Fitness guide for muslims

fitness guide for muslimsNormally you will find a fitness guide written by a buffed up macho with eight-pack abs and deltoids the size of a football. Such guides will provide you with great details on what to eat, how to exercise, the timings, the conditions and a whole bunch of scientific observations for motivation and what not. Well, this is not your typical health guide and I am not your stereotypical nutritionist or fitness expert trying to make a buck from selling the latest fad. In fact, if you were to see me, you would probably say that I am in need of this guide the most (and I would agree).

The truth is, I have been obese for the vast majority of my life (even up till now). The only moments of real fitness I enjoyed were those, coincidentally, around my marriage years. Interestingly, those were also the years in which I started learning and practicing the teachings of Islam to the utmost of my capabilities. Coincidence? Not Really!

After you realize that Islam is a complete way of life, and also the last religion from Allah until the Day of Judgment, it is only expected that our Lord, in his absolute wisdom, will sent down guidelines for us to maintain and flourish our health in all the Big Mac soda pop sugar crunching eras that were to come between the Prophet and the last day. In reality, Islam has not only provided these guidelines, but also made it a reward worthy act to pursue good health and physical fitness.

Intention (to look good…in front of Allah)

Before starting of any action, it is imperative that we define, evaluate, and if necessary, correct our intention. Without a proper intention, our goals could be skewed, our efforts, worthless, and our time, wasted. From the treasure of ahadith, we find such narrations as;

“The strong believer is better and more loved by Allah than the weak one, but they are both good.” (Muslim)

In another hadith the Prophet made us realize the importance of good health by (Peace be upon him) saying:

“Grab five things before five others: your youth before your decrepitude, your health before your illness, your wealth before your poverty, your leisure before your work, and your life before your death.”
[Al-Mustadrak, Book No. 44, 4/341]

From the above narrations we find that strength in a believer is a praiseworthy act, and that, as Muslims, we are supposed to benefit from good health by amassing more good deeds. Hence our intention should be to please Allah through every morsel of food we eat, and every drop of sweat we break while following our fitness program. Since our intention is good and goal is superior to the typical goal of non-Muslims; ‘to look good naked’, we should be expecting blessings and help from Allah from the very start of our fitness regimen.

Secret pill of transformation

The next thing to realize is that there was no secret pill that made you fat and lazy overnight. Similarly, there is no secret pill, scientific breakthrough, or diet plan that will make you slim overnight. You gained weight pound by pound and increased your waist inch by inch. Similarly, and only naturally, you should expect to lose excess fat pound by pound and inch by inch. The sooner you realize this truth, the sooner you can mend your ways for the better life that awaits you. If you want to get into shape, you will need to work for it. In short, you will need to exert more energy than the calories you intake on daily basis, and you will need to do it regularly, and preferably until old age sets you apart. But here is a promise of Allah to get you motivated;

And that man can have nothing but what he strives for” (Surah Najm, Verse 39)

This means that if you strive for something, you are going to achieve it, given that you fulfill the conditions of striving. In other words, if you start working towards your fitness goal with sincerity and perseverance, you will definitely most surely achieve it. So, imagine yourself having achieved those goals and go grab those cleats lying in the dustiest part of your closet.

The natural (aka, common sense) plan to fitness

If you want to become fit, you will need to manage two things; food and exertion.

Eat right!

Islam does not ask you to go on a special diet eating proteins, wheat bread, egg whites, and Special K. It only asks you two things, (i) to eat of the good things, (ii) and to eat in moderation. Allah says in the Quran:

‘Eat of the good things which We have provided for you.’ (Quran 2:173)

‘O you who believe! Make not unlawful the good things Allah has made lawful to you. But commit no excess, for Allah does not like those given to excess. Eat of the things which Allah has provided you, lawful and good, but fear Allah, in whom you believe’ (4: 86-88).Healthy Lifestyle

The Prophet (Peace be upon him) said, “The son of Adam does not fill any vessel worse than his stomach; for the son of Adam a few mouthfuls are sufficient to keep his back straight. If you must fill it, then one-third for food, one-third for drink and one-third for air.”
Narrated by at-Tirmidhi, 2380.

