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The Khabib Halal/Haraam Ratio: Good Character, Bad Sports, And The Conundrum of Muslim Representation 

Zainab (AnonyMouse)

Published

This The Muslim Ummah has spent the last several years celebrating the rise and success of MMA fighter Khabib Normagomedov, a Muslim Daghestanti fighter who emerged to become an undisputed victor. On the day of his 29th victory, he also announced his retirement from MMA, referencing a promise that he made to his mother.

Muslims went wild in their praises, showering him with adoration, expressing their admiration of his obedience to his mother, his public demonstrations of sajdah ash-shukr after every match, his humility and remembrance of Allah, and his lowering of the gaze around inappropriately dressed women at public events. Undoubtedly, these are all praiseworthy behaviours and characteristics that should be encouraged in all Muslims, especially Muslim men. 

However, there has been a near-deafening silence on the underlying problematic foundations of the entire phenomenon of Khabib Nurmagomedov and his popularity amongst Muslim men. To begin with, his entire career as an MMA fighter is considered sinful and prohibited according to the Shari’ah. It is well-known that the Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said:

وَعَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ ‏- رضى الله عنه ‏- قَالَ: قَالَ رَسُولُ اَللَّهِ ‏- صلى الله عليه وسلم ‏-{ إِذَا قَاتَلَ أَحَدُكُمْ, فَلْيَتَجَنَّبِ اَلْوَجْهَ } مُتَّفَقٌ عَلَيْهِ.‏ 1‏ .‏

‏1 ‏- صحيح.‏ رواه البخاري (2559)‏، ومسلم (2612)‏ واللفظ لمسلم، ولتمام تخريج 

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“When any one of you fights, let him avoid (striking) the face.” (Narrated by al-Bukhari, al-Fath, 5/215).

Scholars have agreed that any sports which involve striking of the face, and in addition, those which involve several physical harm and injury to its participants, are haraam. As per the hadith, and established legal maxim, “laa darar wa laa diraar” (There is no harming of others nor reciprocation of harm), this prohibition extends to sports such as boxing, MMA, American football, and any other sport where the athletes deliberately and regularly inflict and receive physical injury. 

On The Ropes

This is not a matter to be taken lightly. Indeed, it is disturbing and unfortunate that this fact has been minimized to such an extent that many Muslims – including and especially the Muslim men who are such avid fans of these sports – are not even aware of this prohibition. Perhaps most alarming is that many of those who are considered scholars, imams, shuyookh, and leaders in the Muslim community, who are aware of this prohibition, have neglected to mention these rulings even as they publicly praise those such as Muhammad Ali or Khabib Nurmagomedov for their prowess in these arenas, and hold them to be role models to follow. When even religious authorities are publicly cheering on such athletes and celebrating their victories, how can the average layman be expected to know that these sports are detested by the Shari’ah? It is a grave shortcoming that so many religious teachers and leaders have failed their fellow Muslims on a matter that has been extremely public and popularized. 

It is also necessary for Muslims to consider that the way that professional boxing, wrestling, MMA, and similar prohibited sports are conducted is a far cry from the casual (and permissible) fighting-for-sport that existed at the time of RasulAllah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). Today, the sports industry boasts billions upon billions of dollars spent in promotional material and events that involve no small amount of music, alcohol, vulgarity, and nearly-naked women being used solely to titillate the male gaze; sponsors of teams and athletes include beer companies. 

Glutton For Punishment

Male and female ‘awrah alike is revealed, openly and blatantly, normalized as part of the sports environment. Concern over the male ‘awrah being revealed cannot be overstated when we have an Islamic tradition that emphasizes modesty for believers, male and female. The greatest of all human beings, the Messenger of Allah, was described as “… more modest than a virgin in seclusion”

(Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 5751, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 2320). The Prophet Musa (‘alayhissalaam) was known to be so modest that he kept his body covered at all times (Sahih Tirmidhi); the Companion ‘Uthmaan ibn ‘Affaan (radhiAllahu ‘anhu) was described as having such modesty that the Messenger of Allah himself said, “Should I not be shy of the one whom the angels are shy of?” (Sahih Muslim 2401)

Related to modesty is the reminder to Muslim women who have been watching his matches (or any other entertainment) to lower their gazes. Bluntly speaking, it does not behoove a believing woman to be enjoying the sight of half-naked men (especially the very fit, athletic, and often attractive type) to be grappling away at each other. Muslim women are certainly not immune to the fitnah caused by the flaunting of undressed men all over social media feeds and through other entertainment.

