Just as games, entertainment and music are activities peculiar to humans and a necessity of creation, so too is sport a human activity. For, man has an energetic, passionate and challenging psychology.
Since sport is defined as ‘physical activities in the form of games, competitions and races that aim to improve fitness’, nobody can avoid sport regardless of age and state; everybody is engaged in some kind of sport somehow; everybody plays sports or is somehow interested in some kind of sport.
Sport activities that date back to the beginning of the humankind have assumed very different dimensions today; sport has become an international activity, a universal language and a means of publicity. Every nation has started to speak that common language. Sport has increased its range quite a lot with the support of mass media like TV and the internet.
The majority of the people have focused on a single point at the end of some sports activities especially national squad football matches. Sport attracts people regardless of the level of education and worldview. We have found ourselves in it sometimes as a nation and sometimes as an ummah.
Sport is a discipline and a set of rules like any other activities.The rule, “the game must be played by the rules” is valid in sport the most. The fact that human dimension is involved makes such a thought obligatory.
When we look at sport in terms of life and belief discipline, it has a tradition and past that it is based on. When its past is examined within the framework of Islam, it will be seen that it has binding aspects.
We see main branches of sport in the civilized discipline of the Era of Bliss peculiar to itself. It is interesting and nice that almost all of the branches of sport that existed at that time still exist today either in the same form or in modified forms.
The main sports that our Prophet was personally engaged in, encouraged others and stated the principles of are as follows:wrestling, running, competition, horseracing, camel racing, swimming and archery; he watched these activities individually and in groups, and rewarded the ones that won.
Wrestling:In order to become a Muslim, Rukana b. Abdulyazid, one of the famous wrestlers of that age, laid it down as a condition for our Prophet to beat him in wrestling; our Prophet beat him several times. Thereupon, Rukana became a Muslim. 1
It is written in the Siyar (life of the Prophet) resources that our Prophet wrestled with people other than Rukana too, that children of the Companions who reached the age of puberty wrestled each other during the ceremony for recruiting soldiers every year and that Hazrat Hasan and Hazrat Husayn wrestled in the presence of the Messenger of Allah.
Wrestling was developed during the Ottoman Period; it became well-known worldwide thanks to the support of the Ottoman Palace. Hazrat Hamza, who is the Lord of the martyrs and who is known as the ‘Lion of Allah and the Messenger of Allah’, is regarded as the patron of wrestlers.
Archery:Archery has a significant place in sunnah as a sport of war and a tool of jihad. Our Prophet stated the following,
“All of you should be engaged in shooting arrows”2
On another occasion, when the Prophet was told that a group of Companions went somewhere for fun, the Prophet expressed some discontent at first; however, when he was told that they went for shooting arrows, he said,
“Archery is not entertainment. It is the best thing that you do for entertainment.”3
The prophet stated that sport would ease a person psychologically by saying,
“When you are overwhelmed by sorrow and distress, you can do nothing but take your bow and arrow to overcome it.”
Our Prophet always complimented on the Companions who were good at shooting arrows. He used the sentence, “May my mother and father be sacrificed for you”, which he used for nobody else, for Sa’d b. Abi Waqqas, due to his shooting on target during the Battle of Uhud.4 Due to the encouragement of the Prophet, the Companions gave importance to archery; they shot arrows at any opportunity, even after the evening prayer until the weather got dark.5
Our Prophet even supported some groups during the archery competitions. Salama bin Aqwa narrates how the Prophet supported some groups as follows:
The Messenger of Allah met a group of people who were competing in archery from Bani Aslam. He said to them,
“O Sons of Ismail! Shoot your arrows; your ancestors were good at archery. Shoot! I support such and such tribe” Thereupon, one group stopped shooting arrows.
The Prophet said, “What happened? Why did you stop shooting? They replied as follows:
”How shall we shoot? You support the other group.” Thereupon, the Prophet said,
“Shoot! I support both groups.”6
The Prophet supported groups in a very special way. He did not break the heart of anyone; he supported each achievement.
Giving prizes to the winner in horse and camel races:
The Prophet gave great importance to horses; he encouraged people to breed horses. According to narrations, he had about 19 horses at various times.
According to the statement of Ibn Umar, the Messenger of Allah would train his horse and then take part in competitions with it.7
Saying, “There are presents for three things: Camel racing, horse racing and archery”8,
the Prophet rewarded the winners of the races, encouraging others.
The Quran praises the horse, which is originally an element of jihad, in a very nice way. The horses are described as follows in the first five verses of the chapter al-Adiyat:
“By the (Steeds) that run, with panting (breath),
and strike sparks of fire,
and push home the charge in the morning,
and raise the dust in clouds the while,
and penetrate forthwith into the midst (of the foe) en masse― ...”(al-Adiyat, 100/5)
Our Prophet learned how to swim in Madinah during his childhood; he encouraged the Companions who migrated to Abyssinia during the Meccan Period; he stated that he was pleased with those who knew how to swim. Hazrat Umar emphasized the importance of swimming by saying, “Teach your children how to swim.”
