Friday, August 17, 2012

An Islamic Perspective on the Olympics

The closing ceremonies for the London Olympics were performed on August 12th for over ten thousand athletes from 204 nations. It was estimated that 8 million people attended the games in person and close to 4 billion people watched the games from around the world. This year’s Olympics were considered unique for many due to the fact that Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei had sent women participants for the very first time in their history. This move by the 3 Muslim countries was seen as a milestone for the advancement of Muslim women around the worlds. 

Origins of the Olympics
The Ancient Olympic Games – which began as early as 776 BCE were a series of competitions (i.e. running events, a pentathlon, boxing, etc) held between representatives of several city-states and kingdoms within Greece. Similar to the origins of the Christmas celebration, the Olympics had religious significance, featuring sporting events alongside ritual sacrifices for the idols whom they worshipped. Furthermore, the winners of the events were admired and immortalized in poems and statues. Today, the Olympic Games have become a tradition that extends itself across the world. Nations send their teams to compete in a host country while the citizens at home keep track of the events to see how well their country does.

As members of their community, Muslims may feel the pressure to watch the Olympic Games in order to “fit in”. However, prior to doing this, we need to first ask ourselves how the Prophet (saw) viewed prevailing customs and traditions? We must follow his example because Allah (swt) revealed:

“And whatsoever the Messenger (Muhammad) gives you, take it, and whatsoever he forbids you, abstain (from it), and fear Allah. Verily, Allah is Severe in punishment.” [TMQ 59:7]

“Indeed in the Messenger of Allah you have an excellent example (to follow) for him who hopes in (the meeting with) Allah and the Last Day and remembers Allah much.” [TMQ 33:21]

When it comes to any situation, we must refer to the commandments of Allah (swt) as revealed to the Prophet (saw) who was chosen by Allah (swt) to be the role model for humanity. During his life, one situation occurred after the Prophet (saw) had migrated to Madina al-Munawarah. Anas (ra) narrated,

“When the Prophet (saw) migrated from Makkah to Madina, the people of Madina used to have two festivals. On those two days, they had carnivals and festivity. The Prophet (saw) said, 'Instead of those two days, Allah has appointed for you two other days, which are better, the days of ‘Eid ul-Fitr and ‘Eid ul-Adha.'” [An-Nasaa’i]

Despite the fact that there were prevailing customs and traditions, the Prophet (saw) did not in any way compromise by involving himself or the Sahabah (ra). Rather, he acted upon what was revealed. We should view the Olympics in a similar manner; as it does not emanate from the Islamic culture and therefore we should not partake in its events.

Nurturing Nationalism
From its inception, the main idea behind the Olympic Games has been to determine through competition, which team will succeed at winning the most medals. While in Ancient Greece, the teams were based on city-states and kingdoms, today we have nation states competing against one another. Consequently, the competitions incite feelings of nationalism, patriotism and tribalism within the participants as well as the attendees. For the Muslim Ummah, this presents another dilemma as we are united by the Aqeedah of Islam, yet we are encouraged in the Olympic Games to rally behind a specific country defined by other than Islam. RasulAllah (saw) clearly forbade ‘asabiyyah (nationalism) when he said the following:

“He is not one of us who calls of ‘asabiyyah or who fights for ‘asabiyyah or who dies for ‘asabiyyah.”[Abu Dawood]

“He who calls for ‘asabiyyah is as if he bit his father’s genitals.” [Mishkat al-Masabih]

As a result, it is haram for athletes to represent a specific country and it would be haram for attendees to support any of these countries as the artificial boundaries that divide the Muslim Ummah were put in place by the Colonial powers through treaties such as the Sykes-Picot agreement, which were meant to keep the Muslims divided and weak.

Spreading Liberal Capitalist Values
Despite the fact that only traces of paganism continue to be seen at the Olympic Games, it is quite obvious that the games are being used as a mechanism to spread the Liberal Capitalist values of freedom which run counter to the sublime values set up by Allah (swt). The games encourage and promote concepts such as the exposure of awrah among men and women and the free-mixing of genders which are all liberal concepts alien to Islam. As mentioned earlier, the 2012 Olympic Games have received extra attention as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei have sent women to participate in the competitions for the very first time. To claim that these Muslim countries have taken a historical step towards the advancement of Muslim women around the world is a sham, as Islam prohibits the participation of women in sports activities in the presence of a male audience, even if they wore full Islamic dress as this would be a display of their tabarruj (charms). Allah (swt) revealed:

"And as for women past childbearing who do not expect wed-lock, it is no sin on them, if they discard their (outer) clothing in such a way as not to show their charms." [TMQ 24:60]
In this ayah, Allah (swt) has forbidden women past child-bearing age from displaying their charms (tabarruj), allowing the discarding of the jilbab (outer garment), without displaying their charms (tabarruj). Implicit in this, is the prohibition of tabarruj. Since women past the age of childbirth have been prohibited from displaying their charms (tabarruj), then by greater reason, women who have not reached such an age should also not display their tabarruj. Allah (swt) revealed:

"…And let them not stamp their feet so as to reveal what they hide of their charms…" [TMQ 24:31]

Furthermore, the participation of Muslim women in the Olympics compromises their Islamic dress code which includes the khimar (headscarf) and jilbab. It also undermines the concept of hayah (modesty) in women to which Islam attaches great importance and worth.

