Anybody who knows me will tell you that I am a swimmer. I have a lifelong love affair with books, food, and water. I try to swim at least three times a week, and I get a special thrill out of the fact that I get “extra-points” for practicing a Sunnah of the Prophet(pbuh).
Our beloved Prophet said ”Teach your children swimming, archery and horse riding”.
Narrated by Ibn Umar (RA)
Like most people, I have tried to pass on my appreciation for the benefits of physical activity to my children. As a young girl I learned to ride horses, and while I have not been astride anything without wheels in many years, I still have an appreciation for riding. But, my one attempt at archery ended in miserable failure, and to be honest, I haven’t been back since.
In hind sight, I was doomed from the beginning. The “bow” was a horrible plastic thing that they sold to middle schools in bulk. The bow string was literally just that…a string, and not a very taught one at that. And my “instructor” seemed wholly disinterested in archery as a sport. I suspect she had been forced to teach it as part of the curriculum, and couldn’t get out of it.
Needless to say, after failing miserably to launch my arrow and then nearly maiming a bird who was unlucky enough to perch in the grass a mere meter from me, I gave it up. I blamed my poor eye sight and lack of hand-eye coordination. Archery just wasn’t for me. Besides, who the hell uses a bow and arrow these days anyway?
Fast forward a decade, and picture me inspired by stories of sahabiyat who accompanied the Prophet (pbuh) into battle. Not just the ones who went as nurses and support staff, but the ones who used swords, spears, clubs, and bows to defend the ummah. I have NEVER been a very martial person. Beyond a few self -defense courses, I have never felt any need to learn a martial art. Guns scare me, and gun enthusiasts give me the willies. However, I was inspired by these women who had enough training and enough heart to defend themselves and their loved ones when the time came.
These days I find myself increasingly inspired by the sport of archery. Like wrestling, swimming, and equestrian sports, archery is a sunnah. It not only strengthens the body but trains the mind. The more I learn about this sport the more I am inspired to give archery another try.
A strong believer is better and is more lovable to Allah than a weak believer, and there is good in everyone, (but) cherish that which gives you benefit and seek help from Allah and do not lose heart, and if anything (in the form of trouble) comes to you, don’t say: If I had not done that, it would not have happened so and so, but say: Allah did that what He had ordained to do and your” if” opens the (gate) for the Satan.
narrated by Abu Hurairah
But, more important to me is the recognition that both martial arts and physical fitness have their place in Islam. Islam is not a pacifist religion. Indeed, we should ALWAYS try to resolve and prevent conflict using peaceful means. However, there are times when that’s not an option. There are times when we MUST be prepared to defend ourselves and endure the strain of conflict. Being unprepared for those moments is like going your whole life without ever properly learning the fundamentals of salah.
I heard the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) saying from the pulpit, “Prepare to meet them (the enemy) with as much strength as you can afford. Verily! Strength is in archery, strength is in archery, strength is in archery.”
narrated by Uqbah bin Amir al Juhani (sahih Muslim)
I am realizing that Allah swta has made physical fitness and martial fitness something that we should pursue and cultivate all our lives. It’s not just for the young or for boys. It is for everybody. If we look at other traditions, the Sikhs and even the Buddhists, we see that there are martial and physical traditions that they practice all of their lives. Tai Chi, Kung Fu, yoga, and gatka are all about uniting the mind, body, and soul in pursuit of right action and balance. So too were the Muslims instructed to pursue swimming, archery, and riding (horses and camels) as a lifelong practice.
The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, “He who learnt archery and then neglected it, is not from us.” (Or said,) “He has been guilty of disobedience (to Messenger of Allah).”
narrated by Uqbah bin Amir al Juhani
So my sincere intention is to be more consistent with my swimming. Not just for my health but as a way to unite body, mind, and spirit. I also intend to pick up archery again, and this time I am going to stick with it. I highly doubt that there will ever come a day when I have to go all Katniss Everdeen on a bad guy, but learning to quiet my mind and focus is not a bad deal. And I encourage all of you to get up, get out, and get active. Run, wrestle, swim, Zumba, because a strong believer is better than a weak one (and I could use the brownie points for encouraging others to do a good deed).