The warnings regarding zina of the eyes apply to Muslim women just as they do to men; the Qur’an has already said:

{And tell the believing women to lower their gazes and guard their private parts…} (Qur’an 24:31) 

It is unfortunate that this has been forgotten about to such an extent that even scholars have neglected to address this particular issue.

Rolling With The Representation Punches

While Khabib himself has been praised for his lowering of the gaze around inappropriately dressed women at events that he is present at, we should be cognizant of the fact that neither he nor any other Muslim man (or woman) should be putting themselves in the position of being at such events to begin with. The truth of the matter is that his presence at these events was a necessary part of his career; his income, derived from this haraam sport and this haraam environment, can bluntly be considered haraam rizq, and no different in legal ruling than those who make money from liquor stores or running brothels. That Muslims have been blithely ignoring the serious spiritual ramifications of this raises the question of just how seriously we take the issue of blessed rizq in the first place. 

It is clear that many Muslim men, and in particular the religiously observant, find in Khabib a type of Muslim representation that they crave: someone who is publicly and unapologetically Muslim, who has demonstrated impressive physical skills and capability (perhaps they’re living through him vicariously?), who has displayed exemplary conduct outside the ring, who has constantly held fast to publicly and unashamedly remembering Allah and speaking of Islam. 

In and of itself, this is admirable. The Muslim Ummah has had a dearth of heroic contemporary role models, and no one can be faulted for feeling love for someone who seems to embody such laudable character and conduct. However, we cannot simply stop there. It is necessary for us to ask ourselves the question of what kind of Muslim representation is the kind of Muslim representation worth having – and how, and where, that representation takes place. 

When Muslim women have entered the public space, providing “representation” in the form of a muhajjabah in Playboy magazine, a hijab wearing model in a beauty pageant and the modeling industry, a hijabi in Olympic sports, and plenty of non-hijabis in many other areas, there has been a great deal of valid, legitimate criticism regarding the concept of “Muslim representation” and what it entails. Amongst conservative Muslims, there is a shared belief that “representation” at the cost of upholding the halal and turning away from the haraam is not representation worth having. Indeed, such “representation” comes with a significant amount of damage to the collective social and spiritual health of the Ummah: there is normalization of platforms that are antithetical to Islamic values, of dressing and conduct that go against our Shari’ah, and encouraging younger generations to engage in those behaviours and to pursue those types of careers. 

Why, then, are we not holding our Muslim brothers to the same standard? No matter how inspiring Khabib’s conduct is, no matter how admirable his public representation of his Muslim identity, his career and all that comes with it cannot be considered permissible, acceptable, or encouraged in Islam. Unfortunately, we have had many Muslim men encouraging one another to watch his matches, to the extent of arranging watch parties in the masjid! (Someone, please, answer me truly: how would RasulAllah consider the enthusiastic watching of a haraam sport in the House of Allah?)

Blow-By Blow: Izzah of the Ummah?

Furthermore, the excuses made for Khabib’s career choice are, frankly, flimsy – he has not brought ‘izzah to this Ummah in any tangible way other than making Muslim men feel good about themselves (I mean, hey, I get it, but sorry, this ain’t it); he is not “intimidating the kuffaar” (let’s be real: the kuffaar at the UFC are making more money off of him than you could ever dream of having in a lifetime); his victories in the ring are not a victory for this Ummah (please, go ask the oppressed Muslims in Burma, Somalia, Yemen, East Turkestan, Palestine, Kashmir, and elsewhere how much of a victory his matches have been for their well-being). Indeed, questions have risen regarding his public appearances with Vladimir Putin and his possible political allegiances with Russia, which has a long history of brutalizing Muslims in their surrounding regions. 