Walking and running:
Our Prophet said,
“There is a reward for each step of a person who runs between two targets.”; he also attracted attention to the benefits of walking by saying,
“Compete in archery, have a fit body and walk barefoot.”9
The Prophet himself raced against Hazrat Aisha twice; in the first race, Hazrat Aisha ran faster and won the race; in the second one, Hazrat Aisha lost the race due to putting on weight; the Prophet, who won the race, said,
“This is the revenge of the first race; now we are even.”10
When it is examined carefully, it can be seen that the criteria and principles that become prominent in these examples,which exist in the sunnah, are to preserve one’s physical condition, to maintain one’s life, vitality, honor and belief, to be fit, to be strong, and to be prepared to fight against the enemy. That is, the kinds of sports that are present in the sunnah are games that have certain aims, targets and benefits. When a person plays sports, he takes pleasure, keeps fit and gains rewards by fulfilling a sunnah act.
Besides, in all kinds of sports that are present in the sunnah, there exist general Islamic criteria. Acts that will cause grudge, hatred and animosity are not allowed in the races and games. In archery and horseracing, both the winners and losers are taken into consideration; those who rank in the competition are given prizes and the losers are asked to make efforts. Those races never turn to gambling.
The Companions had their own jobs to do. Some of them were engaged in science and education. They had families. The sports activities did not cause them to neglect their daily tasks, lifestyles and worshipping; the sports activities did not make them fanatics because they were aware of what they were doing, why they were doing them and how much time they needed to allocate.
When sports are seen from the framework of general criteria of the sunnah,it is clear that running, racing, swimming, horse riding, shooting, wrestling, far east sports like judo, karate and tae kwon do, and fencing should be taught to young people since they have qualities that develop young people and prepare them for the future. These branches of sport and other legitimate games are means of development and entertainment during the childhood period; they are means of activity and letting off steam during the youth period; they will defend people and protect them from various diseases that can be caused by inactivity when they are old.
Shooting, horse riding, swimming and running are more important than other sports because they will be regarded as worshipping if they are done with a sincere intention since they prepare young people for the struggle in the future.
There exists a reality of sport that we are faced with and that we cannot overlook and ignore. If we examine the sports activities, we will see that they are beneficial as follows:
Its unifying role:
Sport can unify and bring together the people who have different thoughts and beliefs; it can make people sometimes happy and sometimes sad; it also entertains people. However, it should be kept within certain limits. If the limits are exceeded, some negative incidents like fights and even murders can take place due to fanaticism. The most important principle to remain within the limits is the constructive and unifying role of belief and ethics.
The hooliganism observed especially before, during and after the football matches brings about unwanted incidents in the streets.
Apart from the benefits we have mentioned, sport gives man determination to live, enthusiasm for worshipping and working, and a piece of mind. It develops certain abilities of man. It enables young people to let off steam. It can be used as a means of conveying the message of Islam. The belief, ethics and lifestyle of a sportsman who has religious and spiritual values can serve as a good example for young people.
If people act consciously,team sports cause people to be civilized. They bring about cooperation, solidarity and common actions. They enable common feelings and thoughts to appear and to be shared. They make people get used to discipline and make them active. Besides, sport can be used as a good means of publicity and advertisement. The self-confidence of a nation can be established thanks to sport. It can be used as a means of showing the power of a state in the international arena.
Boxing,which is not regarded as an acceptable sport by Islamic scholars because it damages the human body, once caused a great excitement in the Islamic world. In the sixties, Cassius Clay, who was a phenomenon in the boxing rings, declared that he became a Muslim and changed his name to Muhammad Ali, considering himself as the representative of oppressed nations and the Islamic world; people watched his boxing matches at very early hours, before the sunrise; especially Muslims got very excited.
There is no drawback to play sports whether individually or as a team sport no matter what the names of the sports are, no matter where they originated.However, Islamic scholars attracted attention to the following issues for the peace and tranquility of man:
1.People must not utter bad words while watching and playing a sport.
2.Sport must not cause waste of time by getting the people who play and watch to abandon their education and work.
3.The games to be played must not be means of gambling like football pools, jackpot, pick six, etc.
4.It must not prevent fard worshipping like the daily prayers and fasting from being performed on time.
5.It must not be too dangerous for the human body and cause death.
6.It must not cause hooliganism that will disturb people.
7.It must not exceed the limits of covering (tasattur) permitted by the Quran and sunnah.
1. Abu Dawud, Libas 21.
2. Muslim, Imarah 168.
3. Kanzu’l-Ummal, 4:292.
4. Bukhari, Maghazi 18.
5. Abu Dawud, Sala 6.
6. Bukhari, Jihad 78.
7. Abu Dawud, Jihad 67.
8. Abu Dawud, Jihad 67.
9. Majmau’z-Zawaid, 5:136.
10. Abu Dawud, Jihad 67.