Control your calorie intake and make sure that the calories you do take are healthy. I am not asking you to stay hungry all the time, just take smaller portions so that at all times your stomach is according to the 1/3rd rule described by the Prophet (Peace be upon him). Also notice that Allah says in the verse to not make unlawful on yourself what Allah has made lawful for you. In other words, you don’t need to go on a fat free or carbs-only diet in the name of fitness. In fact, I found an interesting hadith where it seems that Allah punished the Jews by putting them on a truly fat-free system.

Narrated by Abu Hurairah that the Prophet (Peace be upon him) said, “May Allah curse the Jews, because Allah made (use of) fat illegal for them but they sold it and ate its price. ”  (Bukhari Book #34, Hadith #427)

If your hunger is not satisfied while following the 1/3rd rule, then perhaps eating together would help in this regards. This is because in one of the ahadith it is narrated that some of the Prophet’s (Peace be upon him) companions complained that they ate but were not satisfied. The Prophet (Peace be upon him) said, “Perhaps you eat separately.” They said, “Yes.” He said, “If you gather together and mention Allah’s name, you will be blessed in it.” (Abu Dawud)

Common sense has it that a moderate amount of proteins, carbs, and fats make a comprehensive and healthy diet. The problem arises when we indulge in more than we should. In other words, as soon as loss our moderation, we lose the inherent blessing of the item we are consuming.

Fat consumption was a routine diet of the Prophet (Peace be upon him) and his companions (May Allay be pleased with them). They used to dip their bread in olive oil, and specifically save the fat of animals for journeys. Ibn’ Abbas narrates that the Prophet (Peace be upon him) drank milk, rinsed his mouth and said, “It has fat.”(Bukhari Book #4, Hadith #210).

Why were the companions (RA) and the Prophet (Peace be upon him) fit and healthy even after such deliberate use of fats in their diets? The answer lies with them having an active lifestyle and regular exercise. Which, unsurprisingly, is our next point of discussion.

Exercise!

You would not see a companion (May Allah be pleased with them) going for a jog around the block. Neither would you see them joining a gym (there were none reported in ahadith anyways), nevertheless you would definitely see them living an active lifestyle. They were farmers, laborers, traders, and soldiers; all positions which meant extensive physical exertion.

Times have changed a lot since the era of the Prophet (Peace be upon him) however our physiology remained the same. So, what worked for them will surely work for us as well. Plan and start an active lifestyle from today. Increase your physical activity, be it through working out in a gym, or walking in the park with your family, or doing house hold chores or any other thing which will make you exert some energy and perhaps break some sweat while doing so.

Prophet Muhammad, may Allah praise him, said, “Any action without the remembrance of Allah is either a diversion or heedlessness excepting four acts: Walking from target to target [during archery practice], training a horse, playing with one’s wife, and learning to swim.”[Tabarani]

From the Sunnah we find that the companions (may Allah be pleased with them) used to run between the targets in order to stay more active. They used to learn horse riding, swimming, racing, target shooting, lifting weights (they used to pick up heavy stones), wrestling and other forms of recreational activities that involved the element of physical exertion. For them physical fitness was not a daily torture or boring chore but rather a source of enjoyment. The following beautiful hadith of the Prophet (Peace be upon him) is enough evidence for this point.
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Narrated Aisha, (May Allah be pleased with her): while she was on a journey along with the Prophet of Allah (Peace be upon him): I had a race with him (the Prophet) and I outstripped him on my feet. When I became fleshy, (again) I had a race with him (the Prophet) and he outstripped me. He said: This is for that outstripping.  (Book #14, Hadith #2572)

Foundations of success

There are some basic guidelines that, we as Muslims, should follow irrespective of whether we choose to follow a fitness plan or not. Following these guidelines in regards to a fitness plan will help us achieve our goals effectively and timely. One of those guidelines, or golden rule as I like to call them can be found in one of the ahadith narrated by our mother; Aisha (May Allah be pleased with her).

