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Games and Sport

Earleen Helgelien Hanafy
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World What is This? Provides global coverage of the Muslim experience from the end of the eighteenth century through the twentieth century

Games and Sport

Islam recognizes that human beings need to eat, drink, relax, and enjoy themselves. Hanẓalah, a companion and scribe of the Prophet, said “there is a time for this and a time for that.” Muslims enjoy humor, laughter, play, and sport. Various activities can relax their bodies and minds. The mind gets tired and so does the body, so there is no harm in Muslims relaxing the mind and refreshing the body with permissible sport or play. This should not, however, be at the expense of religious obligations.

Sources of the Islamic faith are the Qur'ān, regarded as the uncreated, eternal Word of God, and tradition (ḥadīth) regarding the sayings and the deeds of the Prophet, who is a model for the community. Islam is a way of life, a revolutionary religion that provides guidance for individuals and nations. It is a message of peace and prosperity, as well as health and happiness. Acquiring knowledge and skill is compulsory for every Muslim, boy or girl, man or woman. Muslims are to refrain from all sorts of undesirable activities and to value personal health and cleanliness, which are fundamental principles useful for everyone.

Islam has five pillars. One is to pray five times a day. Before one can pray, one must wash so one is clean and ready to pray. Prayer is an excellent activity for maintaining flexibility. It includes bending at the hip, stretching, and moving the head forward to touch the floor. Flexibility is one of the health‐related fitness objectives. Since prayer is done five times a day, it is an excellent exercise of the body.

Afyular Rahman, the author of Role of Muslim Women in Society (London, 1986), says, “Allah has created human beings with needs and desires, so that they need to eat and drink, they also need to relax, and to enjoy themselves.” Relaxing of the body and mind can be attained by means of play, leisure, recreation, games, and sports. There are many kinds of games and sports that the Prophet recommended to the Muslims for enjoyment and recreation, such as foot racing, wrestling, archery, spear play, horseback riding, tumbling, back‐gammon, and playing chess. The ḥadīths say, “Teach your sons the art of archery, swimming, and riding.” At the time of the Prophet, these activities were for survival and warfare. These sports are still very popular activities today.

Support for participation in games and sport is found in ḥadīths, which report that the Prophet encouraged people to race on foot; Muḥammad even raced with his wife ῾Ā'ishah. The Prophet wrestled and encouraged archery. However he warned archers against using chickens for target practice, since human beings have no right to have fun and sport at the expense of living creatures.

Moreover, traditions tell us that the Prophet let ῾Ā'ishah watch a performance of spear play in the mosque, a form of amusement and recreation. The mosque is not only used for worship but also as a social and cultural center. Hunting and horseback riding is another activity encouraged by Islam as a sport, an exercise, and a means of livelihood. It was said, “Teach your children swimming and archery and tell them to jump on the horse's back” (al‐Qaraḋāwī, 1980, p. 296).

Islam provides a standard for a person's life called ḥalāl, which means “acceptable,” “allowed,” or “permitted.” Ḥalāl regulates all human affairs of Muslims. It emphasizes food, eating, and one's physical as well as spiritual health. In Islam education includes knowledge and training; therefore, the Muslims must educate themselves and their families about that which is good for them (ḥalāl) and which is bad for them (ḥaram). Islam has prohibited certain things pertaining to food, drinking, recreation, and sex. The Qur'ān has laid down a guide for life, and the individual has to know in play, games, leisure, recreation, and sport if something is ḥalāl or ḥaram.

European colonial presence influenced the implementation of physical training. Physical training emphasized formal mass calisthenics, gymnastics, and military drills. Sports were not a part of the school day but a voluntary activity after school hours. French and English models of physical education were used in schools. The elementary physical education programs stressed a wide program of activities, including indigenous games, rhythms, lead‐up games, and self‐testing, aquatic, and fitness type activities. The secondary schools had a limited program of physical activities. Most countries have a system of examination. Physical education is not included as one of the required examination subjects. Because of this, students, parents, and teachers gave little importance to classes in physical education. In the past ten to twenty years, fitness and game skills have been introduced into the program with physical training nearly eliminated. Stress has been placed on a balanced program of indigenous activities, individual and team sports, aquatics, and gymnastics.

