Sport in Islam

In his well known book 'Zad-AIMa 'aad', Imam Ibn Qayyim (RAH) states that movement is the core of sports. It helps the body get rid of waste food in a very normal way. It makes it active, enhances its immunity and protects it from diseases. Each organ has its own sport that suits it. As for horse riding, archery, wrestling and racing, they are sports that benefit the whole body.

The Qur'an, and particularly the Sunnah, are replete with references to sport. But while sport during the days of the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam), or anywhere else at the time for that matter, were not as succinctly classified and categorised as today, the principles, goals, and spirit for Muslims at least ought to remain the same.

The Qur'an, in Surah Yusuf verse I7, has the brothers of the Prophet Yusuf saying to their father, Prophet Ya'qub (alayhi Salaam), "0 father, we went racing with one another ..•" The term "nastabiq" in the original Arabic clearly refers to a type of competition the brothers claimed they participated in.

The issue of sports did not enjoy a mere passive remark in Islaam, rather, there are many kinds of games and sports which the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) himself recommended to the Muslims as a source of enjoyment and recreation which, at the same time, prepare them for worship and other obligations. These· sports, which require skill and determination, and which also involve physical exercise and bodybuilding activity, are related to the martial arts, training Muslims for the battlefields of jihad in the cause of Allaah.

Among them are the following:

Foot Racing

The Companions of the Prophet (RA) used to race on foot and the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) encouraged them in this. It is reported that 'Ali was a fast runner. The Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) himself raced with his wife 'Aishah (RA) in order to please her, to enjoy himself, and to set an example for his Companions. 'Aishah (RA) said, I raced with the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa referring to the previous occasion. sallam) and beat him in the race. Later, when I had put on some weight, we raced again and he won. Then he said: 'This cancels that." (Ahmad and Abu Dawud), referring to the previous occasion.

From these reports concerning the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam), scholars have deduced the permissibility of foot racing, whether it be between men against each other or between men and women who are their muharammat or wives. They have also concluded that foot racing, wrestling, and sports of this type do not compromise the dignity of scholarship, piety, or age. The Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) was in his mid-fifties when he raced with 'Aishah.


The Prophet (sallal/ahu alayhi wa sallam) once wrestled with a man called Rukanah who was well known for his strength, throwing him down more than once. (Abu Dawud)

In another report of this incident, the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) started wrestling with him. As the fight was hard, Rukanah said, "A sheep for a sheep." (This must have occurred before the prohibition of gambling, or perhaps the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) did not accept the bet and hence did not enforce its terms.)

The Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) then threw him. The man said, "The same again." The Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) threw him again, and the man said, "The same again'." The Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) threw him a third time. The man then said, 'What shall I tell my

wife? One sheep was eaten by the wolf, one ran away; but what about' the third" Then the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) said, "We are not going to defeat you and take something from you as well. Take your sheep!" (Gaayatul Maram, hasan).

Important Points To Keep in Mind Regarding Wrestling

In a discussion on wrestling Shaykh Mash-hoor Hasan Salmaan said:

"There is a slight difference in what was known to the Salaf as wrestling and what we now see in our times.

Regarding this, Ash-Shaykh AI Mutee'ee said:

"Our Salaf recognized wrestling as a means of strengthening the body, involving skillful grappling movements, in an attempt to put one's opponent on the floor. Wrestling in our times has many forms: freestyle, Roman, Japanese, etc. Every style still holds to the principle of skillfully grappling the opponent and forcing him down, keeping him from regaining his stance." (Takmilatul-Majmoo' [ 15/141] 12)

2 The wrestlers must cover their 'awrahs properly and not expose them.

3 The Muslims' participation in wrestling must not exceed the Sharee'ah's goal in allowing such activities. (And that goal is to "benefit and strengthen the body in preparation for Jihaad in Allaah's Way" as mentioned previously.

4 Injuries and physical harm must not be a common part of the wrestlers' participation.

5 The women are wrestling these days. No doubt, this can not be accomplished except by their 'awrahs being exposed, and by them going outside of the goals of the Sharee'ah, so therefore they must be prohibited from it. Watching women wrestle is also prohibited." [ And Allaah knows best. ]

Archery & Shooting

Among the permissible sports is competition In archery or (shooting) with other weapons. The Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) once passed by a group of his Companions who were competing in archery. He encouraged them, saying: "Shoot, and I am with you." (Bukhari)

Archery was not just a hobby or a sport but, more importantly, constituted that kind of force which Allaah has commanded to be mustered:

"And make ready against them all you can of power, including -steeds of war..."(Q8[AnfaI]:60)

The Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) said: 

"The missiles (arrows) are the force," repeating it three times. (Muslim.)

He also said:

 "Practice archery; that is good for you." (Bazzar, Tabarani on good authority)

However, the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) warned archers against using chickens and the 'like as targets for practice, as the Arabs of jahiliyyah used to do.

Once 'Abdullah bin 'Umar saw a group of peoples doing this and he told them,

"The Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) cursed the one who takes anything possessing life as a target." (Bukhari, Muslim)

He cursed such an individual because this sort of act involves the torturing and unnecessary killing of ' an animal, and a human being has no right to have fun and sport at the expense of a living creature. For the same reason the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) forbade making animals fight each other. (Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi)

Some people find it amusing to see two rams or bulls fight each other until one of them was gored to death. Scholars have said that the prohibition of making animals fight recognizes that such a practice causes them unnecessary suffering merely for the fun of it, without any benefit.

