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Muscle Matters: Does Bodybuilding Have A Place In Islam?


What is excellence without exposure?

While the devout Muslim wakes up and goes to bed striving for rewards bestowed by none other than Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), the world in which we live pushes us to pursue awards made and distributed by man.

Our best entertainers validate their performances with Grammys, Emmys, Tonys and Oscars. Our most talented writers build legacies by winning Pulitzers and making bestseller lists. Our top students vie for scholarships, degrees and spots on the honor roll. Our athletes? They cannot be labeled “great” without a sufficient collection of trophies and title rings, championship belts and medals, Hall of Fame plaques and stadium statues.

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These markers of success cannot be earned without an individual putting their talents on display to be recorded, scored, judged and voted upon. These symbols of excellence cannot be earned without exposure.

Islam doesn’t work like that.

For starters, there is no talent requirement in this religion. With dedication, consistency, generosity, faith and remembrance of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), anyone can be an excellent Muslim. And even with their trophy case empty and Twitter followers few, that excellence will be recognized on the Day of Judgment by the only judge that matters, insha’Allah.

In sports, excellence without exposure is rare.

Because sports is considered one of this world’s last true meritocracies, because the sports industry circulates billions of dollars, and because sports is such a globally popular form of entertainment, it’s fair to assume that stardom’s spotlight will find deserving athletes in all corners of the globe no matter how obscure. If there is a better basketball player on the planet than LeBron James, it seems obvious he would’ve already been discovered and would already be in the NBA. If there is a faster woman than reigning Olympic gold medalist Shelly-Ann Fraser-Price, we believe she’d already be on the elite track circuit and not sprinting somewhere in anonymity.

But what if there are elite athletes who are staying out of the spotlight by choice? Athletes who could compete for titles and trophies with the best in the world, but have chosen to stay away from the big stage?

Ahmed Arifi (

Ahmed Arifi (

Ahmed Arifi is one of those athletes.

The 30-year-old information technology professional lives in Toronto, Canada, where in his spare time he is an active bodybuilder and runs, an online community portal. Standing 6-foot-2 and weighing around 200 pounds in peak condition, his physique wouldn’t be out of place on a stage in competition with bodybuilders in his weight class.

But Arifi is a Muslim — a revert from the Balkans who describes himself as part Croatian, Hungarian, Serbian-Montenegrin and Kosovar-Albanian — and due to his religious beliefs, becoming an actual competitor in his favorite sport is not an option. Arifi trains, eats and logs his progress with the same borderline obsessive diligence and discipline of a professional bodybuilder, but he does not step foot on stage. He is all practice, no play.

But why refuse the exposure when you’re achieving the excellence?

Because, Arifi says, although building the body is a pursuit all Muslims should explore, being a competitive bodybuilder — i.e., exposing just about every inch of the body short of the private parts to be judged and scored, often in mixed-gender settings — goes against the principles of Islam.

“While competitive bodybuilders are inspirational in what they achieve through their hard work and basically are walking anatomy charts or walking giants — as a Muslim I have to draw a line in partaking in something like this personally,” Arifi says.

“A few years back … people asked me if I was going to compete. It felt tempting but it is not halal,” he adds. “I know many Muslims who compete and are successful at it and they are great guys, but it is clear that mixing on stage with the opposite gender and being stared at by both genders while wearing competition underwear is unacceptable Islamically,” he says.

While Arifi does not name any names, competitive Muslim bodybuilders are not hard to find.

Zack “King” Khan is one of the ton of bodybuilders around the world who competes while continuing to practice Islam.

In a 2013 profile in the UK’s Daily Mail, Khan was called Britain’s first Muslim professional bodybuilder. The 34-year-old, who captured the 2009 International Federation of Body Builders UK British Championship, stands 6-foot-1 and competes at 280-plus pounds of absurdly massive and cut muscles.

Zack Khan, professional bodybuilder (

Zack Khan, professional bodybuilder (

In that Daily Mail profile, Khan said he never misses Friday prayer and observes the Ramadan fast even though his job requires him to travel constantly and stick to a diet of 5,000 calories per day. During Islam’s holiest month, Khan said he consumes his 5,000 daily calories in the acceptable window in which fasting Muslims can eat.

