Category Archives: Sports and Exercise Psychology

Habits, Body, and Post-Ramadan Depression!

In the sacred month of Ramadan, a time meant for nourishing our faith and revitalizing our bodies, it’s elusory to see some Muslims grappling with post-Ramadan depression or physical debilitation. While the focus for many is on deepening their spiritual connection during Ramadan, the importance of maintaining healthy daily habits often gets sidelined. This oversight can lead to a host of mind-body issues. Particularly concerning the physical realm, disrupted sleep patterns, inadequate hydration, excessive caffeine intake, poor nutrition stemming from overindulgence in empty carbohydrates or skipping the pre-dawn meal (Suhoor), deficiencies in vital nutrients like vitamin D—especially pronounced in winter when sunlight exposure is limited—and a lack of physical activity are all contributing factors. “The soul should take care of the body, just as the pilgrim on his way to Makkah takes care of his camel; but if the pilgrim spends his whole time in feeding and adorning his camel, the caravan will leave him behind, and he will perish in the desert”. – Al Ghazali Ancient scholars like Al Ghazali underscored the profound interconnectedness of the soul and body. Overlooking this winding bond often serves as a barrier to fully harnessing spiritual elevation during Ramadan. This sacred month demands not only spiritual vigour but also physical vitality to uphold and enhance worship practices. It necessitates mental acuity to ponder over the verses of the Quran, comprehending their significance and reflecting on their relevance to our lives. It requires the physical stamina to awaken for Tahajjud, seizing the opportunity to beseech Allah ﷻ for forgiveness during the most auspicious hours. Additionally, it mandates the resilience to withstand the weightiness that accompanies drawing closer to Allah ﷻ, immersing oneself in His light and divine wisdom. On this, scholars evoke the verse, “Indeed, We will cast upon you a heavy word” (73:5), likening it to the physical manifestations the Prophet ﷺ experienced upon receiving revelation, a mercy bestowed upon the worlds. “A strong believer is better and is more lovable to Allah than a weak believer, and there is good in everyone, (but) cherish that which gives you benefit (in the Hereafter) and seek help from Allah and do not lose heart” – Allah’s Messenger ﷺ In Islam, the concept of strength extends beyond mere physical ability to encompass the complex interplay of both physical and psychological dimensions. Within this framework, numerous character virtues emerge as pillars of a robust personality, including patience, discipline, self-control, resilience, and perseverance. Ancient Greek philosophers, such as Aristotle, recognized this holistic connection, advocating for physical training as a means to cultivate ethical character. He emphasized the indispensable role of continuous practice, dedication and persistent commitment to one’s deliberate actions, in achieving a state of psychical excellence that is intrinsically tied to one’s physical well-being, underscoring the importance of maintaining equilibrium between these interconnected components that harmonize the soul (self). In line with the teachings of Aristotle, attaining this delicate balance necessitates not only making the right choices but also habitualizing virtuous actions over time. To him, it is through consistent practice and deliberate cultivation that a stable and virtuous disposition of the soul is achieved.  Felicitous was he! Certainly,  “..for the best deeds are those done regularly even if they are few.” – Allah’s Messenger ﷺ Within Western psychology, various theories, including implicit attitude and affective normative attitude, engage in discourse regarding the factors influencing the habituation of health behaviours, such as physical activity. It is argued whether such habits are more likely to form as a result of automatic triggers, such as immediate hedonistic responses, emotions, personal perceptions, or environmental cues, as opposed to conscious decision-making and intentionality. Those favouring the former perspective centralize the role of automatic responses, which can shape behaviours beyond conscious awareness. However, from an Islamic perspective, this emphasis on automatic responses influencing behaviour outside of conscious awareness, partially, is considered epistemologically flawed.  “And as for those who were in awe of standing before their Lord and restrained themselves from ˹evil˺ desires” – Surah An-Nazi’at – 40 Alternatively, the theory of planned behaviour stands out by asserting that intention serves as the primary predictor of behaviour. According to this theory, the intention is shaped by three belief-based constructs: attitude, which encompasses positive or negative evaluations of the behaviour; subjective norm, reflecting beliefs about whether significant others would want one to undertake the behaviour; and perceived behavioural control, representing beliefs about one’s capacity to perform the behaviour and overcome potential barriers. This notion of reasoned actions, rooted in strong intentions to choose a specific behavioural path, resonates explicitly with Islamic principles. Islam places significant emphasis on the importance of intentionality and mindfulness in guiding human behaviour and overcoming the impulses of weakness (Hawa) of the self. Moreover, the Islamic ethical principle of intention (niyyah) extends beyond mere awareness of one’s motivations; it encompasses truthfulness and sincerity. As expressed by Ibn Ḥajar, “Intention signifies sincerity; it is a unitary act for the sake of God, the One without peers.” (Ibn Ḥajar 1969, 1:12). In essence, intentionality in Islamic teachings involves dedicating one’s actions solely to the pleasure of Allah ﷻ, with utmost sincerity and purity of heart. Therefore, contrary to conventional psychological theories that prioritize perceived success as a determinant of action (where individuals are more likely to act upon their intentions when they believe such actions will be successful). “Falah” deems the foundation concept from which Muslims strive to self-improvement and well-being regardless of worldly outcomes, centralizing the ultimate success in the Akhirah (hereafter). They are guided by a profound sense of submission (Islam) and deep Tawakkul (trust in Allah). This unwavering trust is anchored in the belief in Al-Qawiyy Al-Qadir, the Most Strong, the All-Powerful, from where they derive their strength and prosperity. And a firm conviction that Allah desires the undertaking of virtuous behaviours that elevate them physically and spiritually. Such faith infuses their actions with a sense of purpose empowered by divine guidance. As a result, for Muslims, the process of transforming undesirable habits and fostering new ones […]

