Covering While Exercising

When I joined a gym recently, I hadn’t thought of how hard it would be to get in shape and be an observant Muslimah at the same time. Many Muslim women are overweight and physically unfit because they can always “hide” their bodies under their loose clothing, so being fit and slim isn’t as big an issue for them as it is for non-Muslim women who expose more of their bodies to public view. Not only that, but modest clothing requirements make it harder to exercise. Either the garments are unwieldy or Muslim women and girls are forbidden to wear them when exercising or playing sports.

Maybe joining a gym right before Ramadan wasn’t the smartest thing to do, but I was tired of making excuses. My children have been trying to get me to exercise for years. I kept telling myself that I could exercise at home, but I never did. It just never seemed that important and, besides, I’m extremely uncoordinated when it comes to most sports, although I do love to swim.

So when I found an affordable gym that was for women only and had a swimming pool, I felt like I’d run out of excuses. I joined a week and a half ago and I’ve lost two pounds so far. But even more important, I feel better about my body. To my surprise, it feels good to exercise. It even feels good to be sore, if that makes any sense. Because then I know that I really worked at it, that I’m not just fooling around.

One thing that encouraged me to join this gym is that a lot of the members are Muslim. However, they don’t know that I am because I haven’t been wearing my hijab when I exercise. I sweat so much already, I can’t even imagine the added heat from wearing one. I have seen a couple of Muslimahs with bare heads, or only wearing skimpy bandanas, but the majority stay covered. I keep wondering though why I have to cover from head to toe when there are only women around.

I know that some Muslims say that we are not to be uncovered even around other women if they are not Muslim. But when we separate ourselves from non-Muslim women, we give them the impression that we think we’re better than they are.  How can we ever practice dawa if we always keep to ourselves and never allow non-Muslims to get close to us?

One thing I’ve noticed about some Muslims is that they love to judge and preach at their brothers and sisters. I especially love it when they quote ahadith. I can’t help but wonder how I’m supposed to know all the ins and outs of being a Muslim when I barely know the Qur’an, let alone any of the Traditions. And by what authority do they judge me? I don’t know them and they don’t know me. There is only One who knows me, who knows what is in my heart and what I do and don’t know. Allah is my surest guide in this life.

I may err by not wearing a hijab when I exercise or by wearing a regular bathing suit when I swim. But it’s not because I choose to be disobedient. It’s because I’m unsure about the rules and I reject the idea that what some (but not all) Muslims do is automatically what I should do. I’m willing to listen to others’ opinions, but when they start telling me that I’m going to Hell if I don’t do things their way, I just pray all the harder. And if they really cared about my salvation, that’s what they would do, too.

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Ellen

Editor and chief writer at I, Muslimah and Femagination. Ellen also contributes regularly to Elevate Difference. She is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with two cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.