Saturday, 10 August 2013

Swimming as a Muslimah

Snorkelling in Puerto Rico

It is well known that swimming is considered by Muslims to be a good sport to learn as it is a sunnah of the prophet Muhammed (pbuh) and mentioned in his teachings (ahadith) along with archery and horse riding.

Unfortunately, many people seem to assume that partaking in sports refers to men only, in some 'Islamic' cultures women are banned from many activities including cycling and even horse riding. One of the reasons I'd prefer not to mention (!) but the most common one is that it isn't modest for a woman to be running around etc, despite the fact that it is well known that the Prophet (pbuh) used to race his wife Aisha.

Swimming in poses a particularly difficult problem for women living in non-muslim countries where swimming pools and beaches are not segregated and unless you're rich enough to have your own private pool the options are rather limited. Sure some places have women's only sessions but they're not always on at times or in places that are convenient. Here in Portsmouth I know of 2 such sessions. One isn't too far away but the pool is too shallow to dive and the sessions are very busy. The other is far away and pretty late in the evening. Neither of these include baby swimming lessons or are particularly suitable places to take a baby.

Fortunately there is another option. A few years ago I decided to stop making my life difficult and let my religion be a positive thing in my life rather than a limitation! At university I undertook SCUBA dive training, I've also been diving in Malaysia and snorkelling in Puerto Rico. I now attend a non-segregated public swimming pool with my baby. The pool is 5 minutes walk from my house and open every day, and they do baby lessons! 

No I haven't decided to abandon my modesty and starting walking around half naked. I wear a full body swimsuit including a head covering, I have become a member of pool so I can attend during 'member only' sessions. Before about 10am this means you almost have the whole pool to yourself! This is not only so it's quieter for my baby and so there's less men around but also so I don't have to walk around staring at the floor to avoid looking at people's 'awrah' (the Arabic term which refers to the intimate parts of the body - for a man this is his navel to his knees and for a woman - in front of other women, it's more or less the same). Thank God the life guards are fully dressed lol.

Anyway, I've now been using the same swimsuit for a while and I'd really like to get another one, but despite the rising popularity of the 'burkini' it's harder than I thought! Now I know you're supposed to wear lose clothes but considering the fact that it's going to stick to you anyway once it's wet I prefer something a little more fitted and streamlined. 

And while I know you're not supposed to be 'attracting attention' I (like most girls!) still like to look nice (this is a debate to be having another time!), and wearing a big wet sack isn't my idea of looking nice I'm afraid. I did find this one site which has some really nice swimwear including the ones in the pictures, but it's pretty expensive. If anyone knows a cheaper one please let me know! Otherwise let's hope they have a sale soon!

Unfortunately I hardly if ever see any other muslim women swimming and I'm wondering why? In fact, I also jog along the sea front quite often and hardly see any other muslim girls jogging either! Maybe I don't go often enough I'm not sure, but why is this? Anyone would think Islam doesn't permit women to exercise, let alone recommend it as a sunnah of the prophet (saw)!

It's OK for Muslim girls to swim...!! OK?

Update: interesting article I found here, which shows the founder of new line of 'modest' swimsuits giving a speech about the evolution of the swimsuit and how wearing a bikini affects how people see you, it's interesting and the swimsuits are lovely! Unfortunately not most enough for me but maybe for a ladies only swimming session...


  1. Soooo today I saw 2 ladies wearing hijab... in the sea!!! it looked like a whole family all enjoying the sea together on southsea sea front, all fully dressed! it was great! =D

  2. Salam sis,

    A thought provoking post. Everyone practices the deen differently, so if you do not understand why and how a sister practices we should still respect that. I love to swim and Run and I do the latter during quiet times and at night. The same with cycling I love to cycle and lucky enough to have a very private country lane leading to the country side down my road. When I go early in the morning no one is around, just some cows and horses. But I would not partake in sports in front of men and go places men can see me.

