From Hyphen Magazine
Originally published at New America Media
by Rochelle Bargo
The women entered the brightly colored room with sets of kickboxing equipment lined up on the side. Some slowly took off their scarves, also known as a hijab, and jilbab, revealing their workout gear underneath.
Their fitness instructor, Phalestinah Abdo, welcomes them with the words, “Assalamu ‘alaykum” (Peace be with you). Responding with the words, “Wa ‘alaykum salaam,” they began stretching their arms, starting their cardio kickboxing routine with two sharp jabs and a hook.
Although there is nothing in the Quran that forbids Muslim women from exercising, they are not allowed to exercise uncovered or have physical contact with men. However, there are many stories well known to Muslims about women going to battles.
During the Battle of Khaybar in 629, fought between Muhammad and his followers against the Jews living in Khaybar, 20 Muslim women went along with Muhammad and his followers. “If these women from the past were warriors, then they were probably jumping or riding a horse,” said Jittaun Jones, a Muslim fitness instructor.
Western perceptions of Muslim women often revolve around images of passive figures shadowed by both men and the robes that enshroud them. “I find it interesting that other religions – despite their histories of oppressing women – are not seen in the same light as Islam,” said Yuka Nakamura, a York University assistant professor who studied Muslim women’s participation in sports. “Perhaps this is because the image of the Muslim woman has become so emblematic, and the image of the veiled Muslim woman is so vivid.”