Spear Play

Spear play is similar to archery. The Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) allowed some Abyssinians to display their skill with spears in his mosque; he let his wife 'Aishah watch their show and encouraged them by saying, "Carry on, 0 Bani Arfidah," (as the Abyssinians were known to among the Arabs). 'Umar, with his serious disposition, wanted to stop them but the Prophet (sallallahu alayhwa sallam) prevented him from it.

It is reported in the two Saheehs of al-Bukhari and Muslim from Abu Hurairah that while the Abyssinians were performing their show with spears in the presence of the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam), 'Umar entered. He picked up some pebbles and started throwing them at them but the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) said, "Leave them alone, 0 'Umar." This indulgence on the part of the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) in permitting and encouraging such a sport in his mosque was to demonstrate that the mosque serves both worldly and religious purposes. Muslims congregate in the mosque not only to worship but also to play. However, this play is not to be merely for fun but should involve physical exercise and some sort of training.

Commenting on this hadith, scholars have said that the mosque is the center of the Muslim's community affairs, and any activity which combines benefits for religion and for the Muslims may be carried out in it. Muslims of the present time should note how devoid mosques today are of vitality and strength. The above incidents also provide an example of the Prophet's concern for his wife's amusement and recreation.

Horseback Riding

Allaah says:

 "And (He has created) horses, mules and donkeys, for you to ride and as an adornment." (QI6[NahI]:8),

and the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) said: 

"There is blessing in the forelocks of horses." (Ahmad)

He also said:

 "Practice archery and horseback riding."(Muslim)

And yet again he said:

"Any action without the remembrance of Allaah is either a diversion or heedlessness except for four acts: walking from target to target (during archery practice), training a horse, playing with one's family, and learning to swim." (Tabarani on good authority)

Ibn 'Umar (RA) reported that the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) organized horse races and gave a prize to the winner. (Ahmad.) All this was done by the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) to encourage competition in sports involving physical exercise and discipline.


Hunting is among the beneficial sports which are encouraged by Islaam. It is a sport, an exercise, and also a means of livelihood, regardless of whether it is done with weapons or with hunting animals such as dogs and hawks. However, Islaam prohibits hunting in two situations. The first is when a person is in the sacred state of consecration (ihram) for the performance of hajj or 'umrah, because this is a state of total peace in which one is not permitted to kill or shed blood, as commanded by Allaah:

"0 you who believe! Kill not game while you are in a state of Ihram for Hajj or 'Umrah (pilgrimage) •..." (Q5[Maidah]:95)

The second situation exists when a person is within the limits of the sacred territory of Makkah. Islam has declared this to be a region of peace and security, a sanctuary for every living creature, whether beast, bird, or plant, since the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) prohibited hunting its game, cutting its trees, or disturbing its airspace. (Bukhari, Muslim)

Participating in Modern Sports

Sports, as we know them today, began to emerge in the 18th and 19th centuries. Sports of ancient times were revived or modified and new ones were invented. Organizations were set up to regulate and standardize rules for the various types of sports. Many sports which originated and were standardized in England, the United States and Europe spread throughout the world. This increase in popularity and fame of these sports amongst people of foreign lands can be attributed to imperialism and lately, the media, amongst other factors.

With regards to participation in sports and game in their current forms, there are differences of opinions amongst the scholars. While some allow participation under certain conditions and within limits; others prohibit it altogether. The discussion on the participation of Muslims in modern sports is divided into three broad spectrum: The nature of the sport, the manner in which it is played and the intention for which it is played.

The Nature of the Sport

In Islamic jurisprudence, participating in sports belongs to the category of mu'amalaat (general affairs) and the principle underlining that is that all of it is permissible except certain ones that have been forbidden by authentic texts. Nevertheless, certain modern sports by their nature are considered impermissible for Muslims:


This is a fist-fighting sport between two matched combatants wearing padded gloves. A boxer's primary aim is to land as many blows as possible to the head and torso of the opponent, using strength and speed to dominate the contest. Today the sport is popular in many parts of the world and encompasses both amateur and professional matches.

Boxing's physical tolls on competitors are real and serious. Not only are there immediate dangers - broken noses, bleeding, eyes swollen shut, and, sometimes, death - but there is the possibility of lasting damage caused by repeated blows to the head.

The beating that boxers take may also cause a variety of other serious problems, such as neurological damage, detached retinas, sinus problems, and deformed ("cauliflower") ears. Muhammed Ali, arguably the greatest boxer yet in history, is still plagued with Parkinson disease, an ailment which he has to live with for the rest part of his life.

Obviously, this sport is forbidden because in Islaam it is haraam to inflict pain unjustly on oneself or on another person in whatever guise. The Rasul (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) said:

"There is no harm and there is no reciprocation of harm." (Ibn Majah, saheeh)

Narrated Jabir ibn Abdullah (RA), "Allaah's Messenger (sallallahu alayhi wa sailam) forbade beating on the face or cauterisation on the face." (Muslim) He also said:

"When one of you inflicts a beating. he should avoid striking the face." (Abu Dawud)

Any sport whose primary goal is to inflict as much damage as possible on the human body falls under the category of forbidden sport.


This article was culled from the publications of Deen Communication Limited