By Mahvish Irfan
TMO Contributing Writer
Treadmills. Barbells. And hijabs? Muslim women are entering the health and fitness industry like never before and making one statement loud and clear: faith and fitness can coexist.
Nadine Abu-Jubara, President and Founder of Nadoona, a Muslim women’s fitness company, says she started Nadoona to redefine health and provide a much needed resource for Muslim women to get fit without sacrificing their modesty.
“At Nadoona, our main message is getting fit for the sake of Allah and not for the superficial reasons that drive the market today. In today’s mainstream fitness videos, all you see is skin, skin and more skin. In our DVD series we stem away from that and show something that a Muslim woman can look at and relate to and aspire to” she tells Muslim Observer.
Nadoona originally started off five years ago personally instructing body makeover classes to a few group of women. As work progressed and spectators increased, Abu-Jubara realized virtually all Muslim women are lacking the support system they need to better their health. Thus, with the help of Zainab Ismail, Vice-President of Nadoona, the duo recently launched Nadoona Extreme, a 2-DVD fitness series customized for Muslim women.
Nadoona Extreme features Ismail, who has 20 years of experience as a movement therapist, nutritional coach and personal trainer, working out in hijab. The importance of faith is apparent from the very start of the workout and is shown in more than just the modest clothing.
“We start off with a dua and it continues and bring in Bismillah when things get tough,” Abu-Jubara explains. “Losing weight is great, looking good is great, but we want Muslims to connect it all to a higher purpose and that is their faith.”
Abu-Jubara argues that taking care of one’s health plays a pivotal and mandatory role in Islam. She says, “We focus so much on the importance of prayer, the importance of zakah, and the importance of other concepts in Islam but then we forget about the foundation of it all. Without a healthy body you cannot do any of those things. Without a healthy body you cannot properly pray, without a healthy body you cannot do Hajj, without a healthy body you cannot effectively fast. Health is a foundational concept for all of the worship within Islam. Once people hear this information and see its importance in researched hadiths, they’re sold.”
Nadoona has received positive feedback and growing support from everyone from moms to religious authorities. “We always have moms that thank us for creating a DVD that they can watch with their family around. They don’t have to worry about a half naked woman prancing around or hearing impermissible things like ‘getting bikini ready’.’” However, the response from the Muslim community wasn’t always so encouraging.
Abu-Jubara shares that Nadoona did receive a lot of resistance initially. “Certain male community leaders automatically labeled women’s fitness haram and people would troll on Facebook saying things like ‘Astaghfurallah’” she says. Fortunately, things have taken a taken a surprising turn for the better over the past few years as she states greater understanding of the need and importance of fitness spreads in the Muslim community.
“The same community leaders that thought it was bad idea are now calling me up now to organize programs with their local mosques or organizations. In recent times, we don’t really see backlash anymore” she happily conveys.
Nesrine Dally, a hijab-clad Muslim fitness trainer and muay thai coach from London, UK with 10 years of experience in the fitness and sports industry, is also defying all stereotypes about Muslim women. At the age of 26, she has an impressive record. Dally is a NASM Sports Performance Enhancement Specialist, trains international level elite athletes, earned her undergraduate degree with honors in Sports and Exercise Science, and completed her Masters by Research in Sports Biomechanics among many other accomplishments.
She tells Muslim Observer that as a Muslim woman in the fitness industry “you may find initially you are not giving the respect and credibility you deserve, especially as the fitness industry is very much about how you look and how good others think you look. However I use this to my advantage as it makes me stand out and makes people ask questions.”
Though she was initially concerned that her obvious Muslim identity would cause her to run across judgments and have turn people away from working with her, she says the reaction she has received has been the quite opposite.
“People have always made comments on how refreshing and great is it to see a positive representation of the Muslim women and how strong they can be… People are so shocked to see you training fully covered and are always so amazed that I can keep up and beat them.
These kinds of comments make it all worth it and show that we can break free of negative stereotypes…I hope to keep breaking the mold and encouraging other women to come and do more than they ever thought they could.”
Though she says the stigma against fitness is alive and well in the Muslim community, she explains, “We forget that it is sunnah to keep healthy and our Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him often spoke of good healthy foods to include in our diet and life and the importance of this.”
Women like Nadine Abu-Jubara, Zainab Ismail and Nesrine Dally are paving the way for other Muslim women to enter the health and fitness profession with confidence and proving that women’s fitness does indeed play an important role in Islam.