From your Editor in Chief, an introductory essay for our fitness section detailing the crucial need for Muslims, both men and women, to make physicality important in our cultures en masse again.

The chronicler Ibn Hisham narrates that during the Battle of the Trench when the city of Madina was under siege by the pagans of Quraysh, a skirmish broke out between the company of the blessed companion Zubayr ibn Awwam (RA) and some of the pagans. At first encounter, Zubayr cut straight through the man who attacked him — splitting him clean in half. Upon seeing this, the soldiers with him expressed awe at the craftsmanship of his sword; to which he responded, quite angered, that it wasn’t his sword, but the strength of the arm that carried it. It’s said in another narration that the arms of Ali ibn Abu Talib RA, our rightly guided fourth caliph, were so massive that the average man couldn’t wrap his hands around them. Ali was also the greatest duelist of his time — a warrior known for his tremendous strength, speed, and agility in battle that dwarfed most Arab men. Once driven to a rightful rage after his shield broke during the conquest of Khaybar, he tore the gate off one of the fortresses he invaded with the Muslims — swinging that around instead.

Umar ibn al Khattab, Khalid ibn al-Waleed, and Abdullah ibn al-Zubayr — may Allah be pleased with them all — were also just a few among many of the Companions of the great first generation of Muslims known for their physical prowess. Whether it was during wrestling matches for sport and training or to reign supreme on the battlefield, one easily concludes when exploring this history that the brutal conditions of the Arabian Peninsula forced many of its warriors, especially among the Muslims whom Allah bestowed with his baraka, to grow into physical specimens to be reckoned with.

Yet, when a Muslim man living in the modern day, both in East and West, recalls the Islamic education he received in childhood, there’s little to no mention of the direct physical training performed by the Prophet ﷺ and the Companions. Most Muslims today, unfortunately, who are lay-people to physical fitness only see it as a vain, androcentric, pleasure-seeking hobby that a minority of men engage in. They have the strange impression that our spiritual ancestors were too ascetic and inward to care about such bodily matters or physical culture, and conclude therefore that Muslim men who desire to be strong and handsome are merely arrogant narcissists. These are all based on false presuppositions of the past and betray an ignorance of a lived reality that doesn’t conform with the kind of vital life that the Prophet ﷺ and his Companions actually lived. The truth is that it was a perfect balance between living in both the physical and the spiritual, losing touch with neither whilst enjoying the spoils of both, giving these men the fortitude to live through a variety of difficulties that spanned the masculine Muslim existence.

As of 2023, among the top twenty most obese nations, Muslim countries take eleven spots (with Kuwait ranking as the most obese Muslim nation). Middle Easterners are stereotypically seen, with great merit, as possessing some of the most gluttonous food cultures alongside Americans — except instead of displaying the typical “beer gut”, it’s more like a biryani or mansaf gut.

One has to think: doesn’t this plant a demoralizing contrast for Muslim boys growing up when they come across examples such as those listed, yet when they look around at their own families and boys their age this instead is the state of the average man — bloated, immobile, and too weak to even resist the forces of gravity as they age?

All this does is solidify the myth that continues to grow in commonality among this new breed of modern males in the world: that these wondrous aspects of strength were part of the past, that such men were strong out of necessity for warfare only, unlike today, so striving for such aims is a “waste of time.” This isn’t the talk of a Muslim male, however, who is fully secure in himself and in touch with the undeniable physical aspects of our religious tradition. This is the speech of men who have allowed an essential quality of their being to be trivialized, medicalized even, such that they’ve become easy targets for regime and corporate consumerist manipulation. In fact, I’m even willing to argue that theologically, it’s Islamically obscene to be slovenly in any manner as either a man or woman.

Far above the examples I mentioned, lies the example of our beloved Prophet ﷺ, the Man of Praise, in this regard as well. Most of us are familiar with his qualities — how elegantly he was physically put together as a man, his thick bones and versatile frame that allowed him to perform all burdensome tasks necessary in labor and conquest throughout his middle age and more as a Prophet and Commander of the Muslims.