At the end of the day, Khabib Nurmagomedov is a paid athlete, whose millions of dollars come from a prohibited sport, in an industry that reeks of filth from beginning to end. He is our Muslim brother, and what should be celebrated is that he has finally chosen to leave the industry. What we should not have done, nor continue to do, is to hold his career as an MMA fighter to be exemplary for Muslims in any way, shape or form. We should pray for his guidance as a Muslim, his forgiveness for his previous sins, and remind our Muslim brothers – no matter how emotionally swayed they may be – that true ‘izzah comes not from participating in prohibited sports or careers (despite how successful one may be at it!), but from obeying the Law of Allah and His Messenger and abstaining from transgressing the boundaries laid by the Shari’ah.

This article was reviewed by a scholar for religious content.

Further resources on rulings:

https://islamqa.info/en/answers/10427/ruling-on-boxing

https://www.islamweb.net/en/fatwa/429082/boxing-is-forbidden-even-without-striking-the-face

https://www.islamweb.net/en/fatwa/329518/going-to-gym-that-has-yoga-lessons-boxing-and-sauna

Is Watching Boxing Allowed in Islam?

Punching or Striking the Face

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Zainab bint Younus is a Canadian Muslim woman who writes on Muslim women's issues, gender related injustice in the Muslim community, and Muslim women in Islamic history. She holds a diploma in Islamic Studies from Arees University, a diploma in History of Female Scholarship from Cambridge Islamic College, and has spent the last fifteen years involved in grassroots da'wah. She was also an original founder of MuslimMatters.org.

29 Comments

29 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Kashi

    October 25, 2020 at 4:40 PM

    Masallah! It’s well written. So I understand better sports involving hitting each other and especially in the face are Haram?

  2. Avatar

    Abu Hamzah

    October 25, 2020 at 4:54 PM

    An interesting perspective, mostly taking from books but maybe not fully understanding circumstances of application.

    Martial arts is not developed in a sanitized environment. It’s developed only through application. Through gritty and real application. Traditional martial arts that have become divorced of its “real life application” has resulted in them becoming nothing more than fitness and flexibility exercises. When put in a ring with real and genuine opponents intent on testing the efficacy of their art they have by and large proven inadequate.

    If the Muslims world shy away from this arena, then the ummah as a whole suffers. Falling behind and relying on out dated techniques while the rest of the world develop ever more effective and sophisticated hand to hand combat abilities.

    Maybe it is not only not haram, but a fard kifayi. We need genuine scholarship to interact with genuine Muslims leaders in combat sport to discuss this matter. A discussion that goes beyond a very rudimentary and superficial approach. I am not saying it’s halal or haram, but rather that this matter goes beyond what has been thus far mention.

  3. Avatar

    Umer Sheriff

    October 25, 2020 at 6:10 PM

    You could tell a woman wrote this and the shaykh who approved it has no martial arts training himself. 🤷‍♂️

  4. Avatar

    Adil Khan

    October 25, 2020 at 6:45 PM

    Wow, you cite faraz rabbani who is the most scandalous of all shayukh in his financial dealings, human dealings, praises shaykhs who pull off secret marriages and gives ijazas in activism certificates. Other than that, I actually liked your article and boldness, and think you brought up important points.

  5. Avatar

    Ibn Siddique

    October 25, 2020 at 9:37 PM

    A similar article could be written, The Living in North America: the Conundrum of Living in a State that is Zionist, Militaristic, and Socially Unjust. Everyday we make choices in deciding what world to navigate in.

    Back to the content however, I and every other Muslim would be more comfortable if the shorts went little lower, if there was no punching to the face, if there wasn’t alcohol, cage girls, and women fighting. That said, it was Khabib’s focus on good manners, averting the gaze, saying alhamdulillah and teaching about being good to ones parents in the middle of all of this that was admirable. To be in the thick of sin and to remain tall as a Muslim, that’s what everyone was celebrating.