In many Muslim countries, British influences decreased after independence. Yet European and American methods have been introduced. Broad and varied programs of physical education are replacing the more limited programs of years ago.

Religion can play an important role in attitudes toward physical education. The Muslim people can be more content to stress arts and music in a passive manner than to promote healthy exercise. The climate and geographic location of many parts of the Muslim world is not conductive to an all‐year outdoor program because of heat and humidity. Therefore, the physical activities causing perspiration and fatigue are looked down on, and more favorable activities are encouraged.

Physical education programs can be found at the primary, intermediate, high school, and university levels. The sports club level identifies potential talent and administers athletic preparation and training. In some countries, funding, organization, and administration of sports clubs come from the central government. Sports federations and other major organizations, such as the National Olympic Committee, might also be organized under an established ministry. Sport federations are charged with the responsibility of developing their particular sports (basketball, soccer [football], volleyball, handball, gymnastics, swimming, judo, tennis, fencing, and others), including preparation of national teams for international competition. For many years, Muslim countries have participated in the Olympic games, and many of them have excelled individually in sports such as weight lifting and track and field. The sport movement in Muslim countries has also flourished through the development of private sport clubs.

In the promotion of sports for men and women at the university level, one finds that at least thirteen Islamic countries have training institutes of physical education and sports for women. These institutes are in such countries as Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia, and Turkey (Safeir, 1985). They are mainly for the training of teachers of physical education.

The five new independent Muslim states of the former Soviet Union emphasize the role of games, recreation, and sports as part of their culture and their way of life. They encourage participation in exercise and physical activity. The Islamic Centers in North America emphasize the concept of Muslim youth camps.

Non‐Arab Muslim countries as well as the Arab states have established a parallel to the world Olympics whereby the Muslim countries can compete in world sports events. These countries participate in the World Health Organization, whose aims are to aid the attainment of the highest possible level of health. Another support of these games is the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, whose aim is to promote collaboration among the nations through education, science, and culture in order to further justice, rule of law, and human rights and freedom without distinction of race, sex, language, or religion.

Women are sure to be spectators of sports on television in the privacy of their own homes. One can receive the happenings of the world in minutes, and sports contests make up a large share of television coverage. It would be impossible for women to escape such events as the Olympic Games, the World Cup playoffs, and the Pan‐Asian games. The increased changes in the status of Muslim women are owing to the growth of the feminist movement, the spread of education, and the increased participation of women in the labor force. These changes will result in more participation of women in sports at the local level and perhaps even at the regional level for the skilled individual. The reasons women have not been active sports participants in the past are traditional restrictions, culture, education, and restrictions owing to religion. The educational system was separate for boys and girls; physical education, sports, and youth programs may not have been a part of the educational system. In just the past few decades, physical education has become compulsory for girls. The participation of Muslim women has been low in highly competitive sports. The participation of Islamic countries at the Olympic level is also low compared to world participation. Leila Safeir, a sociologist, wrote that women athletes from Algeria, Libya, and Syria participated in the 1980 Olympic games and that Egypt in 1984 sent the first six female athletes to the Olympic games (Safeir, 1985). One can see that Islamic countries send few women to the world games but send more female participants to games at the regional level, such as the African, Asian, Arab, or Mediterranean games. When women do participate at the regional and national level, they wear sport dresses and appear in public places where there is extensive media coverage.

In recent years women have had more opportunities to participate in leisure and recreational activities through the educational system and in private sports clubs as facilities become increasingly available to them. Research and the media have increased the awareness that there are important health benefits to exercise and recreational activities. As the knowledge and material available on the benefits for a more healthy lifestyle increase, the more women will participate in physical activities. Once again, there are differences from country to country and from the rural areas to the urban areas because of the differences in educational systems, structure of sports, and available facilities.

Islam is based on respect for the body and soul that involves both the physical and spiritual aspects of humankind. Physical activity is for the strengthening of the body and knowledge for the soul. Anyone with a healthy body is able to meet everyday tasks and have enough energy for recreation and sport and to meet emergencies. Each country and its organizations has had to adjust its program to meet the needs and the understanding of its own tradition, culture, and religion. This might be tribal, regional, national, or even worldwide. The Qur'ān has laid down the groundwork and the philosophy of sound moral conduct for the guidance of games and sport.


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