The Rulings Pertinent to Boxing & professional cage fighting
The Rulings Pertinent to Boxing or professional cage fighting
By Dr. Hatem al-Haj
Dean, College of Islamic Studies, Mishkah University
PhD in Sharia, Al-Jinan University, Lebanon
M.A. in Sharia, American Open University
Board Certification in Pediatrics by the American Board of Pediatrics.
All Praise Is Due to Allah(God Almighty); and May His Blessings and Peace Be on His Messenger, Muhammad,
There is no doubt that Islam encourages physical fitness. This is part of the Islamic ideology that refuses the formation of contradictory dichotomies between the spirit and physique. Islam respects all of the elements of which man was made, and it calls to all that results in the spiritual, mental and physical wellbeing of man. This holistic approach to man’s wellbeing is only expected of a religion revealed by the designer and creator of man, the spirit, intellect and body.
To this point, the Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace be upon him) said,
“فإن لجسدك عليك حقًا”
“… for your body has rights over you.” [Al-Bukhari reported it from Ibn ‘Amr as part of a hadeeth in which the Prophet forbade him from perpetual fasting.]
You will find this respect for the physical wellbeing of the body permeating throughout the entire body of Islamic teachings.
Sports, as a means to the fitness of the body, have been encouraged by Islam. The Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace be upon him) said,
“كل ما يلهو به الرجل المسلم باطل إلا رميه بقوسه وتأديبه فرسه وملاعبته أهله” وزاد النسائي “وتعلم الرجل السباحة”
“Everything with which a man amuses himself will not earn him reward except three (things): a man’s shooting with his bow, training of his horse, and his playing with his wife.” [At-Tirmidhi reported this from Uqbah ibn Amir and graded it authentic] An-Nasaee added, “… and learning how to swim.”
Note that the scholars indicated that the reward is not limited to those particular acts, but will be earned through their likes as well.
Abu Dawood reported in his Sunan that the Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) out-wrestled Rukanah, a known wrestler of his time, and defeated him.
Having established this principle, it is important that we understand that sports, like the rest of the human actions, will not make halal that which is haram. Thus, some of the following violations must be avoided.
The hegemony of the body
While Islam acknowledges the physical nature and needs of man, it warns against excess in this regard that will make man neglect his spiritual needs and forget that he is a spiritual being in a physical form. Thus, the spirit should come first, and its needs and wellbeing must be man’s main concern.
Allah(God) says about the disbelievers,
“وَإِذَا رَأَيْتَهُمْ تُعْجِبُكَ أَجْسَامُهُمْ وَإِن يَقُولُوا تَسْمَعْ لِقَوْلِهِمْ كَأَنَّهُمْ خُشُبٌ مُّسَنَّدَةٌ…”
“And when you see them, their forms please you, and if they speak, you listen to their speech. [They are] as if they were pieces of wood propped up…” [Al-Munafiqoon 63: 4]
The Prophet had the following to say about those who are consumed in serving their physical and material needs:
“ألا أخبركم بأهل النار كل عتل جواظ مستكبر.”
“Should I not tell you of the people of the hellfire? Those who are strong, coarse, overbearing, greedy and proud.” [Reported by Al-Bukhari and Muslim from Harithah ibn Wahb]
Certainly the strength that is condemned here is that which makes man insolent, proud and overbearing. It is also what takes him away from his other duties and obligations. Some men may blame the women for spending a long time in front of the mirror, while they are consumed in body building and fitness to the point of neglecting the needs of their spirits and the rights of their creator and His creation. A man who has all the time to spend hours in the gym, but would not have any time to stand at night before His lord, must review his priorities.
The Messenger of Allah(God) described some of those when he said, “…جيفة بالليل حمار بالنهار” “…like a donkey (work-horse) in the morning and dead meat at night” [Reported by Ibn Hibban and AL-Bayhaqi from Abi Hurayrah]
No harm or reciprocation of harm لا ضرر ولا ضرار
The above is not only an authentic prophetic hadeeth, but it is also a legal maxim. The legal maxims are the threads that connect the pearls of fiqh, and give context and perspective to the Islamic rulings. This is one of the five major and comprehensive maxims that permeate the entire body of the Islamic law.