“Adapting my profession for my religion is something which has just become second nature to me now,” Khan was quoted.

There are a lot of Muslims involved in competitive bodybuilding. One of the most prominent is Mamdouh “Big Ramy” Elssbiay, a 300-pound Egyptian who many predict will someday win the coveted Mr. Olympia crown — bodybuilding’s version of a Super Bowl trophy and Olympic gold medal wrapped in one. (The winner, in fact, is presented with a trophy and a medal, not to mention a big payday and a wealth of sponsorship and endorsement opportunities.)

The men’s division at the World Amateur Bodybuilding Championships has been dominated by athletes from Muslim-majority countries in recent years: Mohamed Zakaria (Egypt) won the title in 2013, Salah Abufanas (Libya) in 2012, Sami Al-Haddad (Bahrain) in 2011, Mohammed Touri (Morocco) in 2010, and Ali Tabrizi (Iran) claimed the prize in 2009, 2008 and 2006. The WABC has also been hosted by Muslim-majority countries several times, including Morocco, Azerbaijan, Qatar and Bahrain in recent years. And among the 180-plus countries that have IFBB-recognized national bodybuilding federations, Muslim-majority countries like Iran, Kosovo, Oman, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia are on the list.

Halal or haram, it is clear that competitive bodybuilding has found a place in the Muslim world. The sport’s intrigue and attraction is certainly understandable.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Hollywood actor and bodybuilding legend, perhaps put it best during his cameo appearance in the 2013 documentary Generation Iron.

“Bodybuilding falls into this unique category of being a sport, being entertainment, being a way of life and being also art,” Schwarzenegger said.

Even without the competition element, however, there is plenty for a Muslim to dislike about bodybuilding: a (deserved or not) pervading culture of steroid and performance-enhancing drug use, a time and lifestyle commitment so demanding it may distract from prayer and reading the Quran, near-nudity in public and mixed-gender settings. And on top of that, anybody who spends hours in the gym and in front of a mirror trying to achieve the perfect physical form must be suffering from a bad case of vanity, right?

“Bodybuilders by definition — most of them will tell you — are very self-centered and selfish,” pro bodybuilder Branch Warren said in Generation Iron. “Even if you’re not that type of person, you become that type of person, because you never get away from it.”

At the same time, there are plenty of positives about bodybuilding: health and fitness benefits, discipline, building physical strength and developing the mental fortitude to continually test yourself against self-imposed barriers.

“The aspect of pushing yourself physically and challenging yourself is still improving yourself. It does not have to be viewed as a vain pursuit,” Arifi says. “And there is a hadith which says Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) loves beauty, and that pride is looking down upon others. So there is nothing wrong in wanting to be beautiful or handsome, taking care of ourselves and our health. As long as it does not cross certain limits.”

There are some Muslims like Arifi who cannot reconcile Islamic modesty with on-stage showboating and borderline strip-teasing. And there are others, like Khan and Elssbiay, who have found bodybuilding competition acceptable and aligned with Islam.

Whether or not bodybuilding is for you, the devout Muslim, ultimately depends on your interpretation of Islam. The same diverse ranges of opinion and personal philosophies on bodybuilding in the Muslim community can be found with many things, including music, fashion, marriage, parenting, how we conduct ourselves at work, even how we wash ourselves before prayer.

I’m not a bodybuilder. When I was a kid I wanted to look like WWE wrestlers like Ultimate Warrior and The Rock, but today it would require major lifestyle and attitude changes to dedicate even half as much time to building that type of body as someone like Arifi has already done.

When debating internally if I’d find it acceptable to pay off all that hard work with pose-downs, spray-on skin bronzer and tiny underwear, I’m drawn to another hadith:

“I heard the Messenger of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) say, ‘That which is lawful is clear and that which is unlawful is clear, and between the two of them are doubtful matters about which people do not know. Thus he who avoids doubtful matters clears himself in regard to his religion and his honor, but he who falls into doubtful matters falls into that which is unlawful…”

My advice: Embrace a healthy and fit lifestyle. Eat right. Go to the gym or work out at home. Strive to sculpt and maintain a beautiful and strong body.

