The title of this article is inspired by a technical guide launched by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The recently published guide –developed under the supervision of Holly Collison, an anthropologist in the field of Sport for Development and Peace, Loughborough University, UK– explores how sports can be used to protect youth around the world from the risks of violent extremism. It also recognizes that sport can offer a space for learning and improve mutual understanding and peaceful coexistence.
This article attempts to explore the Islamic point of view on exercising sports and briefly illustrates the importance of sports as an effective tool in protecting youth from extremism and saving them from falling prey to radicalization and recruitment processes.
Islam enjoins what is good for human beings in this life and the Hereafter, and forbids what is evil for them. To this is added the fact that the preservation of human lives is one of the higher objectives of Islamic Shari’ah. The preservation of the soul entails the protection of physical, mental and spiritual dimensions of human well-being. In light of this, Muslims are encouraged and even obligated to develop strong bodies as this eventually yields to the soundness of their minds and souls. Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) referred to this when he said: “The strong believer is better and more beloved to Allah than the weak believer, while there is good in both.”
Many verses of the Qur’an hinted at the importance of developing sound and strong bodies. The Qur’an related the story of Saul (Talut) and emphasized that he had been chosen to be a king over the children of Israel because he was “increased in knowledge and stature.” (Qur’an, 2:247) In another verse, the Qur’an relates that one of the daughters of Prophet Shu’aib suggested to her father to hire Moses because of his strength and honesty (Qur’an, 28:26). In another verse, believers are explicitly ordered to prepare against their enemies as much “power” as they can to deter them. These Qur’anic hints indicate that Muslims are recommended to develop strong bodies so as to be eligible for assuming their responsibilities and performing their missions as successors on earth.
There is no doubt that doing sports is a means to achieve this strength and powerfulness and therefore the Prophet (PBUH) encouraged parents to involve their children in sports like swimming, archery and horseback riding. Moreover, the Prophet (PBUH) himself is reported to have participated in doing some of these sports like running with his wife lady ‘Aisha (May Allah Be Please with Her) and arching with children.
Doing sports is not only physically useful and important, but also psychologically and socially. Sports help societies come together and promote social solidarity and tolerance between people. Moreover, it enhances communication between the young people and helps them in settling the conflicts that would arise between them. In addition, sports impart many moral values to the youth such as promoting mutual respect and adhering to the rules, upholding teamwork, deepening the sense of belonging, respecting of diversity, etc.
The logic here is very clear: the young people are very fervor and enthusiastic in nature, and if the communities fail to find something that can engage them meaningfully and positively, the wolves of radicalization will find them easy preys to radicalize and will attempt to recruit them into cells detrimental to their societies.