by: zaghra savahl
Islam encourages taking care of your physical body. One of the ways to stay fit and healthy is through exercise. Globally, people participate in fitness daily, whether it be on a professional or amateur level, or as a hobby.
When it comes to Muslim Women, there are certain challenges that have been posed when it comes to clothes that are comfortable to wear when exercising.
The Fitness Clothing Industry
Fitness clothing is one of the most profitable areas in the clothing industry. In the USA alone, the Sports & Fitness Clothing market was estimated at US$47.8 Billion in the year 2020 and accounted for a 26.99% share in the global market. The Global figure is estimated to reach US$224. 9 Billion by the Year 2027. These figures are not surprising considering how essential physical activity is.
For women that adhere to a modest dress code because of their faith and religious practices, selecting suitable fitness clothing has not always been easy. Considering fitness being such a lucrative industry, marketing products would naturally be based on what sells the most. A combination of branding, fashion, comfortability, and trends have resulted in fitness clothing being produced to suit those needs, because that is what sells, regardless of whether it meets the spiritual needs of a particular group of people.
Unfortunately, modest women have had the short end of the stick. There is just not enough fitness wear that meets modest standards, for example, tops might be short- sleeve or sleeveless or pants might be in the form of tights. For some women, this might accommodate those looking for slightly modest wear (e.g. Longer length short sleeve top with tights); but unfortunately, for the large part, does not accommodate Muslim women adhering to Hijab. If fitness clothing does meet the standard of modesty or even Hijab i.e. Long sleeved, clothes that are loose fitting – the fabric does not accommodate the heat and sweat that comes with exercise.
In an article on the website Open Learn, the author, a Muslim woman, cites how some fitness clothing for Muslim women are even considered controversial. The Burkini, a swimming costume for Muslim women, is banned in some countries such as France:
“She was told to leave despite explaining what a Burkini was. Even now, despite being more visible in UK pools it is banned in countries such as France causing humiliation and embarrassment to Muslim women there. My friend still won’t go back to ‘that’ pool because of bad memories associated with it”
Hijab for women is not necessary in the presence of other women and Mahrams, hence, the fitness dress code adhering to Hijab only applies when in the presence of Non-Mahrams. However, in the broader society, the need for modest fitness clothing that adheres to Hijab and the acceptance of Muslim women practicing their beliefs becomes important. Muslim women need a safe space where they can practice their beliefs while participating in society whether it be in professional or amateur sports, or training or exercise in general.
For many years, however, modest women have made their voices heard and have greatly influenced the marketing and selling of fitness clothing. For Muslim women, especially those that adhere to strict Hijab or even Niqab, these strides have been meaningful as adhering to full Hijab or Niqab is arguably the most covered you will be in terms of modesty.
What is Hijab and Niqab?
Hijab means “covering” or something that forms a separation between yourself and others.
In this context, Hijab means covering your Awrah (parts of the body that needs to be covered in the presence of non-Mahrams). Majority of Islamic Scholars agree that for women, when in the presence of non-mahrams, her entire body needs to be covered, except her face and hands. The clothes that she wears needs to be loose in such a way that it does not show the form of her body. For men, the Awrah is between his navel and knees. It is encouraged for both women and men to dress modestly.
Niqab is a decision made by a woman to observe covering her entire body, except the eyes, in the presence of non-mahrams. This is done as an act of piety and extra reward for the sake of Allah (SWT). Islamic scholars state that observing Niqab is not compulsory, but one does get rewarded for it being an extra act of worship to attain closeness to Allah (SWT).
There is a beautiful blog post on our here which covers Hijab more in detail. You can read it here “that thing on your head”
Women who dress modestly as an adherence to their Faith have done so with the aim of observing their spiritual values. Keeping the mind, body and soul healthy is a practice of Faith that women have been doing since the beginning of time.
What are some of the strides that has been made to accommodate women that prefer modest wear, and more in particular, Muslim women that observe Hijab or Niqab?
Modest wear for Exercise and Sport
The Guardian published an article titled “Nike's Pro Hijab: a great leap into modest sportswear, but they're not the first” that explored the direction Nike was taking in accommodating Muslim women observing Hijab. It rightfully acknowledged that long before Nike, smaller companies were influencing the Fitness Clothing industry with Hijab clothing lines. These included companies such as Capsters, ReportOn, Asiya, Sukoon Active and Ruqsana Begum (British muay thai fighter) who started her own line of Hijab to encourage women to get involved in sports.
It is not hard to imagine that for decades and even centuries, women involved in textile industries have been designing and making their own fitness clothing to accommodate their Faith. However, with progress, there are still areas where many challenges are encountered e.g: is the fabric of Hijab fitness clothing accommodating to the body during extensive exercise and sports? In stores that doesn't accommodate Hijab, does modest fitness clothing include those that are long and loose fitting?
With the continued growth of women participation in fitness and sports, clothing plays a crucial role in not only representing identity, but also achieving goals and milestones associated with it.
For modest women, barriers have been broken with their Faith and principles, but there is still a long way to go.
What has been your experience with modest fitness clothing? Has stores that sell fitness clothing been accommodating to your Faith in the area you stay? We would love to hear your thoughts! Reply by leaving a comment below.
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