Achieve excellence. Don’t worry about the exposure.

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Amaar Abdul-Nasir was born and raised in Seattle, Wash., and received his B.A. in Journalism from Seattle University. A sports writer and editor by trade, Amaar founded, which focuses on Muslim athletes and health and fitness in the Muslim community, following his conversion to Islam in 2013.



  1. Ibn Masood

    March 19, 2015 at 11:33 PM


    I was a Tnation vet so I apologize if my input comes off a bit strong. A few points from a former oly and powerlifter (315/315/405) who left the lifestyle to focus on more advanced Islamic studies in the East:

    1) Regardless of madhhab in fiqh, posing in speedos on a public stage is impermissible. Yes you will find some old fringe opinions here and there saying the awrah is only the private parts… but to be honest following that for the sake of posing naked on a stage at a BB comp is unbecoming if someone claims to be wanting to be a good Muslim at the same time.

    2) My biggest problem with the BB/PL/Oly lifestyle was how much it demands from you focus on physical self development. Yes I admit i learned a lot about goals and discpline from my 4 or 5 years in the game, but most simply dont carry on that education to intellectual and spiritual development beyond reading more nutrition and physiology material even if its written by a PhD. Once even a brother came to me recently and tried to give me a pep talk about goals when I told him I barely have willpower-space left for lifting anymore and I replied: how much Quran have you memorized? To which he bowed his head ashamedly in realization of how an obsession with physical self development is unhealthy.

    3) You only have so much willpower to spend everyday. A muslims top priority should be spiritual self development, not physical or even intellectual. The lifting culture since the 70s sad to say puts physical on top.

    Conclusion: I do not deny that keeping yourself healthy is important. But people seem to forget that the fitness industry only exists because the fast food one does. The lifting and BB culture while not impermissible in itself and definitely better than doing haraam, is not in spirit an Islamic one.

    I know there are brothers who find it helps them spiritually, but if your end goal it to pose naked on stage and workout in gyms with inappropriately dressed women in the process then that claim is tenuous.

    And regardless of what is said, Im sorry but the spiritual and discplinary gains from lifting/BB are miniscule compared to those who strive day and night to give charity, memorize Qur’an, perfect their understanding and use of the tools of ijtihaad, and stand up in night for qiyaam (even if a bit of their belly hangs out).

  2. Farhana

    March 20, 2015 at 11:50 AM

    Awesome article! (Good to finally have something on a different topic – okay, this topic…haha)
    There is a lot mixed here though… professional and non are two completely different ball games. There is absolute NO male or female in professional bbing who doesn’t juice…I don’t think there is difference of opinion on steroids in Islam? (could be wrong)…Sooo..professional bodybuilding has no place in Islam (although Muslims are doing it), however as a lifestyle (non-prof) of training/eating right I think it’s great (and part of Islam).

    ….the modesty part is very small in terms of everything else. Meaning one day you’re basically showing everything your mama gave you to the world…but more or less the whole year you’re on steroids, etc. etc.

    • sinceremuslimah

      March 27, 2015 at 1:43 AM

      That’s not true. There are professional natural body building competitions where they drug test prior, and steroid use is prohibited.

      • Salmaan

        August 24, 2015 at 8:13 PM

        Body-builders cycle steroids in order for the results not to present themselves in the drug tests, the use of steroid cycling is very popular amongst professionals in the industry.

  3. Ismail

    March 20, 2015 at 11:53 AM

    I suppose the two key words here are Moderation and Sincerity. Moderation because Islam encourages moderation in everything we do, from the obligatory (fard) acts of worship to everything else we do in life. Sincerity means that we Muslims must to everything with the intention to please Allah SWT. For an instance, I’ll explain my background a little. I work in IT, a typical 9 to 5 job where some days I spend a lot of time on my feet, some sitting all the time. It wasn’t exactly good for me when I led a largely sedentary lifestyle. When I prostrated during prayers, my knees would make weird creaking noises and really hurt. So, with advice from my doctor, I started lifting and running and generally keeping myself physically active.