In light of the above principle, sports in which harm is intended are forbidden. This is when the harm is significant and consequential. An example of those sports would be boxing. In this game, harm is intended. It is also unfortunate that the spectators enjoy watching this harm being inflicted on one of the two contestants. This is a sign of cruelty and sadism. There are other sports, such as many martial arts, that are intense and teach self-defense where intending to harm the opponent is not encouraged, but in fact forbidden.
Hitting the face
In addition to the general prohibition of harm, hitting the face is particularly forbidden in Islam. The Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace be upon him) said,
” وإذا قاتل أحدكم فليجتنب الوجه”
“When you fight, avoid (striking) the face” [Reported by AL-Bukhari from Abi Hurayrah]
If this is to be avoided in fighting when the intent of both parties is to kill their opponent, what do you think of doing this to someone whose body is sacred? In commenting on this hadeeth, Ibn Hajar (may Allah have mercy on him) said that it indicates an emphatic prohibition (tahreem).
One may choose a sport that doesn’t entail harming the opponent or hitting the face or modify their practice to be compliant with their convictions.
Although Oriental martial arts have some advantages, such as being non-violent where harming the opponent is discouraged, as well as being proper concerning the required dress code, (particularly for men), they tend to have some religious and cultural aspects that may be counter to Islam. Bowing, for instance, is one of those problematic issues in those sports.
When we talk about bowing, we must separate between the full-fledged bowing that is similar to rukoo’ in salat and the mere nodding of the head with or without slight bending of the torso. As for the first, it is emphatically forbidden. The fact that people don’t do this as a form of worship is immaterial. The same could have been said about prostration as a sign of respect, which was true in some cultures.
However, the Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace be upon him) forbade the Companions from prostrating to him as a show of respect and said,
“ما ينبغي لأحدٍ أنْ يسجُدَ لأحدٍ”
“It is not appropriate for anyone one to prostrate to another.” [Reported by Ibn Hibban from Abi Hurayrah]
As for the nodding of the head with or without slight bending of the torso, this is also an inappropriate form of salutation. Anas ibn Malik said that a man said:
“يا رسول الله، يلقى أحدنا أخاه أيقبله ؟ قال : لا ، قالوا : أينحني له ؟ قال : لا ، قالوا : أيصافحه ؟ قال : نعم”
“O Messenger of Allah, when one of us meets his brother, should he kiss him? He said: “No.” They said: Should he bow to him? He said: “No.” They said: Should he shake hands with him? He said: “Yes.” [Reported by At-Tirmidhi]
Our children should be taught the way of the Prophet and they should adhere to it in their entire lives. However, this hadeeth doesn’t indicate an emphatic prohibition, otherwise kissing (and hugging in another report) would have been haram, which they are not. One may justifiably argue that bending is worse than hugging and kissing because of its resemblance to rukoo’.
While this may be completely true in exaggerated forms of bending, it is not, in all regards, applicable to the slight bending. It may be said that we should avoid this form of bending in any way possible. Some of the Oriental martial arts had their beginnings in Oriental Muslim societies, and thus may not have practices that are un-Islamic. One may also look for a lenient coach that will exempt them from performing that bending. They may accept a slight nodding of the head without bending of the torso, etc. The guiding principle in matters of equivocal classification is: “اتقوا الله ما استطعتم””Fear Allah as much as you can.”
The uncovering of ‘awrah (nakedness)
Sports, as I said before, will not make permissible that which is impermissible. Thus, they must be practiced while covering the ‘awrah (one’s nakedness). For men, there is a known disagreement over the extent of the ‘awrah, however, the safer opinion is that it is between the navel and the knees. It is also to be mentioned that men of status and upright character should observe modesty beyond the basic covering of the ‘awrah, and as long as there is no need to take off the top garment, they should not do that, particularly in the presence of spectators of both sexes.
The Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace be upon him) said,
“إنَّ لِكُلِّ دِينٍ خُلُقًا وَإِنَّ خُلُقَ الْإِسْلَامِ الْحَيَاءُ”
“Verily, every religion has its signature characteristic; as for Islam, it is modesty.” [Reported by Ibn Majah from Anas]
He also forbade men from praying in one garment without a top. Although you can’t extrapolate from this prohibition to forbid men from walking out of their homes topless, it is established that it is a breach of muroo’ah (integrity).