    A good read that acknowledges the haram but delves a little further: https://facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=3399557853446824&id=747099828692653&_rdr

  6. Avatar

    shahid bolsen

    October 25, 2020 at 11:35 PM

    Nah.

  7. Avatar

    MW_M

    October 26, 2020 at 9:37 AM

    >the form of a muhajjabah in Playboy magazine, a hijab wearing model in a beauty pageant and the modeling industry, a hijabi in Olympic sports, and plenty of non-hijabis in many other area

    Arguments made in this article are marred by this completely specious comparison. Khabib’s success is as an athelete. He displays his Islam openly. The model and Playboy journalist you mentioned were not successful in their fields by their own merits; they used the hijab to create an “exotic” niche for themselves. If you can’t see the difference between someone using Islam to further their material interests and someone embracing their Islam despite their material success, I’m not surprised you can’t see why Khabib has become so popular despite the obvious issues with his career.

  8. Avatar

    Umm Asiyah

    October 26, 2020 at 11:49 AM

    Based on the comments, all this proved is that men don’t like when the spotlight is shone onto their double standards. All of a sudden nuance trumps haqq. Shameful.

    Well-written article otherwise. Had to be said.

  9. Avatar

    Khabib Zindabad

    October 26, 2020 at 12:34 PM

    Wow. Click bait. I agree with previous comments, written about theory not reality. Khabib has probably brought more respect for Islam than authors preaching to the choir.

  10. Avatar

    Deehaw

    October 26, 2020 at 1:55 PM

    Salaam,

    There is no doubt the points that were made are legitimate. and I agree with those points.

    But I do believe the points that were raised not only apply to MMA but almost all the sports. We are also forgetting this UFC event took place in UAE and Muslim country. Why only pick on Khabib criticism of the whole system is warranted.

  11. Avatar

    Spirituality

    October 26, 2020 at 2:44 PM

    As Salamu Alaikum,

    Another thought provoking (and controversial) article by Sister Zainab. Thank you for boldly going where others fear to tread.

    I agree with pretty much everything you said; I ask the brothers who defend martial arts that violate the sharia; why are we practicing martial arts that violate the sharia anyway? Why not develop and practice (including in face to face combat) our own martial arts that respects the sharia? Why would the ummah as a whole loose out if such martial arts that violate the sharia are not practiced? (I am genuinely curious about this statement – hope the brother will elaborate).

    To be fair, such criticism is not limited to martial arts and sports only; they apply to a wide spectrum of Muslim activities, such as arts, television, movies, etc. We as Muslims need to get creative, expand our horizons, and come up with our own sports/arts/culture that respect our values.

    Furthermore, why are today’s Muslim heroes athletes and hijabi models? Why aren’t our heroes people who oppose injustice, or people who show their strength of character by other means (standing up for the truth, helping the poor and oppressed, etc?)

    On that note – I do believe that Muhammad Ali was a hero. Not at all because of his boxing, but because he was willing to give up all his fame, money, titles and even go to jail as a conscientious objector to the Vietnam war; he explicitly referenced Islam as a reason for doing so. Perhaps Nurmagomedov will one day follow in his footsteps – at that point, he will truly be a hero.

  12. Avatar

    Reem Shaikh

    October 26, 2020 at 6:44 PM

    Disappointing article. No one is looking up to Khabib as if he is the perfect manifestation of a Muslim. We (men AND women) look up to him as someone who displays the character and manners of a Muslim. Muslim youth are being criticized for looking up to figures like Khabib and Muhammad Ali, while the fact that they are surrounded by peers who engage in activities far worse than boxing is ignored. There are other celebrities who identify as Muslim, such as rappers T-Pain and Ice Cube, but you don’t hear them being labeled as role models because their character clearly doesn’t represent Islam. Young Muslims are already struggling to find connection to their faith in American society, and when they finally do, this is what they hear in response.

