Islam and Physical Activity Implications for American Sport and Physical Educators

Article excerpt

The chapter on physical activity and fitness in Healthy People 2010 (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2000) contains data that demonstrate disparities in physical activity (PA), based upon gender, race, and ethnicity, in youth and adult populations. Missing from the data is PA as a function of people's religion, which has been theoretically posited (Kahan, 2002) and empirically demonstrated (e.g., Merrill & Thygerson, 2001) as contributing to PA disparity within and between religions.

In the wake of the events that occurred on September 11, 2001, members of the American educational system have demonstrated a more intense interest in Islam and Muslims (Brown, 2001). Survey-based estimates of the Muslim population in America are in dispute and vary from 1.1 million (Kosmin & Mayer, 2001), to 1.4 million (Smith, 2002), to 6 to 7 million (Bagby, Perl, & Froehle, 2001). Although adherents of minority religions may constitute only 3.7 percent of the United States population (Kosmin & Mayer, 2001), addressing the American Muslim population in the context of physical education and sport is important for four reasons. First, according to survey data, the Muslim population doubled from 1990 to 2000, making it the fastest growing religion in the United States (Kosmin & Mayer, 2001). Second, orthodox Muslim children, who require special understanding and accommodations in public school PA settings, are more likely to attend secondary-level public schools because 73 percent of Muslim parochial schools offer only elementary grades (Bagby et al., 2001). Third, school-age Muslim children predominantly reside in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Detroit, and the metropolitan areas of Texas (Kosmin & Mayer, 2001), and they are more likely to attend large, urban public schools. Fourth, toward attaining the goals put forth in Healthy People 2010, PA providers must acknowledge the PA gradients that exist among American children and attempt to diminish them; addressing religious requirements and proscriptions pertaining to physical activity is one step in the process.

Based on the above observations, this article has four objectives: (1) to provide readers with a working knowledge of Islam; (2) to identify the connection between Islam and the pursuit of and engagement in PA; (3) to synthesize research conducted on Muslims' views of and participation in PA; and (4) to provide practical suggestions for overcoming barriers that effectively restrict PA in Muslim schoolchildren.

Basics of Islam

One-fifth of the world's population is Muslim--followers of the religion of Islam (derived from the Arabic root word for "peace" and "submission"). Muslims believe in one god, Allah, who revealed the holy Quran to Muhammad, the final prophet, approximately 1,400 years ago (Introduction to Islam, n.d.). The Quran and Hadith (sayings and practices of Muhammad) constitute the primary sources for codified living in Islam (Daiman, 1995).

Articles of Faith and The Five Pillars. Muslims subscribe to six main articles of faith: the unity of God, Allah's angels, Allah's prophets, Allah's revealed books, life after death, and divine decree (al-Qadr) (Introduction to Islam, n.d.). Additionally, Muslims link their religious beliefs to specific behaviors, often referred to as the Five Pillars, and testify to their faith with shahada, a verbal declaration. Prayer (salah) is performed five times daily at intervals dictated by the location of the sun. These prayers correspond to before dawn (Fajr), noon ( Thuhr) , afternoon ('Asr), sunset (Maghrib), and evening ('Isha). Additional prayers are said on Fridays (Jum'ah). During the entire holy month of Ramadan, the ninth month of the lunar calendar, Muslims adhere to daily sunrise-to-sunset fasts (sawm or siyam), during which those fasting can neither eat nor drink. Charity (zakat) at the rate of at least 2.5 percent of one's annual capital, provided one's financial conditions allow, is given to the deser ving needy, new converts, travelers, or debtors. …