    The hadith you mentioned is correct, but you did not complete it. In Fact the prophet SAW was traveling with Aisha and a caravan of camels with men/sahaba... So he asked the sahaba to carry on and leave them behind. When they were alone then they started to play and race. So he did not allow this to happen while the others looked on. They were out of sight and she was able to run and play. And we should also do this, wait till no one is around then partake in sports and fun activities, in privacy.
    I would love to swim, but for religious reasons I can not, even segregated like you said women walking around in underwear and the life guard is almost always male. I inquired with a few places around my area, Alhamdulillah they started Muslim women sessions, so the women are all covered and a female life guard, sessions due to start in October In sha Allah.

    If women want to hold on to modesty as Aisha did and had fun and private then Mashallah, it really is something to make our goal.

  3. Wa salam, thanks for reading!

    I totally agree with and respect the fact that that everyone practices differently according to what they're comfortable with, their level of emaan, which madhab they follow, how they've been brought up, etc, including myself. I never said I didn't understand why or how a sister practices, I just find it unfortunate that sports are generally not encouraged among Muslim women, often for reasons which are more culturally based than Islamic, and because of people who like to go around being the 'haram police' and making things haram without really knowing what they're talking about. For example the reason I said I preferred not to mention as to why women shouldn't cycle or horse ride - it's because people are scared of them being somehow damaged before marriage (which can easily happen and is quite common apparently) and thus not being able to produce a blood stained cloth on their wedding night (shudder!).

    It's also for other reasons such as it's not lady like to run around doing sports, I'm not talking about in front of people but in even in private, some people for example think that dancing (in private) is haram, or acting in an immodest way even if you're completely alone is wrong because there are angels watching etc. Other people say that certain sports such as martial arts are not good for women.

    It was these things I was talking about rather than the public/private issue. Incidentally as far as I know the part about the Prophet and Aisha (ra) being alone when they raced was not part of the actual hadith but only stated in the commentary (ref: - see from 23:10). Some people for example say that they were not always alone when they raced but it was ok because the people who were around had fear of Allah and hence would not be watching them but carrying on with their own business (ref: This is the original hadith as far as I know:

    Narrated Aisha, Ummul Mu'minin, while she was on a journey along with the Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him): I had a race with him (the Prophet) and I outstripped him on my feet. When I became fleshy, (again) I had a race with him (the Prophet) and he outstripped me. He said: This is for that outstripping.

    It's nice to hear that you manage to cycle and run whilst maintaining your modesty by waiting until times when not many people are around. I also try to go swimming at times when there's not many people around whilst making sure I am also fully covered for the few people that are around. I'm not sure about running at night though, I don't think I'd feel safe running on my own at night. Whilst maintaining your modesty is important and admirable I think considering safety is even more important!

    I mainly wanted to make the point in my article that women can practice Islam and have fun and keep fit at the same time and I think it should be encouraged rather than being seen as something incompatible with one's faith.

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  5. salam,

    firstly, it has to be said that whether or not someone wanted to include some commentary that was important to them, it doesn't change the fact that the hadith was stated completely and correctly in the OP.

    it sounds to me that culture, instead of religion, still teaches people how to act even when they don't realise it. choosing to do physical activities in private is purely a personal choice. it isn't religiously mandatory at all, but if an overly conservative woman wishes to do this it is her choice.

    that being said, choosing not to swim in a place where many men might see you is one thing, but not swimming because non-muslim women aren't fully covered is completely unfounded and Islamically baseless. as long as they're not flirting with you while gulping down can's of beer and eating pork sandwiches in the pool, what's the problem exactly? simply put, this is a very strict cultural/conservative mindset which has close to no religious evidence to back it up whatsoever.

    the downside of these thoughts is not being able to see the forest for the trees, as trying so hard to be 'pious' can lead to more physically and spiritually harmful acts, like staying modest by jogging alone in the nighttime.. SMH. to each her own i guess..