RAMADAN – The Real Race!

by Yousra ElhawaryIf athleticism is defined as “the physical qualities that are characteristic of athletes, such as strength, fitness, and agility” and athletes as “persons proficient in sports and other forms of physical exercise”  then one must wonder if it is necessary to compete to become an athlete.  Many would argue that competition is an integral part of a complete sporting experience, however, a few athletes have decided not to engage in the competitive games, but rather, to live discovering the magic of a sporting experience. These athletes are mostly involved in individual sports where each player has only their inner belief to count on. In fact, non-competing athletes are in a state of constant competition with everyday challenges such as numerous finish lines and training goals they adhere to with a resilient drive, determination and a deep desire to flourish. True athletes find competition without another person in sight. The “self” is their ultimate opposition; they continuously strive to compete.  Non-competing athletes systematically train and strive to better their capacities and are ready to push themselves to higher levels of success. They are hard-wired to win challenges at all costs and are often seen as highly influential since they strive for excellence. Their performance and consistent competition against inner desires and short-lived pleasures are inspiring. They possess the flexibility and creativity that allow them to deal with multiple difficulties and are always capable of creating the ideal environment and finding a way towards the achievement of their targets. Fatigue and stress are opponents to be overcome in this game! Nevertheless, few are the wise, for Allah ﷻ said, “Except for those who believe and do righteous deeds – and few are they”. 38:24. Indeed, few are true athletes who utilize the gift of their given capacities in the journey towards the obedience of Allah ﷻ. These select individuals know that their endurance is their backbone to stand against the winds of calamities with resolution and certainty because there is no way to attain these promised rewards except with patient perseverance. Therefore, they trained their lungs to expand and breathe in the extreme hypoxic circumstances of trials and hurdles. Further, they increased their strength to persist in the daily battles of faith, yet flexible enough to adapt and persevere to uphold divine decree.  This state of physical and spiritual fitness is what allows them to pedal and go through pitfalls with resilience and courage without the reward of fame or glory but with consciousness and full responsibility for their actions, competing with self and time! In the last ten nights of Ramadan, we offer non-competing athletes seven helpful tips from the Quran and Sunnah to elevate their spiritual fitness and gain as many good deeds in this blessed opportunity to attain Allah’s mercy for eternity.  1- Roll up your Sleeves The last ten days and nights of Ramadan hold even more significance as Allah shows great mercy to His creation. It is reported from the hadith of ‘A’ishah (radi Allahu anha) who said, “When the last ten days of Ramadan came, the Prophet (peace be upon him) would stay up at night, wake his family and gird his loins”[al-Bukhari, 1920; Muslim, 1174]. We often tend to realize the value of persons and things only when it is taken away from us. If you ever had that feeling of: I wish, if I only… remember that this Ramadan may be your last, and these ten nights may be your only chance for eternal mercy from Allah ﷻ, and salvation from the torment of the Fire! So, roll up your sleeves and be eager to seek every opportunity for good deeds. Follow sunnah in seeking Lailat-ul-Qadr and supplicate:  “Allahumma innaka ‘afuwwun, tuhibbul-‘afwa, fa’fu ‘anni” which is translated as “O Allah, You are Most Forgiving, and You love forgiveness; so forgive me”. 2- It is time to compete “For this let the competitors compete”. 83:26 Allah ﷻ encourages His servants to apply themselves to the obedience of Him. Al-Hasan Al-Basri used to say, “Allah made the month of Ramadan a racetrack where His creatures compete in obeying Him to attain His Pleasure. Some people come first and thus have won; others lag behind and thus lose out. How amazing is the state of the runner who has cause to laugh on the day when the doers of a good win and the doers of falsehood lose!”. Have you had plans and intentions to maximize your benefits this Ramadan, but families and friends, school and work, tasks and duties – life took your eyes off the prize?  It is never too late! Shake off the dust!  Rise up and place yourself back on the track. Remember, every second matters to win the race! 3- Revive your cognitive capacities It was reported in another hadith that ‘A’ishah said: “I never saw the Prophet (peace be upon him) recite the entire Quran in one night, or spend a whole night in prayer until the morning, or fast an entire month, except in Ramadan.” [Sunan al-Nasa’i, 1641]. On one of these nights, Quran was revealed to the Messenger ﷺ and his companions to mend the hearts, set life straight and make one patient in the face of the bitter difficulties of life. Quran is the source of the ayat that will enlighten the mind to observe and interact with the daily signs Allah ﷻ sends to you. Recite the Quran to bring this beautiful light to mind and prepare the heart to receive the divine signs! 4- Give and Respect The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) was the most generous of the men, and he was the most generous during the month of Ramadan. [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]. One of the first things that come to our minds when hearing the word generosity in religion is sadaqah, “Anything given generously — freely to others — with the intention of pleasing Allah ﷻ”, and one of the things that seems the other needs the most today, is respect. You […]