Narrated Aisha: Prophet (Peace be upon him) said, “Do good deeds properly, sincerely and moderately and know that your deeds will not make you enter Paradise, and that the most beloved deed to Allah’s is the most regular and constant even though it were little.” (Sahih Bukhari 6056)

And another version in Bukhari states:

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Do good deeds properly, sincerely and moderately. . .Always adopt a middle, moderate, regular course, whereby you will reach your target (of paradise).” – Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 8, Hadith 470

Becoming physically fit with the proper intention is a good deed. We, as Muslims, are required to do a good deed properly. In this regards, it means that we are supposed to eat properly and workout properly. We are supposed to be sincere with our intention and purpose of achieving the goal. We are required to be moderate in all what we do and not overburden ourselves with hardships as “Allah desires ease for you; He does not desire difficulty for you.”(2:185) And finally we are required to be constant upon the good deed. Only if these qualities are combined in a Muslim can he truly aspire to be an ideal follower of the Prophet (Peace be upon him).

Another golden rule is that if you thank Allah for the blessings He has bestowed upon you, He will give you even more.

“And when your Lord proclaimed, “If you give thanks, I will give you more; but if you are thankless, lo!  My punishment is dire.” (Quran 14:7)

So thank Allah for whatever blessing you desire an increase of. If you desire an increase of fitness and good health, then start thanking Allah for the level of fitness, health and blessings that you are already enjoying. Allah will definitely bestow you with more. This is a promise from Him and a glad tiding of success.

Similarly, never underestimate the power of dua and the effects of proper tawakul. Early in your fitness regimen, you might want to give up because you are not getting results fast enough. If this happens then remind yourself that Allah rewards patience and effort, and that you must have trust in Him during your perseverance. And know that Allah is always listening to your duas and responding to them in the most appropriate manner.

Allah says in Surah Baqarah, verse 5: “And seek assistance through patience and prayer, and most surely it is a hard thing except for the humble ones,”

And Abu Hurairah (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: The Messenger of Allah (PBUH), “The supplication of every one of you will be granted if he does not get impatient and say (for example): `I supplicated my Rubb but my prayer has not been granted’.” [Al-Bukhari]

The next golden rule is described in the Quran as follows:

“and for those who fear Allah, He will make their path easy.”(Surah Talaq, Verse 4)

Based on the above ayat, Allah will make the path easy for you given that you fear him and have taqwa of him. This simple rule and promise of Allah can do wonders in your life (including your fitness plan) if implemented properly.

And finally it is no secret that the company of a man affects his personality, vision and actions. This is why the Prophet (Peace be upon him) said, “The example of a good and bad companion is that of a perfume seller and a blacksmith. The perfume seller either gives you the perfume or tries to sell it to you, or you will get a good smell from him; but in the blacksmith’s workshop you will either burn your clothes, or they’ll be blackened by soot.” (Sahih Muslim)

Surround yourself with scholars, students, or lovers of knowledge. The company of all of these is blessed and blessings will bring you happiness and success in this world and the next. If you are unable to find such company then why not opt for a virtual presence of these people? Instead of listening to music or watching any vain program, perhaps you could listen to Islamic lectures, stories of the prophets (Peace be upon them) or other beneficial topics while exercising. This mentality of Islamic multitasking will help you not only in fitness but also in rest of the matters in your life.

Last but not least, realize that the creation of the body in the hereafter will be different than the creation of body in this world. Realize that the body you have is a blessing and a trust from Allah, so take care of your trusts as much as you can. And finally, don’t let your blubber pull down your eman.


Multitasking for (Islamic) Productivity

multitaskingMultitasking; doing multiple tasks at one time, is a rather new concept and that which can be a blessing or a curse depending upon the way it is approached. Since time is one of the biggest scarce resources of this era and productivity is one of the biggest demands, multitasking is an obvious solution. The Prophet (Peace be upon him) warned us about the importance of time by saying;

Narrated by Ibn Abbas:
The Prophet said, ‘There are two blessings which many people lose: Health and free time for doing good”
[Al- Bukhari 76:421]

This hadith is basically saying that time is of the utmost importance in the life of a believer and that it should not be wasted at all. Today, a majority of the Muslims follow the idea of multitasking but unfortunately they follow the wrong approach. What do I mean by the wrong or the non-productive approach? Here is an example.

