ibadat is the most worthy purpose. The reward is increased according to the number of steps taken to the masjid.


Etiquette of walking

The Prophet taught the importance of walking as a physical exercise by walking around Madina on foot even when he could have ridden a horse or a donkey. The prophet taught by example that the best manner is walking is taking quick and big steps, harwalat. The Prophet’s walk is described as form of jogging, harwala, as he was always in a hurry. He never walked lazily. He used to walk around Madina with his wives or his companions. He also used to walk in the open desert. He climbed mountains. One day in Madina he climbed Mount Uhud accompanied by Abubakar, Omar, and Othman. The mountain quaked and he calmed it saying ‘ithbut ya uhud. ‘alayka rasul al llaah wa siddiq wa shahiidaan. The Qur’an has described several etiquettes of walking: firm steps, thubuut al aqdaam[7], walking on feet[8], walking straight, mashyu sawiy[9], and walking with etiquette, mashy wa al adab[10]. The etiquette of walking is more emphasized for a woman: walking with shyness, mashyu bi hayaa[11] and not making audible attractive sound patterns with the feet.


Etiquette of the road, adab al tariiq

When walking or sitting by a public highway, the following rights of the road, haqq al tariiq, must be observed: lowering the gaze, ghadh al basar; avoiding causing any annoyance, kaff al adha, and returning greetings, radd al salaam[12]


Etiquette of the journey:

The dua on start of a journey is ‘subhaana alladhi sakkhara lana hadha wa ma kunna lahu muqriniin wa inna ila rabbina lamunqalibiin. Allahumma inna nas aluka fi safarina hadha al birr wa al taqwah wa min al ‘amal ma tuhibbu wa tardha. Allahumma hawwin ‘alayina safarina hadha wa itwi’ina bu’udahu. Allahumma anta al saahibu fi al safar wa al khaliifat fi al ahl. Allahumma inni a ‘uudhu bika min wa’athaai al safar wa kaaabat al mandhar wa suui almunqalab fi al maal wa al ahl[13].

During the journey takbir is recited at high places or when ascending a hill and tasbiih on low places. The dua at the end of the journey is ‘aaibuun taaibuun ‘aabiduun li rabbina haamiduun[14].


Running is a sport. It is undertaken for recreation or for physical fitness or for both. It can take any of the following forms: short distance sprints at high speed, long distance marathons requiring physical endurance over a long time, or the easy-paced jogging. Foot racing, musabaqat, is allowed when wearing leather socks, khuff, or bare footed[15]. The prophet is reported to have engaged in foot-racing with his wife Aisha. Early in their marriage Aisha was small and light and she used to win the race. Later in her life she put on weight and the prophet used to win the races.



Sitting companion, jaliis:

A Muslim must be very careful whom he chooses for a sitting companion. The compassion may be good, jaliis al khayr, or bad, jaliis al suu. The bad companion may be a source of bad peer influence. It is recommended to seek the company of the righteous, al qu’uud ma’a al saalihiin, and to avoid the company of the transgressors, al qu’ud ma’a al dhaalimiin[16]. Sitting on graves, al juluus ala al qubuur, is forbidden and visits to the cemetery should be brief.


Physiological purposes

Sitting down serves the purposes of resting and relaxation. While standing muscle tension maintains an upright posture. On sitting down, the muscles can relax. Sitting is also psychologically relaxing. The prophet recommended sitting down in a calamity, al juluus ‘inda al musiibat[17]


Sitting in assemblies of ibadat, majlis al ibadat wa al dhikr

Sitting is a form of ‘ibadat. A believer remembers Allah sitting down, dhikr al llaah qu’udan[18]. Sitting in the mosque waiting for salat has the reward of being in salat


Sitting for learning, majlis al ‘ilm

Sitting in a study circle to study Qur’an and other religious sciences has been part of Muslim tradition for centuries. The study circles are usually held in the mosque.


Etiquette of the assembly, adab al majlis

The prophet taught the etiquette of sitting in an assembly. Priority of sitting is given to the first-comer. A person cannot be forced to stand up and give his or her seat to a newcomer however is considered good manners and charity to do so. If a person goes out of the assembly for a short interval he has the right to reclaim his or her seat. There are special rights of sitting for the elderly, the learned, and the handicapped. Children should sit behind the adults. Women have to sit separate from men and their manner of sitting should respect the shyness expected of a woman.


Physiological purposes

Standing is preparation for walking. Standing helps venous return due to the action of muscle pumping.


