I am convert. In my “past life”, I loved to swim. I swam nearly every day. I have been Muslim for five years and haven’t been swimming since converting. I dream about swimming. It is my heart’s desire to swim. Recently, online apparel stores for Muslimas have begun selling “Islamic bathing suits” that incorporate the hijab into a non-cling material when wet. My husband has forbidden me to purchase this garment. He cites that it doesn’t matter how covered I am, other people in the pool/beach will not be appropriately covered so I should not go. I live in a country where people walk down the streets all the time uncovered and I don’t see the difference. I avert my gaze. I would avert my gaze insha’Allah at the pool as well. Please help me understand why I cannot swim. My heart breaks over this.
In the name of Allah, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful
The issue of working out and keeping fit is one that many of our convert brothers and sisters face. Indeed, for many of our sisters it becomes very difficult when one is forced to leave something as important as exercise and keeping fit. Al-hamdu lillah, Islam places great importance on staying fit and healthy, but many of our brothers and sisters have neglected this. The Prophet, peace and blessings upon him, informed us that we will be asked about some things when we stand in front of Allah. One of those questions will be about one’s body and how one looked after it.
I remember when I became Imam a year or so later a brother came to me and said, “Mashallah! Now you’re really an Imam.” I was confused, but then realized that he was referring to my new and improved slope that extended out. In addition, I came upon an incident that happened during the life of Umar, Allah be pleased with him. Once he saw a man who was very fat. He, Umar, said to him, “What is that?” The man responded by saying, “This (his big stomach) is a blessing from Allah.” Umar responded, “No! It is a punishment from Allah.” When the Prophet, peace and blessings upon him, described the latter days of his Umma; and he mentioned these people with very negative qualities, he said, “And fatness will appear amongst them.” It was after learning these things that I began to realize that many religious leaders are characterized by being chubby. At that moment, I realized that I must do something. However, as a convert, it was not as easy as before. Thus, I had to look for clubs and centers were I could exercise my body and my faith. I began to realize that this was very difficult. Over time, I concluded that Muslims should open their own health centers. We have schools and places of worship; in addition, we should have health-clubs.
Your question revolves around the following:
1. The rights of the husband and spouse
2. The rights of one’s body
3. The responsibility of the community
1. Your husband’s right upon you is that you obey him in the recommended areas. Thus, for a situation like this, it would be advisable to obey him. Many times we see major fights brewing in families because of arguments that are based on the recommended, not even the obligatory.
2. However, if you are incurring some physical problems due to a lack of exercise and your doctor has advised you to work out. I would suggest the following:
Have a talk with you husband. Prepare a nice dinner and set the mood to soften his heart. Then, try to convince him that not only will working out be good for you. But, insha’Allah, it will be a means for his pleasure as well. Remind him that the Prophet, peace and blessings upon him, praised the women of Quraysh for being pretty. If that doesn’t work, ask him to work out with you. Mention to him the statement of Ibn Abbas: “I love to beautify myself for my wife, just as she does for me.” Thus, ask him to work out with you. However, if you are in a situation were your health is at risk, you must find a means to work out with or without his permission. This is because your body has a right upon you and Allah says, “Don’t kill yourselves.”
3. Encourage your local community to look into building a health center. I’m aware that our brothers and sisters in London have recently done this and it is having a great benefit to the community. If that is not a possibility, encourage the sisters to rent a local pool or center just for themselves. What a great way to raise money for the sisters group as well as the masjid.
Finally, look into other forms of exercise. There are a large number of exercises that can be done that will afford you a healthy life.
We Ask Allah to bless our sister and to open the doors of faith for her.
And Allah knows best.
Swimming isn’t the only form of exercise, nor is this a convert Muslim community-specific issue.
I myself as a man choose not to swim out of modesty. I don’t want to go to a pool full of men and women with their `awrah uncovered.
There are many many ways one can workout without the need to specifically swim: running, jump-rope, bodyweight exercise, free weights etc. all of which could be done at home. Your husband could even get involved with keeping fit by taking your example. And I guarantee you, you wont lose out in terms of exercise.
There is another option: Seattle’s communities have worked out an arrangement with the city parks department. They get semi regular private swims. The pool is just for the sisters and something is put up so the windows are covered and no one can see in. Perhaps this sister and some others from her community could push for a similar situation? Check out the Seattle City Parks and Rec website for the details. If they are able to do it long enough, then perhaps it would demonstrate the need for a local community to build their own center.