By Rochelle Bargo, New America Media, News Report
SAN FRANCISCO, Calif.–The women entered the brightly colored room with sets of kickboxing equipment lined up on the side. Some slowly took off their scarves, also known as a hijab, and jilbab, revealing their workout gear underneath.
Their fitness instructor, Phalestinah Abdo, welcomes them with the words, “Assalamu ‘alaykum” (Peace be with you). Responding with the words, “Wa ‘alaykum salaam,” they began stretching their arms, starting their cardio kickboxing routine with two sharp jabs and a hook.
Although there is nothing in the Quran that forbids Muslim women from exercising, they are not allowed to exercise uncovered or have physical contact with men. However, there are many stories well known to Muslims about women going to battles.
During the Battle of Khaybar in 629, fought between Muhammad and his followers against the Jews living in Khaybar, 20 Muslim women went along with Muhammad and his followers.”If these women from the past were warriors, then they were probably jumping or riding a horse,” said Jittaun Jones, a Muslim fitness instructor.
Western perceptions of Muslim women often revolve around images of passive figures shadowed by both men and the robes that enshroud them. “I find it interesting that other religions – despite their histories of oppressing women – are not seen in the same light as Islam,” said Yuka Nakamura, a York University assistant professor who studied Muslim women’s participation in sports. “Perhaps this is because the image of the Muslim woman has become so emblematic, and the image of the veiled Muslim woman is so vivid.”
Empowering Muslim Women in a Safe Environment
In 2004, the Muslim Community Association (MCA} of the San Francisco Bay Area saw a need to provide a place for Muslim women to have fun and get in shape while observing their religion. MCA Bay Area offers fitness classes, such as cardio kickboxing and a boot camp designed for Muslim women with infants.
Abdo, 33, was inspired to teach cardio kickboxing at MCA when she saw the need for fitness designed for Muslim women.
“I want to focus on empowering women in the Muslim community,” Abdo said. “Many of them do not have the opportunity to exercise in their home countries or in a women’s environment where they feel comfortable.”
To the women in Abdo’s class, this multipurpose room is a safe haven to take part in fitness classes along with other Muslim women. It becomes a place to strengthen themselves physically and mentally.
Abdo is an American Muslim with Palestinian roots from her father. Besides working as an MCA fitness instructor, she is also the director and founder of Tenacious Preschool, an Islamic preschool located in the Bay Area.
“I wanted to incorporate Islam as a moral and spiritual guide and provide the best strategies the American system of education has to offer,” Abdo explained. She believes that the American system offers critical thinking, creativity, public speaking, and an opportunity to thrive, and she wants to give Muslim children in the Bay Area an opportunity that others may not have.
For devout women
Meanwhile, Jittaun Jones, an African-American who converted to Islam 12 years ago, teaches baby boot camp classes at MCA. “There are women who are more mosque-going and more practicing,” said Jones. “I happened to be one of those people, and I kept thinking that it would be nice to start something for those women.”
Jones taught three classes each week from January to mid-February this year. In the classes she works out with 20 mothers with their babies. Two of the classes were designed for women who have never attempted a squat or push-up. Mothers took breaks when their babies need to be fed.
Photo from Shutterstock
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