When speaking purely of “battle”, or that fateful word “jihad”; this doesn’t hold the weight it does anymore for Muslims in the modern world, who for the first time in their history aren’t living under a central Islamic authority, but also for many centuries haven’t been subjects of a conquering one like the Umayyad or Ottoman Empires. Today we are dissolute, some of us spread out like the Jews after liquidation by the Romans, with very little political fortitude. Nor are any of us witnesses to a cause where righteous offensive jihad exists, that would be worth risking our life for that isn’t a 70 IQ Dostoevsky-like impulse funded by deep state stooges. That’s what makes our physical ineptitude that much more humiliating. In olden times Muslims would get fat in times of ascent, during golden periods of luxury attained through the conquest of their forefathers. Today we’re fat, weak, and defeated all at once.

The great Imam Bukhari, may Allah be pleased with him, records: It has been narrated on the authority of Abu Huraira (RA) that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: One who died but did not fight in the way of Allah, nor did he express any desire (or determination) for Jihad died the death of a hypocrite.

*Abdullah bin Mubarak said: We think the hadith pertained to the time of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ. Sahih Muslim 1910

The note from Mubarak is important, noting that we can’t label those who never thought of Jihad after the time of the Prophet ﷺ as hypocrites in the Islamic sense — however, as the hadith indicates, it’s a sign of faith to meditate on, think of, and desire fighting; to prepare yourself physically and spiritually for war, even if you don’t expect or plan for one due to political circumstances. What’s pertinent in the Seerah of the Prophet ﷺ most of all when reading the battles he and his Companions took part in was the fact these men weren’t exactly Spartans — Abu Bakr and Uthman, may Allah be pleased with them, were known to be slim men with lean builds that didn’t appear suited for close combat, yet when the times of conquest came they performed and fought as necessary, earning their stripes in front of Allah and their Muslim brothers.

That is how you must see your pursuit of strength — fitness isn’t something you put off your entire life for, it’s something you incorporate in your life and that of your sons so that in times of crisis you’re physically and spiritually prepared with the hardened will to act. The latter part is missed by many, if they never trained in a weight room or a boxing gym before they think that the struggle of progress is merely a physical one. They don’t know that in addition to awakening man to the physical reality of what’s around him as he strengthens himself in musculature, it also builds his emotional, mental, and spiritual fortitude.

Imam Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti, may Allah have mercy on him, though well known for his many works in the spiritual realm, had a lesser-known treatise he wrote: al-Musārʿah ilā al-Musārʿah, Swiftly towards Wrestling, in which he extolled the virtues and goals in the Sunnah for Muslim men to learn and practice wrestling:

“There is no doubt that wrestling is in our sharia, for it is not pointless — it is a blessed sport the skills of which become useful for battle (jihad), and to benefit from in times of dire need, and thus it is both permissible and encouraged by Allah for this reason […] it strengthens the body, for this was a way that our Prophet ﷺ tested the strength of some teenage boys among the Companions, may Allah be pleased with them, to see their suitability for taking them to battle.”

Al-Suyuti also mentions, of course, the famous story from the Prophet ﷺ when Rakana ibn Yazid, a man who thought himself the strongest wrestler in Quraysh, was challenged by the Prophet in a wrestling match that humbled him to such a degree he accepted Islam because of it. Rakana embodied, in the bluntest sense, the manifestation of the warrior who communicated with force and physicality rather than logos, the initial words that moved many of the Companions to accept Islam themselves, and thus our Prophet ﷺ recognized immediately and utilized his own physicality to proselytize the truth in the form of strength. In one of the narrations Suyuti mentions, Rakana says that he accepted Islam from the incident because he knew that the strength he experienced firsthand came from another, more singular source.

