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Active Sunnah - inspiring the Muslim community to be active

To mark the end of Interfaith Week, chair of the Muslim Sports Foundation talks about the historical barriers separating his community from sports and physical activity, and the campaign launched to bring change.

17th November 2022

by Sajid Hussain
Chair, Muslim Sports Foundation

The Muslim Sports Foundation (MSF) was born out of historic inequalities and barriers faced by our community in terms of equal access and participation in physical activity and sports - disparities that were later exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

We are a national organisation representing the voice and serving the needs of the community and, as such, we have implemented programmes and initiatives up and down the country targeting areas of the highest deprivation. Including recent work supported by Sport England, through the Together Fund.

Our vision is based on creating sustainable programmes that provide a holistic solution to the disparities faced by our communities. 

At MSF, we work closely with strategic partners, national governing bodies (NGBs) and affiliates but, critically, the foundation establishes its own community development programmes via our tremendously successful delivery arm Ansar (helpers).

Ansar is our very own safe-based platform of inclusive and effective engagement, and through it we have recorded participation from mixed ethnic and national backgrounds, including children from diverse and deprived socio-economic groups across the country, with sessions and programmes designed to nurture people's physical, psychological, and spiritual needs.

Islam, sport and physical activity

The Islamic identity has a universal factor that harnesses a sense of commonality through shared daily routines (prayers, supplications and ritualistic traditions) dietary requirements, religious observations and festivals (Ramadhan and Eid).

Historically, Muslims within the UK have been labelled as belonging to the specific continents or geographic locations that their ancestors immigrated from, but this historic failing and misrepresentation doesn’t acknowledge or addresses the concept of an emerging and independent British Muslim identity.

A group of men and boys listen to their imam in the Mosque

Also traditionally, there has been an evident failure to effectively engage these key communal institutes, leading to a lack of trust in major national organisations and government initiatives.

We understand from our consultation work that there are critical barriers and failures when it comes to engaging Muslim communities in sport, including islamophobia, poor engagement strategies, taboos around Islamic dress code and other historical factors that are divisive and create 'otherness' for British Muslims.

Failure to recognise and accommodate the above factors has played a significant role in the status quo of Muslims being the least active of all religious denominations.

Our research, engagement and experience dictated that a key strategic part of the Muslim community is the local Mosque and evening school (Madrassahs).

So, we thought we should incorporate these in order to tackle the historic neglect and negative perception of the relation between Islam and sport and physical activity.

And that’s how last month the MSF decided to use mosques and madrassahs as the locations for our national campaign, ‘Active Sunnah‘. 

The Muslim Sports Foundation (MSF) was born out of historic inequalities and barriers faced by our community in terms of equal access and participation in physical activity and sports

The Active Sunnah campaign

On Friday 28 October, the Active Sunnah campaign went live through the weekly Friday sermon, which is conducted by Mosques throughout the country.

It highlighted how the Islamic faith is filled with examples from the highest sources relating to participation in sports and physical activity.

The sermons were conducted at over 130 Mosques throughout the country and transmitted via social media directly into people’s homes, plus the collaboration of our national and local partners meant the reach was further extended.

Several Sport England colleagues attended the sermons, including football relationship manager Asad Qureshi, who visited the Makkah Mosque in Leeds.

We also produced a document that illustrated concepts such as maintaining a healthy body, mindfulness and spiritual awareness.

This resource illustrated the historic traditions in a simple format so that they could be utilised by all organisations and institutions across the country, and it remains a tool that educational organisations such as the Madrassahs can use with their children for years to come.

We had two objectives with this campaign: to remind Muslims of our heritage and how we must look to revive this somewhat forgotten perspective; and to educate national organisations providing clarity that Islam is not a barrier towards sport and integration.

As a direct result of the engagement and awareness campaign, we’ve been inundated with messages from organisations such as Mosques, Madrassahs, sports clubs and charities who would like to work in collaboration with us delivering sport and physical activity for inactive members of their local communities. 

And we have also been approached by organisations such as the British Islamic Medical Association and the Mosque and Imams National Advisory Board to carry out further campaigns pertaining to health and wellbeing.

The campaign was – and continues to be – a resounding success, with Muslims and non-Muslims working together to support the campaign locally and nationally, which is a result we’re tremendously proud of.

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