LET there be no doubt that without a healthy body everything falls apart. To deliver quality work in life we need energy, strength and fortitude. All this is within our power only if we possess a healthy body. Unless we are physically fit, we cannot contribute to society and make life meaningful.
Sick people usually cannot achieve much. Their recovery, if ever made, is an achievement in itself. It follows from this premise that for human beings to achieve, a healthy mind and body are essential. Being in good health is not a matter of common sense, it is also a religious duty. Islam requires believers to perform some physical tasks and activities.
For example, the five daily prayers, the tawaf (circumambulation) and sayee (walking/jogging) during Umrah, the discipline and exertion of Haj, the month-long endurance of fasting — all these acts require physical strength and a healthy body. Though there are rules on religious observance for when one is sick and unable, it is rudimentary knowledge that we need physical prowess to observe God’s law in our life. For this, we need a certain level of fitness.
The Islamic scripture has attested to the importance of a strong and healthy physique. In its narratives, prophets of Allah are described as individuals who possessed not only knowledge and leadership ability but also the physical attributes required to fulfil life’s duties. Thus the Quran cites that when people objected to the appointment of Talut as a king, the prophet of the time replied: “Allah hath Chosen him above you, and hath gifted him abundantly with knowledge and bodily prowess. ...” (2:247). Notable in the Quranic verse is the inclusion of “bodily prowess” along with other qualities, thus indicating that along with character, knowledge and acumen, physical fitness too is a necessary requirement for leadership as per divine directives.
We need a certain level of fitness to observe God’s law.
About Prophet Musa, the Quran records the following statement given by one of the women whom he had helped in passing: “Said one of the (damsels): “O my (dear) father! engage him on wages: truly the best of men for thee to employ is the (man) who is strong and trusty” (28:26)”.
Thus the verses identify prophets of Allah as individuals who are “strong”, thereby establishing the importance of building a healthy physique as attested to in the Islamic scripture.
The performance of daily acts of ibadah such as the qiyam (standing), ruku (bowing) and sujood (prostration) during the five daily prayers, the seven circuits around the Ka’aba and the hills of Safa and Marwa during Umrah, the walking during Haj and the self-control exercised during the month of Ramazan are all physical activities that are obligatory for believers.
These movements are exercises that impact the body, work the muscles, the joints, the cardiovascular system and the digestive system and are health-building activities by themselves. But to perform them diligently we also need to keep ourselves in shape. Ibadah does give us a healthy body but we need to bear in mind that we need to be fit enough to carry out ibadah!
But the question arises how do we ensure that we develop into healthy and strong individuals? The answer lies in sports. Once ignored by many as a recreational and ‘extracurricular’ activity having little more than entertainment value, sports is now recognised very much as a part of the curriculum and a necessary ingredient of human development. We should note that great educational institutions also have world-class sports facilities and produce champions. Oxford and Cambridge are known for their academics, but what is also seen is that both universities have a long tradition of producing world-class athletes.
So how do we develop a sporting culture in Pakistan, a country where athletic activities have eroded over the years? We have to begin with the schools.
It is at the school level that children are introduced to sports and athletics and picking up from there sports becomes a part of their lifelong habit and interest. If we observe the leading sporting nations of the world that are among the top in Olympic medals tally such as Russia, China, Germany, then we discover that they groom their athletes at a very young age.
Programmes are developed in these countries at the school level which produces the crop that ultimately turns into elite Olympic athletes. Therefore, if Pakistan is to inculcate a culture of sports and physical activity then we will need to tie in sports with schools and make sports part of the national curriculum. Decision-makers need to urgently come up with a comprehensive strategy for sports development in the country and make sports and athletics accessible as well as mandatory for all public and private schools.
The writer is a freelance contributor.
Published in Dawn, January 22nd, 2021