As Muslims, we strive to imitate the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, in his worship and manners. We can extract gems of wisdom even from his everyday interactions that have been recorded in the collections of ahadith or Prophetic traditions. The following is a story about a memorable moment between the Prophet and his wife, Aisha, the Mother of the Believers, may Allah be pleased with her. She narrated the following incident that occurred while she was on a journey along with the Messenger of Allah:
“I raced him on foot and I outran him, but (on another occasion) when I gained some weight, I raced him again and he outran me. The Prophet said: ‘This is for that (previous) race!’” (Abu Dawud)
Here are five lessons we can take from this story related to health and fitness:
1. Exercise can be fun.
We tend to think of exercise as some strenuous ritual meant to push our poor bodies to ungodly limits. However, exercise can be as simple as a brisk walk or a spirited race. This race between the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, and his wife was a form of exercise that most likely elevated their heart rates and burned energy and fat. We can almost imagine their joyful sprint, adrenaline rushing and all, as they tried to outrun one another – the greatest prophet of Allah and one of the greatest women scholars to ever live engaged in a good-humored match.
2. One of the best ways to exercise is with a partner or with family.
Exercising with a partner can be a great way to stay motivated. A workout buddy can hold us accountable and can cheer us on when we feel like giving up. According to the Centers for Disease Control, when you work out with a partner, you are more likely to feel more motivated, be more adventurous, and stay consistent.
In the case of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, he chose his most beloved wife to work out with and he enjoyed this special time with her. The same can be said for Aisha, who was able to tell all about the incident.
3. Healthy competition is good when it comes to fitness.
The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, wanted payback for his first loss to Aisha, may Allah be pleased with her. These two races happened at different times and we learn that Aisha won the first time around. When the second opportunity presented itself, the Prophet redeemed himself. He even reminded Aisha about it by saying “This is for that (other) race!” In a similar fashion, we can challenge our loved ones to compete to stay in shape.
4. The Prophet, peace be upon him, played with his family.
Although we are referencing this particular hadith in the context of physical fitness, it is often quoted when talking about the loving relationship the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, had with his wives. The Prophet was compassionate, attentive, and helpful to his family. He said,
“Verily, the most complete of believers in faith are those with the best character and who are most kind to their families.” (Tirmidhi)
Being playful with your loved ones is one of the best ways to demonstrate that kindness. Coupling that playfulness with physical exercise like racing, biking, roller-skating, or participating in team sports together doubles the benefits.
5. Weight gain happens.
With so much body shaming that happens in our society, communities, and in our own families, it is refreshing to see weight gain spoken about in a very lighthearted way. In a very matter-of-fact tone, Aisha, may Allah be pleased with her, talked about her own weight gain and how it affected the second race between her and the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him. And of course, the Prophet, being the gentleman and most well-mannered person that he was, did not point it out. He only said that his victory evened out the score. We should be mindful not to criticize our children or other family members when they gain or lose weight.
It is important to keep in mind that a child’s weight tends to fluctuate. According to Babycenter, children “grow into their weight” or thin out as they get older and taller. They also point out that restrictive diets can be harmful to their health and development. The best way to help your child maintain good overall health is to provide them with nutritious food and encourage them to stay active.
The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, was a physically fit person and the companions used to describe him as such. Ali, may Allah be pleased with him, informed that he used to walk fast; so much so that people had trouble keeping up with his pace. He said:
“When he walked, because of the speed and force of his legs, it seemed as if he was descending from a high place.” (Tirmidhi) The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, also inspired others to stay active. He said,
“… shoot and ride (horses), but your shooting is dearer to me than your riding. Everything with which a man amuses himself is vain except three (things): a man's training of his horse, his playing with his wife, and his shooting with his bow and arrow. If anyone abandons archery after becoming adept through distaste for it, it is a blessing he has abandoned.” (Abu Dawud)
This may be the reason why when Umar ibn Al Khattab, may Allah be pleased with him, was the caliph, he used to also encourage Muslim families to exercise. He said, “Teach your children swimming and teach your fighters archery.” (Musnad Ahmad)
We should never take any opportunities to have fun with our families or to get moving for granted. Exercise does not have to be a rigorous routine. Just like a race between spouses, it can be an enjoyable and spontaneous activity that we can share with a loved one. Perhaps we can revive this Sunnah (tradition) and race with our families!
Wendy Díaz is a Puerto Rican Muslim writer, award-winning poet, translator, and mother of six (including a teen and tweens). She is the co-founder of Hablamos Islam, Inc., a non-profit organization that produces educational resources about Islam and culture in Spanish. She is also the Spanish content coordinator for the Islamic Circle of North America’s WhyIslam Project and has also written, illustrated, and published a dozen children’s books. Díaz lives with her husband and family in Maryland.