The role of eugenics as well is often ignored, and this applies to both men and women. In a 2016 study by Godfrey et al at the University of Southampton, children born to obese women were at higher risk of coronary heart disease, strokes, type 2 diabetes, asthma, poorer cognitive function, and neurological diseases; all due to the epigenetic changes that long term obesity occurs in women over time. Your and your spouse’s level of athleticism is directly correlated to the health of your offspring. Thinking about this at a macro level, it’s a catastrophe even at the theological level, especially considering the hadith above, to allow the Muslim Ummah at large to grow this weak and slovenly on a mass scale. The goal isn’t for us all to be bodybuilders, but a culture that keeps even the most lazy of us at some level of acceptable physical health, and not in a state that leaves us vulnerable to dysgenic ruining of our own progeny over multiple generations. The effects compound, and the worse it gets, the harder it gets to fix. All men need to be engaged in some form of athletic work. It’s highly preferable to lift weights and/or pick up cardio in the form of a combat sport, but the end goal is to NOT BE FAT. Your stomach should not bounce up and down as you run. That is the bare minimum goal.

For women, it’s a very different framework but with similar solutions. Due to the strange, overtly sexual culture we live in today, most women (including our own) have grown to see physical fitness as merely a means of increasing their sexual appeal, and as an infiltration into a fitness culture that seems to have become very appealing for attention farming due to the highly metrosexual men who built it up over the past few decades. I find this wrong and dumb for a number of reasons. First, most women don’t need to have a strict lifting regimen to look attractive to the vast majority of men. They just need to PUT DOWN THE FOOD (and in a minority of cases, eat a lot more quality food, but this is increasingly rare). This is contrary to what you may have been told by Tiktokers, but yes, you should be feeling a little hungry to lose weight. Most women besides this aspect of diet will do just fine with basic exercises to keep their cardio/stamina up. The latest social media trends coming up now of women building their upper bodies to balance out their lower figures is just backward and homosexual. And back to the men, though I suspect this is more obvious to you guys, your goal isn’t to be a muscular, shredded mass monster that’s useless.

You need to have musculature, yes, but you also need to be faster, more agile and possess enough stamina that you won’t collapse if, Allah forbid, you’re called upon by fate to assume certain responsibilities for the welfare of your community in times of crisis. This is what’s truly meant by a “physical culture” and what embodied the everyday lives of the Messenger’s ﷺ warriors. Things like physical fitness and the capacity to fight weren’t separate areas of being that existed outside of civilian life — they lived a martial life where knowing your way around a sword, spear, and bow were just parts of being a man. The women in early Islam didn’t see their health and physical appearance purely in terms of sexual appeal and inspiring lust — they directly associated it with their capacity to bear healthy children and the upkeep of being working mothers and guardians in the absence of their husbands who roamed the wild. It’s this mentality, also, of separating the rest of life from fitness and turning it into its own “culture” that puts off many people from it, especially Muslims who do to our situation are more prone to compartmentalize it as a strange thing that only vain youngsters do.

Another part that’s de-emphasized as well, is the role that training for combat plays in politics, and our perception of it. Many of you are familiar with the articles written by oblivious leftists that men who do martial arts, lift weights, etc. are far more likely to be right-wing, or at least be critical of liberal social policies. “Lifting will make you transphobic!” is no longer a meme, but a lived reality to many leftists who realized that these physical areas of competition were breeding grounds for young men who despised toxic political ideologies. If none of the benefits I just mentioned to you existed, this one alone would be worth a heavy Muslim presence in.

This happens because it’s very unlikely you’ll live in a fantasy land where trans women are women when you’ve actually felt what it’s like to punch and be punched, to prevail over an opponent in a boxing match (or be beaten), or successfully tap out someone larger than you through your own strategizing and strength of will. These are all qualities realized to their fullest in the physical realm (hence the strong tradition in many cultures of one-on-one dueling to settle disputes), and that those inept in politics lack, as it opens up a whole other dimension to the mind when you as a man come into contact with the reality of hierarchy between men when such silly things as “constitutions” and “laws” are replaced with masculine fervor.

So, don’t be fooled. Don’t allow yourself to descend to the spiritual qualities of a slave even if it’s not explicitly written out for you in the law. Do not be like the man our Caliph Omar (RA) passed by, who enjoyed his own gluttony and curse believing it to be a blessing. Challenge yourself first in this area of contending, and you’ll notice how quickly the rest of your life, relationships, raising of your own children, and connection to God gain traction and a spirit you didn’t think it had beforehand.

– AY