The unique human upright posture

The human upright posture is a bounty from Allah. Humans are able to maintain stationary equilibrium and dynamic equilibrium against forces of gravity and other forces like the wind or the push of other humans. The upright posture is maintained by muscular stretch reflexes to counteract the force of gravity. Several muscles have to act in unison to maintain the balance needed to stay upright. Different muscles are involved in different ways as the person stays stationary of starts moving. The upright posture is maintained only if the center of gravity is above the base connecting the 2 feet. If the center of gravity moves out of this base, the balance is lost and the person falls. The only way to prevent a fall is to move forward, an action that involves leaning forward to bring the center of gravity back to base. Maintaining an erect posture requires a sophisticated neural coordination that is best developed in humans.


Standing and ‘ibadat

Standing is involved in several acts of ‘ibadat. Night prayer is called qiyaam al llayl[19] because of the prolonged standing involved. Humans stand in remembrance of Allah, qiyaam li dhikr al laah[20]. There is standing in the 5 obligatory prayers, qiyaam al salat. During hajj there is standing at Arafat, wuquuf Arafat, and at Muzdalifat, wuquuf muzdalifat. Care must be taken to make sure that prolonged standing in salat does not cause postural hypotension due to venous pooling of blood in the lower extremity.


Etiquette of standing, adab al qiyaam

A Muslim can stand up to show respect to another person, qiyaam al ihtiraam. The respect to humans in extended even to the funeral bier. It is recommended to stand up when a funeral procession passes by, qiyaam li al janazat. It is however forbidden to stand for any human or any object for the purpose of ‘ibadat.


SPORTS, riyadhat


The term play, la’ib can be used in a positive and negative sense. Play of children is useful for their social and physical growth. Play as in physical sports for making the body strong and healthy is positive. Play is used in a negative way to refer to adult activities that lack a purpose. Such play is condemned, la’ib madhmuum[21]. Earthly life can be considered play, al duniya la’ib[22] if it lacks purpose and direction.


Purposes of sports

Sports provide a healthy way of releasing aggression that is naturally found in humans. It also helps exercise the body to achieve optimal health. Islam encourages physical sports for the purposes of building the body’s strength to stay healthy and be able to undertake obligatory duties like salat. Sports are forms of entertainment on joyous occasions like eid[23]. From the Islamic point of view participation in sports is what is preferred. Just being a spectator although entertaining, is less favored. Competitive sports is encouraged if it is associated with more people participating in the quest for victory. If it is done for any other purpose then it is frowned upon. Group sports help in forging a spirit of team work.


Sports and addiction:

When sports becomes the only pre-occupation of an individual to the exclusion of many other beneficial activities such as ‘ibadat, it has become harmful. Many youths who are fans of various clubs and players fall into this trap. What is needed is for the individual to participate in sports for his or her bodily benefit but in moderation.


Commercialization of sports:

Sometimes sports becomes big business. The commercialization of sports undermines the very Islamic essence of participative sports. Islam wants people to be participators and not spectators.


Sports and gambling:

Gambling in its various forms is associated with competitive sports. Gambling is an addiction that is difficult to get out of. It is related to many other evils such as alcohol, drugs, and crime. It is a type of social failure. The victim loses control over his actions and his own behavior and usually ends up failing socially.


Some legal rulings

Nakedness, ‘awrat, must be covered all the time during sports. Violent sports such as boxing and wrestling and risky sports such as car racing may fall under the rubric of makruuh.

[1]  Qur’an 25:63

[2] Qur’an 17:37, 17:95, 31:18

[3] Qur’an 25:7

[4] Qur’an 20:128

[5] Qur’an 16:15; p558 20:53, 21:31; P 558 43:10

[6]  Qur’an 3:97

[7] Qur’an 2:250

[8] Qur’an 7:195, 24:45

[9] Qur’an 67:22

[10] Qur’an 25:63, 31:19

[11] Qur’an 28:25

[12] Bukhari

[13] Muslim

[14]  Muslim

[15] Ahmad

[16] Qur’an 4:140, 6:68

[17] Abudaud

[18]  Qur’an 3:191, 4:103

[19] Qur’an 25:64, 39:9, 52:48-49, 73:20

[20] Qur’an 3:191, 4:103

[21] Qur’an 7:98, 9:65, 21:2, 43:83, 70:42

[22] Qur’an  6:32, 29:64, 47:36, 57:20

[23] Muslim

ŠProfessor Omar Hasan Kasule, Sr. December, 2008