A person stands to pray the Maghrib Salah behind the Imam. The Imam is reciting the Quran and all the followers are listening. But this person is also thinking about what he is going to after salah and he is looking at his wristwatch and scratching his head repeatedly, In fact, this person is multitasking during salah. But this is the non productive and, in fact, wrong approach of multitasking. Multitasking should result in more productivity, not eat up the productivity (rewards) you were gaining. By constantly diverting his mind and body from prayer during the prayer, the person is losing on the rewards that Allah had decreed for him. Allah says in the Quran:

“Be ever mindful of prayers, and of praying in the most excellent way; and stand before Allah in devout obedience.” Surah Baqarah 238

Now consider this example of the right kind of multitasking. A person goes to gym and knows that he would be spending an hour lifting weights so he takes along his ipod that is full of Islamic lectures and Quran recitations. He starts working out, starts an Islamic lecture in the ipod and starts gaining best of the both worlds; good health and good Eman. By the time he is done with the exercise, his knowledge, understanding and eman have increased. He was practically working out with the scholars, the sheikhs or the imams on his side (Just imagine, going on a 2 mile run with Imam-e-Kaba). This is an example of a beautiful and productive multitasking on behalf of a believer.

Another example of productive multitasking can be seen during driving. If you find yourself traveling a lot, you could benefit from the time and resources you have during your travel. If you are the driver, you could listen to Islamic audios or recite the Quran yourself or do something else that would not divert attention from the road. If some one else is driving for you (like in a bus, train, plane) you could read a beneficial book, do zikr or use that time to make dua for other believers. Why did I specifically mention dua? Because we know form the hadith that dua of a traveler has more chance of being accepted.

The Messenger of Allah (SAW) said; Three supplications will not be rejected (by Allah (SWT)), the supplication of the parent for his child, the supplication of the one who is fasting, and the supplication of the traveler. [al-Bayhaqi, at-Tirmidhi – Sahih]

So how do we differentiate between productive multitasking and non-productive multitasking? There are a few points we should remember when we decide to multitask or not multitask any of our deeds.

When to Multitask?

  • Multitask if there is no verse or hadith prohibiting any multitasking. For example, there are ahadith that prohibit moving unnecessarily or doing non-prayer-related actions during the Salah. Therefore Multitasking during prayer (for example, eating during salah) is not allowed.
  • Multitask if doing more actions at one time will not divert you from the main action that you were doing. For example, you should multitask by listening to audio or doing zikr while driving only if you know that doing so wont divert you from your main action; driving.
  • Multitask if more productive gains are anticipated. After all, there is no point to multitasking if you cannot achieve more productivity (more rewards). For example, if you are attending an Islamic lecture and reading a book at the same time, you are not really gaining the optimum productivity level at either of the actions that you are involved into and therefore multitasking is not advised.

Multi-Intentional Deeds

The above examples and discussion showed that deeds could be multitasked to improve productivity in rewards gaining. But in Islam we know that the proper intention is also a reward worthy action by itself, so can we apply the concept of multitasking to intentions? Kind of like saying, Multi-intentional deed?

Lets explore multi-intentional deeds by an example.

Ahmed wants to do an optional fast and picks Friday for that purpose. But then you come up to Ahmed and tell him that the Prophet (Peace be upon him) used to fast on Mondays and Thursdays and therefore it is Sunnah to fast on those days. Ahmed decides to fast on Thursday with the intention of following the Prophet’s (Peace be upon him) example. This way Ahmed has multiple intentions both of which are reward worthy; he is fasting to please Allah Subhano Watalah and has picked Thursday because of the Prophets’ (Peace be upon him) example.

One extremely important point for multiple intentions is that all the intentions must be made in order to please Allah Subhano Watalah. That is, Ahmed should not have the intention of fasting on Thursday to show off to people that he is a righteous person who follows the example of the Prophet. But, his intention should be solely for the sake of pleasing Allah. So, basically his multiple intentions should not violate the two golden rules of any deeds acceptance.

  1. The deed must be done purely for the sake of Allah
  2. The deed must be done exactly as per the example or guidance of the Prophet (Peace be upon him)

Any multitasking or multiple intentions or any deed in general, whether big or small, should not violate these golden and extremely critical rules.

If anything I have said in this article is wrong or shortsighted then I ask Allah to forgive me and correct it for me. If there is any benefit in this, then that is purely from Allah. May Allah accept our good deeds and forgive our bad ones.