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Part 4: Practical measures to improving physical health: Exercise, and Summary

13Jul 2012
Part 4: Practical measures to improving physical health: Exercise, and Summary

This is the final part of a series of articles discussing the Islamic perspective on physical health. We have already discussed what health is, the importance of striving for physical health as a duty of every Muslim and the dietary means of attaining good physical health according to the Qur’an and Ahlul-Bait (peace be upon them).

In this part we will turn our attention towards the role of exercise in maintaining physical health, considering three sources of information: the Qur’an, the Ahlul-Bait and modern day health authorities. We will also briefly discuss measures that can be taken within the community, and conclude by suggesting five main action points that could be taken to live a physically healthier way of life.

Physical Exercise

In similarity with other main religions, finding references encouraging physical exercise within Islamic literature is more challenging; and it thus may be given a lower priority than other religious duties [1].

The Qur’an and The Ahlul-Bait

References advocating physical activity can be inferred from the Qur’an and Prophetic traditions, which share the common theme of maintaining respect for the body. Dr Al-Khayat, a representative of the World Health Organisation in the Middle East, has identified a few references to this effect such as:

“Do not with your own hands throw yourself into ruin” (2:195)

and the hadiths:

Your body has a right over you”

“A stronger believer is better than a weak believer” [2].

However, to find more specific guidelines pertaining to exercise one has to look more carefully within Islamic teachings.

Commonly overlooked forms of exercise are in fact amongst the main tenets of Islam, including the obligatory prayers, the Hajj pilgrimage and
fasting in the holy month of Ramadhan [3]. Although the primary reason for such acts is for spiritual benefit there are associated physical benefits. Alawi has identified that the frequent hand movements, bowing and prostration are useful methods of whole body exercise; acting to strengthen and maintain joint flexibility in the arms, back, thighs, feet, abdomen and neck [4]. Moreover, benefits to the circulation of blood and digestion have been proposed [5]. The Hajj and Umrah are also composed of rites requiring physical exertion including the Tawaf (seven rounds of circumambulation around the Ka’aba) and Sa’y (seven laps of brisk walking between the mounts of Safa and Marwah). These have been previously described as sportive activities [6; p20], from which we can extrapolate that walking is a recommended physical activity within Islam (also see below under Prophetic traditions).There are in fact numerous Qur’anic verses referring to those who walk on the Earth [(25:63), (17:37)] and there is one particular verse indicating that the Prophet (p.b.u.h.) used to take to walking in the markets:

They say, “What sort of messenger is he that eats and walks in the markets?… (25:7).

Dr Kasule, Harvard Professor of Islamic Medicine, has indicated that the Prophet (p.b.u.h.), whilst going about his day to day life, would never walk lazily but quickly in the form of “harwalat”; which would equate to brisk walking [1]. Furthermore it has been narrated that the Prophet (p.b.u.h.) participated in walking/running races with his wife, Aisha;

“I raced with the Prophet (p.b.u.h.) and beat him in the race. Later, when I had put on some weight, we raced again and he won” [1, 6(p26), 7].

The above verse and hadith not only serve to promote walking and running as physical exercise, but also shows that this benefit relates to women and men equally. [8].

If Allah should in fact make acts requiring physical exertion wajib such as Salat and Hajj, then it may be true to say that Islam is a way of life that demands physical exertion and the performance of other physically demanding activities that fall within Sharia is thus encouraged [6].

Several “Islamic” sports have been identified that were heavily practiced in the time of the Prophet (p.b.u.h.); these include swimming, fencing, archery, foot racing, horse racing and wrestling [5]. The following hadith supports this view; “Any action without remembrance of Allah is either diversion or heedlessness excepting four acts: walking from target to target (during archery practice), training a horse, playing with one’s family and learning to swim [9].

Health Authorities

It is known that regular physical exercise is vital for improving cardiovascular health as well as improving energy levels, mood and self-confidence and reducing anxiety and stress [10]. The BHF currently advises 30 minutes of exercise of moderate intensity, 5 times a week. Moderate intensity exercise is that which makes “you breathe more heavily than usual” [10]. This could take the form of brisk walking or swimming as encouraged and exemplified by the Prophet (p.b.u.h.).