    However, I drew a line as to where I was headed to be. I’ve always been and still am rather wary of the typical gym culture. There’s simply too much vanity for my liking, it seems that everything most gym goers do is done with the intention of showing off. It’s a culture that can be all-consuming. It could almost be like another religion if you get sucked into it, from eating six meals a day, dunking down protein shakes to dressing in particularly cringe worthy clothing (skintight shirts, are they even comfortable?) My exercise routine on the other hand, is to keep my body and limbs ticking properly so that I can conduct my daily tasks without the effort required if I were still leading that sedentary lifestyle I had slipped into a few years back. I also keep a strict schedule as to when I exercise so that they don’t conflict with my other commitments, especially salat times. Oh, and my knees have stopped making funny noises too!

    As long as what you do helps you to get closer to Allah SWT, you’re good to go.

  4. Shawn

    March 23, 2015 at 12:06 AM

    The issues I would like to raise is the amount of food one has to consume in order to build muscle.It seems like a complete waste to me when so many others don’t have enough to eat.

  5. Jimmy

    March 27, 2015 at 6:23 AM

    Why not use exposure to promote Islam? Imagine sports superstars who have millions of fans around the world telling people about Islam?!

    • Shinz

      September 6, 2016 at 4:34 AM

      Jimmy – my thoughts exactly…

  6. Abdurrahman Squires

    March 28, 2015 at 3:52 PM

    The problem with bodybuilding from an Islamic perspective, in contrast to strength training, is that it’s all about looking good. Fueling the ego and working out with the desire to flaunt one’s good looks is no doubt highly problematic from an Islamic perspective. On top of that, the big muscles that bodybuilding produce often become a hindrance to true strength and especially endurance.

    On the other hand, being strong, fit, and taking care of one’s body is highly encouraged in Islam. Due to that, strength training which focuses on making one stronger rather than bigger would seem to be the way to go for a Muslim. Our Ummah would be much better off if a lot more brothers and sisters were embracing StrongLifts 5×5 or similar programs.

    Strength, with a modicum of cardio work on the side, is where it’s at. Working out just to get BIG and to feed one’s ego is just silly and shallow.

    • Sameer Abdul Gafoor

      November 30, 2016 at 5:22 AM

      yes i believe the ummah can benefit from functional fitness such as crossfit

  7. abu John

    March 28, 2015 at 5:48 PM

    So Zack KK is a ‘practicing Muslim’ and on his web page when asked “Do you have any interests outside of the gym?
    he replies:

    I like going to the picture, restaurants, clubbing every so often and girls, girls and let me think… girls.

  8. Ibn Ali El Fakiri

    March 30, 2015 at 10:55 AM

    Professional Bodybuilding, IMHO, is more Nafs Building than anything else.

    As brother Ibn Masud’s points indicate, prioritizing the physical aspects of ourselves to such a degree is far from the spirit of of living the way our Creator intended.

    As someone who enjoys weight training and enjoys the benefits of it – I find the times my level of spiritiual endeavour is high, my weight training becomes something positive also in the Islamic sense.

    Essentially, it all comes down to intention. When a person is in the consciousness of Allah, the intentions are purer. Dhikr, Shukr, Tawakkul all follow you into your sessions.

    Otherwise, it becomes an exercise in destracting yourself from the real goals a Muslim should have.

    Of course the physical benefits of weight training (or any b exercise) are alhamdulillah, excellent. The problem is, the overwhelming majority of people weight training, bodybuilding, seeking to improve their physiques will be doing it for the wrong reasons the majority of the time.

    Being in good physical shape for your self and your partner is great. But how many people have just that as their niyyah?

    That’s not to mention the lifestyle that goes with it – the amounts of money and time spent.

  9. Haji Abdul Kareem Nandasena

    April 3, 2015 at 10:08 AM

    Would You please permit me to circulate this article among the audience of a couple of awareness programmes we are planning to held at the latter part of May.
    With Best Wishes.!

