Eat from the good things with which We have provided you, and do not transgress… [Surat Ta Ha,20:81]
This is the second part of the series on Muslim women’s health, dealing specifically with nutrition and exercise – or the lack of it, and its emphasis, in our communities.
How many times have you seen a group of Muslim women walking together for the sake of exercising or any other sport activity?
I am sure you can count it on one hand. In the 15 years+ since I’ve accepted Islam, I have only witnessed it 3 times; only at Eid events. And, one of those times, the sisters were shut down from being active – even though they were in a private area.
In this article, we will discuss the issues of health, modesty and a Muslim woman’s right to exercise.
Is Your Health A Hurdle?
There are many who believe that healthy living is a hurdle, but it really
isn’t. It’s no big deal.
There is no pill, no operation, and no fast solution to losing weight or living healthy…and it’s not about willpower either.
Healthy living is a choice; really, it’s a decision…an important one.
People who lived unhealthy for years and finally changed their old habits decided to care about their health, realizing that they are not invincible and that the body is a vehicle in this life that must be maintained, not abused.
When we look around at older family members who have ignored the maintenance, we can clearly see the results – and it’s not pleasant.
As Muslims, we should be the most in tune with our health and appreciative of the immense blessing we have been given as Allah points out again and again in the Quran, clearly and noticeably.
It reminds me of the ayah where Allah asks the question, So which of the favors of your Lord would you deny? [Surat Al-Rahman,55:77]
And yet, so many of us take our health for granted, denying Allah’s favors upon us, every day.
Nutrition Is Not Your Nemesis
If it has ever been a problem for you, you need to change your frame of mind about nutrition in general.
Look at it this way – instead of thinking that you will reward yourself with ice cream (or a hamburger, fries or whatever) start thinking of those things as a punishment for yourself. Because eating a hamburger or ice cream is a punishment to your body; you know it and the entire medical community, who has been jumping up and down pointing out these facts for years, knows it too.
Start rewarding yourself with foods like fruits and vegetables, because they offer big rewards for your overall health.
Also, drink LOTS of water (at least 64 Oz daily). The fact is that we often mistake thirst for hunger.
Eating healthy does not have to be tasteless and boring. There are so many healthy ways to add flavor in while leaving the sugar, fat and salt out.
Salt substitutes such as Mrs. Dash and the latest sugar substitute Splenda will amaze you at their ability to mimic the flavors you love guilt-free and, most importantly, without the bad health consequences.
Many women eat emotionally. If we had a fight with our spouse, quarreled with our mother or mother-in-law, even if we’re on our period — what do we do? We run for the chocolate or the ice cream.
But, food does not pacify pain. The only thing that will placate painful emotions is dealing with them.
Think about your sad or painful emotions as they occur – and, instead of eating, go for a walk or run it off.
You’ll find that by replacing emotional eating with exercise – your cravings will stop – allowing yourself to vent negative feelings in a positive way, benefiting both mind and body.
Finally, people who exercise daily have more energy and less depression than those that do not – and certainly if you’re eating emotionally, then you’re surely depressed.
How Different Foods affect your Body
Some of you may be aware about High Glycemic Index foods, but most may not.
A study from Harvard Medical School shows that eating lots of refined carbohydrates can also cause heart attacks. The key word here is “refined”. All carbs are not created equal.
The glycemic index measures how high a person’s blood sugar rises after eating certain foods in comparison to blood sugar rise with sugar. A study of 75,000 women showed that those most likely to suffer a heart attack ate the most foods that cause the highest rise in blood sugar.
High glycemic index foods include all those that have added sugar such as pastries, cakes, cookies and most soft drinks; those made from flour such as bakery products and pastas; fruit juices; root vegetables such as potatoes and beets.
Preventing heart attacks must include not only reducing your intake of added fats, particularly saturated and partially hydrogenated fats; you should also avoid refined carbohydrates. Eat fruit in moderation and eat lots of vegetables, whole grains, beans, seeds and nuts. People with diabetes and those who are overweight should eat fruits and root vegetables only in combination with other foods to slow the rise in blood sugar.- [American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol.71,Issue 6]
Abu Hurairah reported that the Prophet would fast Mondays and Thursdays. He was asked about that and he said, Allah reviews humans’ deeds on Mondays and Thursdays, and I would like to be fasting as my deeds are being reviewed. (Ahmad)
Not surprisingly, fasting on Mondays and Thursdays is a fantastic way to cut out those extra calories. However, the sole intention behind our fasting should always be the pleasure of Allah. That should be our goal, not the desire to lose a few extra pounds.
Preserving our Health and our Dignity
Preserving our dignity as Muslim women is as important as exercise itself – in other words, modesty is always the best policy.
Exercise vs. Modesty
I know that a scarf on the head can be a hindrance when you’re exercising, blocking your vision and what-not. And, I also know that jilbabs and abayas are simply not for exercising. But let’s face it; shiny skin-tight spandex just does not fit into the Muslim woman’s apparel unless she’s in her home or somewhere private.
However, don’t be discouraged, you can still wear hijab, dress modestly AND have freedom of movement!
Try different types of hijabs to find one that doesn’t move around too much. The Egyptian stretchy-style stays put much better than chiffon.
Also, wear loose-fitting long sleeve t-shirts and baggy sweats to walk in. If you’re covered modestly, there is no reason you can’t go for a walk.
However, don’t use headphones when you’re out – this will impair your ability to hear cars and people. Most importantly, if you walk outdoors, always be alert and be safe.
Exercising your Right
It is our right as a Muslim woman to live healthy and that includes daily exercise – indoors and out. It is clear from numerous sahih hadiths that Muslim women were active women in their society.
As Muslim women, we should be reserved in public, keeping our dignity – bouncing around is not reserved or dignified.
However, that should never, ever stop us from finding ways to exercise.
There is a time and place for everything and exercise is something that we, and our daughters, must do to live a healthy life.
Our health is a God-given blessing for us to cherish, nurture and not waste away.
If you think hard about the alternatives, your decision is crystal clear.