    Also, comparing the sin of earning money from boxing to that from prostitution? Come on.

  13. Avatar

    Ali Abdulaziz

    October 26, 2020 at 8:11 PM

    As usual, Zainab has an axe to grind and throws in more than a few digs at “Muslim men”. It’s about time that the name of this website be changed to Muslim Women’s Matters, as that more accurately reflects the content and would at least be honest.

  14. Avatar

    Abu Ismail

    October 27, 2020 at 12:14 PM

    Barak Allahi Feeki ukhti, this is what people need to hear. We need to stop glorifying sin, even though we love khabib. We shouldnt bring up and talk about his sin of cage fighting. We must be just even against our own. Cage fighting is haram and we shouldnt glorify those fighting in it.

  15. Avatar

    Abu Ismail

    October 27, 2020 at 2:30 PM

    Allahu**

  16. Avatar

    parvezkhan

    October 27, 2020 at 6:56 PM

    There should be no comparisons between a successful Muslim athlete who shows the positive aspects of Islam via his character and front runners who just use a scarf for materialism.

    A woman showing her body figure and promoting a faahish industry has nothing to do with hijab even if she wears a scarf.

    Khabib is completely different from those so called hijabi models. Khabib is an actual inspiration and has wise public statements inspired from his islaim belief.

  17. Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse)

    Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse)

    October 28, 2020 at 12:41 AM

    @Kashi

    Thank you for your comment! Yes, any sport or activity where striking the face, or deliberately causing severe injury, takes place is considered haraam.

  18. Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse)

    Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse)

    October 28, 2020 at 12:53 AM

    @Abu Hamza

    There are many different types of martial arts that are permissible; in fact, there is an entire form of martial arts developed by Muslims in South Asia, referred to as Silat.

    MMA is an entirely different beast, and one that – so long as striking in the face is part of the game, as is deliberately injuring the other person – will remain haraam no matter how hard one tries to argue otherwise. Keep in mind as well that it is not fighting in self defence, or to protect the Ummah – it is a billion dollar industry that benefits the kuffaar far more than it has ever, or will ever, benefit the Ummah.

  19. Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse)

    Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse)

    October 28, 2020 at 1:00 AM

    @Ibn Siddique

    I understand that Khabib displayed excellent conduct in many ways, mashaAllah. However, we really need to be honest with ourselves and hold ourselves to a higher standard – are Allah and His Messenger pleased with the MMA industry as a whole, would they be pleased with Muslims engaging in it, and are they pleased with Muslims supporting and encouraging it?

    We can appreciate and respect Khabib’s character while facing up to the fact that his career in MMA was problematic from a Shar’i aspect, and what is also concerning and problematic is the defensive attitude that so many Muslims have had regarding the entire issue.

  20. Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse)

    Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse)

    October 28, 2020 at 1:04 AM

    @MW_M

    Models and Playboy journalists were not the *only* examples I cited, nor did I even equate him to them – I specifically said that when Muslim women have engaged in *multiple* different fields, often citing “Muslim representation,” there is immediate critique about whether what they’re doing is halal, how halal it is, whether they’re representing Islam correctly, and so on. Often, those are valid critiques. Sometimes, they’re not.

    The issue is that we did not hold Khabib to the same standards, nor did we hold ourselves and our unflinching support of him to the same standard. At the end of the day, it’s still a haraam sport and a haraam career, no matter how well he conducted himself and no matter how strongly he shared his Islamic identity. THAT is something we have yet to come to terms with, it seems.

  21. Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse)

    Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse)

    October 28, 2020 at 1:08 AM

    @Spirituality

    JazaakAllahu khayran for your thoughtful response! I definitely agree with you on the need for Muslims to create and develop their own areas of sport and creativity.

  22. Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse)

    Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse)

    October 28, 2020 at 1:13 AM

    @Reem Shaikh

    Nowhere did I expect Khabib (or any other Muslim) to be held to the standard of perfection. I *do* expect Muslims to have the emotional and intellectual maturity to face up to the fact that the entire MMA industry is incredibly problematic according to the Shari’ah, and that should shape how we as Muslims conceptualize and perceive the entire issue at hand. No matter how we feel about Khabib, or how incredible he is as a person and a Muslim in other ways, the facts don’t care about our feelings: a haraam sport is a haraam sport, and a haraam career is a haraam career.