An Organized Distraction (Lahw)
The secular Aqeedah is built on the separation of deen (religion) from life. Consequently, human beings are left to pursue their desires in an unrestricted manner as there is no perceived repercussion to worry about in the afterlife. The secular doctrine is a belief centered on recreation and entertainment, distracting human beings from achieving their true goal in life, which is to attain the pleasure of Allah (swt). Instead, human beings are given the goal of achieving sensual satisfaction as the ultimate purpose. So human beings strive hard to entertain themselves and to seek their pleasures in life, not worrying about the consequences of their actions in the afterlife. As a result, it is natural for secular societies to hold organized distractions on such a grand scale, where a significant amount of time and capital is invested. Within these organized distractions athletes play professionally on a national or international level. In addition, staff and security is appointed to oversee the activities of these athletes. Billions of dollars are spent on infrastructure such as stadiums and arenas to accommodate for the athletes to compete in and for the fans to attend. Television programs and radio broadcasts are scheduled to inform the masses about the progress of the games, until they become the talk of the town, city, region or even the world.

There are some kinds of lahw, which are halal and mubah (permissible), such as target shooting, swimming, racing, and wrestling. However, these lahw are halal is done in accordance with the hukm sharai (i.e. there is no free-mixing or display of awrah) and as long as it does not cause one to be unmindful of his/her obligations. Imam Al-Shaatibi (rh) says, “Lahw, entertainment and vacancy from any work is Mubah (permissible), if it does not involve a forbidden matter, or occupy one from an obligated matter.” And he adds, “But he is blameworthy, and the scholars did not agree with it (i.e. they did not like it), rather they would hate to see a man, who was not busy with either improving his livelihood or improving his Hereafter; for he had wasted a period of time which was not used to gain any good for this world, nor for the afterlife.”

The attention that the media has given to the Olympic Games poses the danger of distracting Muslims away from maintaining focus on the akhirah and seeking the pleasure of Allah (swt) by abiding by the hukm sharai’ to wasting time watching competitions that amount to nothing other than the pride an ego of one nation over another. The Olympic Games are an even greater danger to non-Muslims who are busy entertaining themselves rather than seeking the purpose of their existence and destination after this life.

How should we view the Olympics?
Muslims should reject and disassociate themselves from the Olympics due to the following reasons:
  • It doesn’t emanate from the Islamic Aqeedah but from the traditions of Ancient Greece,
  • It nurtures sentiments of tribalism, nationalism and patriotism – concepts that are alien to Islam and a poison to the unity and brotherhood of the Muslim Ummah
  • It is being used as a tool by Liberal Democratic countries to pressure Muslim lands to conform to their values, and
  • It distracts Muslims away from engaging in actions that will increase their standing before Allah (swt) and for the non-Muslims in seeking the purpose in life.
The 2012 Olympic Games took place during the month of Ramadhan – a time when RasulAllah (saw) encouraged us to engage in more good deeds as their rewards would be multiplied. While the nation states were competing against each other in London, our brothers and sisters have been struggling against the tyranny of the regimes imposed in our lands – such as in Syria or Burma. Muslims must strive, like the Sahabah (ra), with seriousness and thought, to return to ruling by that which Allah (swt) has revealed and to re-establish the authority of Islam. We should shun the frivolous pursuits, the organized distractions, the computer games, spectator sports, and the like. Instead, we must turn our attention to the return of this Ummah to its position of might, and above all, yearn for the meeting with Allah (swt). Such a goal requires seriousness, perseverance and patience. The Messenger of Allah (saw) said,

“The two feet of the son of Adam will not move from near his Lord on the Day of Judgment until he is asked about five matters: about his life, how he spent it; about his youth, how he took care of it; about his wealth, how he earned it and how he spent it; and about that which he acted upon from the knowledge that he acquired.” [Tirmidhi]

We ask Allah (swt) to make us among those who are aware of the importance of time and are serious about the pursuit of the Hereafter. We also ask Him to help this Ummah to rise to her greatest duty of being a witness on mankind.

“So as for he who transgressed. And preferred the life of the world, Then indeed, Hellfire will be [his] refuge. But as for he who feared the position of his Lord and prevented the soul from [unlawful] inclination, Then indeed, Paradise will be [his] refuge.” [TMQ 79:37-41]

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