Community measures to improve physical health

In the planning of Islamic community events it may not be untrue that we invest a relatively large amount of funds in securing a high qualityspeaker, booking a venue and publicising such events yet whilst trying to find the cheapest foods available. Unfortunately, in most cases the cheapest foods are also the unhealthiest.

Although frequently overlooked, the types of foods consumed at such events send out important messages to the community, particularly the younger members. Islam is a holistic religion, which prescribes a complete way of life. We should thus aim to seek more nutritious food alternatives with the intention of promoting an Islamic way of life that aims to protect and promote healthy living. This is especially important in shaping perceptions of diet in the young. Investing money in this component of gatherings is likely to reap benefits in the long term, leading to healthier individuals who are better able to discharge their Islamic duties and support their families and the Muslim community.

The organisation and provision of facilities for physical exercise also needs to be addressed within the community. The focus should be towards team sports to strengthen social ties. Additionally the lack of adequate facilities for women should be targeted.

Five action points to a physically healthier way of life

  1. Eat a balanced diet consisting of larger portions of fruits and vegetables, and smaller portions of meats, sugary foods and fats as outlined in the Qur’an and the BHF.
  2. Aim to eat less refined and processed foods as outlined by the practices of the Ahlul-Bait and as recommended by the BHF.
  3. Engage in regular physical activity, which leads to breathlessness such as brisk walking as demonstrated by the Prophet (p.b.u.h.) and recommended by the BHF.
  4. Perform physical activity whilst aiming to fulfill several goals to maximise the potential reward. For example regularly walking or running to the masjid, running to raise money for charity or participating in community sports activities to facilitate unity. This potentially confers greater reward for the individual especially in the spiritual sense.
  5. Encourage or promote the community to take measures to alter food types consumed and increase the availability of sporting events and facilities within an Islamic atmosphere.


Maintaining physical health should be an important goal for every Muslim. It not only allows one to live a longer life, but also confers numerous emotional, psychological and most importantly spiritual benefits. Islam’s perception of good diet and recreation to attain physical well being can be deemed as a vehicle to attaining spiritual and moral fitness [11]. Indeed we may need reminding that striving for good physical health is a form of worship when performed with the sincere intention of attaining the pleasure of Allah (s.w.t.).

Further reading

  1. “Eating Well” and “Physical Activity and your Heart” by the British Heart Foundation. Available from
  2. “Islam, Nutrition and Health” by IRIB World Service Iran English Radio. Available from
  3. “Tibb al-Aima – Islamic Medical Wisdom”; a text with practical advice for healing through use of foods mentioned in The Qur’an and traditions of The Ahlul-Bait.
  4. “Beauties for Life in the Qur’an” by Harun Yahya. Available from


[1] Kasule OH. Physical Activity and Exercise: An Islamic Perspective. Islamic Medical Education Rescources-05. Presented at The Annual Training for Better organisation and Islamic Health Conference of the Islamic Medical Faculties of Indonesia 2008. Available from: [cited 2011 Aug 01].

[2] Al Khayat MH. The Right Path to Health: Health Education through Religion; 9. Health as a Human Right in Islam. World Health Organisation Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean 2004 p11, 18, 21 [originally in Muslim].

[3] Fard A. Implications of the original teachings of Islam for physical education and sport. Unpublished PhD dissertation. University of Minnesota 1974.

[4] Alawi MK. Physical education among Arabs. Cairo: Renaissance Library 1947. In [15].

[5] Farraj I. Islam and prevention from diseases. Beirut, Lebanon: Dar Arraaed Al-Arabi 1984. In [11].

[6] Al-Dousari B. The History and The Philosophy of Sport in Islam. Unpublished BA dissertation. Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana 2000; 8-9.

[7] originally in Ahmad.

[8] Walseth K, Fasting K. Islam’s view on Physical Activity and Sport; Eqyptian Women Interpreting Islam. International Review for the Sociology of Sport 2003;38:45-60.

[9] Al Qardawi Y. The lawful and the prohibited in Islam. Indianapolis: American Trust 1980. In [11].

[10] Physical Activity and your Heart. British Heart Foundation 2009.

[11] Al-Dousari B. The History and The Philosophy of Sport in Islam. Unpublished BA dissertation. Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana 2000; 8-9.

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