Women will also need to cover their ‘awrah, but there may be some ways to do that without much hindrance. For example, the stronger position, which is the view of the majority, is that she is not obligated to wear the “jilbab” in particular. Based on that, perhaps a woman can wear wide pants if above them is a long shirt that conceals her body to the knees or lower. But if the pants are tight and the over-garment is short, this cannot be permissible because it defines her body silhouette. Amidst describing two residents of the Hellfire, the Messenger of Allah said,
“وَنِسَاءٌ كَاسِيَاتٌ عَارِيَاتٌ مُمِيلَاتٌ مَائِلَاتٌ ، رُءُوسُهُنَّ كَأَسْنِمَةِ الْبُخْتِ الْمَائِلَةِ ، لَا يَدْخُلْنَ الْجَنَّةَ وَلَا يَجِدْنَ رِيحَهَا ، وَإِنَّ رِيحَهَا تُوجَدُ مِنْ مَسِيرَةِ كَذَا وَكَذَا”
“And women that are clothed [but in reality] naked, who sway and tempt [others]; their heads are like tilted humps of camels. They will not enter Paradise, nor detect its fragrance, although its fragrance can be detected from such and such a distance.” [Reported by Muslim]
Clothed but naked refers to wearing attire that does not offer concealment, such as wearing thin garbs that reveal her skin color, or tight garbs that delineate the shape of her hips, rear, arms, and the like.
The inappropriate mingling of both sexes
Islam doesn’t wait for the disastrous outcomes to happen and then start to address them. When certain roads inevitably lead to man’s ruin, Islam blocks them. Of the ingenious rules of Islam is the prohibition of inappropriate mingling between the sexes.
Men are supposed to lower their gaze from foreign women except for a need. Allah(God) said,
“قُل لِّلْمُؤْمِنِينَ يَغُضُّوا مِنْ أَبْصَارِهِمْ وَيَحْفَظُوا فُرُوجَهُمْ.”
“Tell the believing men to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts. That is purer for them. Indeed, Allah is Acquainted with what they do.” [Sahih International, 24:30]
There is no way that men and women would crowd a small place, inappropriately mixing and often inappropriately dressed, and claim to observe the instructions in this verse. Muslim Men and women should look for places where they can practice sports without compromising their values. However, when such places are not available, then they should fear Allah as much as they can. If they go to the public places, they should try to choose the times that are least crowded and most proper.
It is also inappropriate for men to watch adult (post-menarcheal) women playing sports that are intense, even if they are covered.
When the Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) wanted to race with ‘Ayisha he asked the sahaba to proceed forth, and then when there was no one around, he raced with her. When women need space to practice sports, they should look for the proper places that are away from men, as much as possible, but we can’t bar them from using open fields if they needed to do so, while properly covered. It is the responsibility of men, then, to lower their gaze. It is also the responsibility of the community to provide facilities where our daughters and sisters can practice all forms of sports they desire with complete ease and comfort.
Music(wind and string instruments)
In many forms of sports, music is played in the background. The principle concerning music is its prohibition. This is the stronger position. The textual and rational proofs on it are abundant, but they are beyond the scope of this discussion. However, music has become ubiquitous in our world, and while Muslims should avoid listening to it, it will not be possible for them to avoid hearing it while shopping, watching a documentary, or even waiting in their doctor’s waiting room. Thus, a Muslim may not turn the music on while playing sports, but it may be overlooked if it is there in the background at the gym or sports arena, etc.
In summary, seeking physical fitness through sports and martial arts is commendable. However, it must be done in balance and without violating the rules of Allah(God). Some of those rules must be emphatically observed, such as the avoidance of harm, arrogance and injustice. One must also avoid bowing (as in rukoo’) to other than Allah, hitting the face, uncovering the ‘awrah and inappropriately mixing with the other gender or having physical contact with them. There are other rules that must be observed within one’s capacity, such as avoiding mixed halls and music. One should also try, as much as possible, to avoid forms of salutation that are un-Islamic, such as the nodding of the head and slight bending of the torso.
Allah knows best.