Advancing Women's Participation in Sports

Can Muslim women participate in sports?

Islam advocates for a healthy lifestyle as well as recommends sports as a source of enjoyment and recreation. Moreover, there is no general provision in Islam that limits women’s participation in sports. In fact, the Prophet recommended sports such as running, horseback riding, swimming, and archery.

The Prophet’ Sayings

“I raced with the Prophet and beat him in the race. Later, when I had put on some weight, we raced again and he won. Then he said, ‘This cancels that,’ referring to the previous occasion.” (Aisha)

Although the Qur’an and hadith do not limit women’s participation in sports, many Muslim societies have forced restrictions on Muslims to prevent their participation in athletics. Muslim women face various hurdles in engaging in sports, including dress codes, attitudes related to privacy and modesty, mixed-gender classes, exercise during the month of fasting, limited resources, and restrictions in extra-curricular activities.

For some Muslim women, certain sports, like skiing and fencing, are easier to take part in because the dress codes are more manageable. Skiing and fencing have full body garments that many Muslim women are more comfortable wearing. Although many non-Muslim countries have trouble accommodating Muslim women in the sports industry, there are plenty of international examples proving that inclusivity can be achieved. For example, the United Kingdom allows tracksuits to be worn instead of shorts for athletic uniform, and offers single-sex physical education training.

Furthermore, Muslim women have dominated sports and continue to bring back medals. Nawal Al Moutawakkil, a Moroccan hurdler who won the women’s 400 meter event at the 1984 Summer Olympics, earned an Olympic gold and is regarded as a national hero. More recently, amid heightened Islamophobia, Ibtihaj Muhammad, an American saber fencer, made history by becoming the first Muslim woman who wears the hijab to medal for the United States Olympic Team.

WISE Position

WISE affirms that women have the right to pursue their passions, enhance their minds, and strengthen their bodies. In accordance with Islamic jurisprudence, participating in sports is highly encouraged regardless of gender. We assert the right that women should have access to physical health education and be able to participate in sports and physical activities that strengthen the body.

WISE Women Active on the Issue

Ibtihaj Muhammad, Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir, Marjan Kalhor, Dalilah Muhammad

WISE is authentic to the Islamic tradition.

Past approaches to empowering Muslim women typically employ a distinctly Western framework for understanding the problem, relying exclusively on measurements of economic status, educational level, health care or political participation. WISE approaches change from a holistic perspective that addresses the many interrelated factors that contribute to gender-based inequality and disempowerment.