  10. Muhammad Moosa

    April 14, 2015 at 4:21 PM

    I don’t think pro bb is really permissible as a sport due to the drugs ,gear,etc .Natural bb is fine.Contrary to peoples’ expectations, building a great body does not take hour upon hour in the gym. At high intensity an hour a day training is sufficient. Zack Khan himself trains 30 minutes to an hour max.Dorian Yates trained for around 45 minute sessions. It is the time out of the gym that determines results ie the nutrition and rest.So natural bb is brilliant.Pro bb is a pageant of pregnant looking men pumped with growth hormone,testosterone,etc …not good

  11. Sentarou

    May 10, 2015 at 11:42 PM

    I cannot deny that I am intrigued by Middle Eastern men engaging in bodybuilding, an activity that is inherently homoerotic and it has been so from the very beginning, it requires the exposure of the body nearly naked exerting suggestive poses.

    Muscularity is a secondary sexual trait which means that your attractiveness as a male is enhanced by this enlargemnt of the muscles.

    As some books suggest, bodybuilding has a natural erotic nature. This intrigues me because, as far as I know, Islam doesn’t condone the exposure of the nearly naked body because of its potential to cause sexual arousal on the spectators.

    Now, there is nothing wrong with the erotic potential of bodybuilding. My interest in the subject of bodybuilding in the Middle East comes from this, lets call it, “dichotomy” between what religion says and what bodybuilding exerts on stage.

  12. Pingback: Mr Canada 2006 Bodybuilding

  13. Naqash

    September 6, 2016 at 12:13 AM

    I think the amount of food that is required to build muscle is prohibited in Islam, because it requires eating excessively. Mohammad (pbuh) said that there is no vessel worse than the stomach. As a result one should eat a few bites as though Adam (pbuh) would have. However if you want to fill your stomach it should be 1/3 Food, 1/3 Water and 1/3 Air. Point is a bodybuilding lifestyle is not necessary but I’ve done the following; personally I’m not too big but I have a six pack, I’m healthy and I’m able to move all my limbs efficiently in order to play sports. I also pray 5x a day. I’m just pointing out that you can still get in shape eating sunnah Foods without indulging in fact food, which regardless of health when your older can effective your health.

  14. Raj Thakeray

    November 5, 2016 at 9:55 PM

    What about male nudity in modelling industry. Does male nudity in commercials, megazine shoots and on webcam modelling justify men to go completely nude just to promote art and aesthetics. it is really beyond my understanding that nowadays men are becoming more marketable than women. Modelling agencies are recruiting more male models than female models. And in the name of modelling “homosexuality” is being promoted which is very horrible for a civilized and cultured society. Sometimes I feel that we are now living in a stone age. Where sexual hunger with same sex does not make any difference

  15. Sameer Abdul Gafoor

    November 30, 2016 at 5:35 AM

    Bodybuilding is not healthy when you consume too many calories and look for an excuse to wear skimpy clothes just to show off your body and i must say it increases lustful feelings and amplifies sexual thoughts, there is no harm in doing it for your partner but what happens when we see women doing bodybuilding and posing on stage inciting lust and provoking others, today we live in a digital age where a smartphone is a tool that can expose so many things in social media through instagram,facebook and whatsapp . The salaf of old never had to contend with this kind of sport
    where women walk nearly naked on stage ,dancing and prancing, imagine the Muslim bodybuilder who comes into exposure with that how can he resist from such evil temptation, better to stay way from the competition aspect and do it for the purely healthy aspect of fitness and commit to Allah

  16. Nochtar

    August 25, 2017 at 6:35 PM

    I’m not against Middle Eastern men doing bodybuilding and strutting their nearly naked bodies on a stage, but it bothers me that muslim men are so homophobic at the same time that they practice bodybuilding whose roots are the Greek body ideal, an idela of male beauty that was conceived and promoted by homosexual and bisexual men of ancient Greece. Why do you want to kill the very people who gave you bodybuilding?

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