    Last year, Khabib himself admitted that his career is likely not something that Allah is pleased with. I respect him more for the fact that he was honest about it and didn’t try to justify or excuse it.

  23. Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse)

    Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse)

    October 28, 2020 at 1:19 AM

    @Abu Ismail

    JazaakAllahu khayran for your kind words!

  24. Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse)

    Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse)

    October 28, 2020 at 1:24 AM

    @ParvezKhan

    I mentioned more than just “hijabi models” – and by the way, the MMA (and much of the sports industry) industry is also a faahish industry, just in a different way. Bashing each other up, causing deliberate harm and injury for sport and to get paid for it, the filth of music, inappropriately dressed women, alcohol at events, and so much more… absolute garbage from beginning to end, and certainly not pleasing to Allah and His Messenger in any way.

    Khabib seems to be a great guy and an inspiring Muslim in many ways, but that doesn’t change the facts about the sport or the career or literally anything else that I mentioned.

  25. Avatar

    Fasih

    October 29, 2020 at 6:52 AM

    I love this! Thank you Sister Zainab for this article. You have perfectly described the concerns that I share with you about this issue. The deafening silence on this issue has bothered me for quite some time. As you have said the defensive attitude that many Muslims have towards this is a bit alarming. We are always quick to analyse the intentions and actions of any Muslim woman who comes into the public eye whether she claims to represent Muslims or not. The same scrutiny should also apply to Muslim men. What is Halal is Halal and what is Haram is Haram. That is very clear.

  26. Avatar

    Fasihuddin

    October 29, 2020 at 7:04 AM

    I’m honestly disappointed seeing this comment section. It is a bit alarming how so many people are willing to blatantly ignore Haram just to have some semblance of Muslim representation in the mainstream. The scrutiny any Muslim woman who enters the public eye is intense, whether she claims to represent Muslims or not. The same should be applied here. As Sister Zaynab said, some of that scrutiny is deserved and some isn’t. But this is blatant Haram and it should be called out as such.
    Thank you Sister Zainab for this article. The deafening silence on this issue has been bothering me for quite some time. You hit the nail on the head here.

  27. Avatar

    parvezkhan

    October 31, 2020 at 5:56 PM

    Salam,

    I forgot to ask what happened to your salafi-feminist blog?

    Did you change your views about geneder related issues?

  28. Avatar

    B

    October 31, 2020 at 10:43 PM

    Mockery of other Muslims is a trait of the people of jahannam. Comments like this are better left unsaid.

  29. Avatar

    Riz Ilyas

    November 12, 2020 at 3:35 AM

    Congratulations for saying what needs to be said.

    It is sad that Islam is in such a state today that the biggest hero is a man who is doing haram things.

    How is Khabib any different than a Professional Gambler or better yet…How is Khabib any different from a Muslim porn star who says Allah Huakbar and sings praises to Allah during his cumshots?

    What if he was the best porn star int he world and immediately does Sajda after orgasming and gives all praise and glory to Allah?

    What if all the other men look up to him because he is the best porn star of our time, maybe the greatest porn star ever?

    There are so many reasons why Khabib and others who prizefight for money in casinos, and doing sajdga while standing on the logo of liquor companies, surrounded by women dresssed immodestly, and dressed immodestly himself.

    There is Gi JuiJitsu and Judo competitions where they do not strike in the face and are dressed properly.

    The irony is that there have been scholars who will tell you that porn is allowed if it prevents you from doing Zina, yet no scholar will tell you that prizefighting in UFC/MMA and Boxing etc. are ever permissible.

    To glorify someone for being good at something haram, even the best at it, does not change that it is haram and your support of him is haram too.

    Which is fine, that is your choice, but do not lie about what you are doing.

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