If you are a Muslim and would like to get involved martial arts then the first thing you’re going to want to make sure of is that such practice is “halal” (permitted) and not “haram” (forbidden). After all, there’s no point in being able to defend your life, if such defense might lead to you to hell in the afterlife, is there?
So, are martial arts haram?
Martial arts in and of themselves are not haram. It is fairly easy to adapt martial arts to be halal. However, some aspects in competitive martial arts, such as hitting the opponent’s face and causing bodily harm, should be considered haram.
Let’s explore this issue a little further.
The Most Famous Muslim Martial Artist – Khabib Nurmagomedov
Let’s begin with, perhaps, the most famous Muslim in the world of martial arts. His name is Khabib Nurmagomedov and he’s the guy that famously beat Conor McGregor in a fight.
He currently holds the record for the longest unbeaten streak in MMA and he is also a devout Muslim from Dagestan, an Islamic Republic within the territory of the former USSR.
As you can see from the video below, Khabib’s not holding back, no matter what his religious beliefs may be:
It was this fight that sparked the query among many in the Muslim world, “are martial arts haram? and what does Islam say about martial arts at all?
The First Issue Is Bowing To Your Opponent And Your Instructor
One thing that many Muslims find shocking when they first learn about martial arts is the requirement to bow to your opponent before a match or sparring session and to bow to your instructor during instruction.
Some Muslims argue that this act of bowing is haram. This is because Ruku is a step of prayer for a Muslim. When a Muslim performs Ruku he bows down with hands on his knees and the drops to Sajdah (a position with his forehead on the ground).
It is forbidden under Islam to offer Ruku to anyone or anything but God himself. To do otherwise would be an act that would be clearly be an action which was haram.
Bowing In Martial Arts Has Nothing To Do With Prayer
It is important to realize that when a martial artist bows to his opponent or his instructor, he is not acting out of a desire to worship or pray. He is simply offering his respect prior to a learning opportunity.
He does not bow in the way of the Ruku, he inclines his head and angles his back toward the person he bows to. Nobody demands this bow and the act of bowing does not signify an act of submission either.
In short, the bow in martial arts is not the same as the act of bowing in Islam.
In East Asian cultures such as Korea, China and Japan – when two people meet in the street, they will often give each other a little bow of respect and this is simply a cultural greeting.
To ask if bowing in martial arts is haram, is a bit like asking if saying, “Hello!” in English is haram. Arabs will hug each other in greeting. South East Asians may “wai” in greeting (a hand gesture with both hands). And so on…
A respectful greeting is not forbidden by God, but actions of prayer and obeisance would be. So, if a Wealthy Lord demanded a Muslim throw himself (or herself) on the floor in front of him to recognize his superiority – to do so would be haram.
But it is halal to bow to an opponent in martial arts.
What About The Act Of Fighting In Martial Arts? Is That Haram?
It is at this point we enter muddy waters. While it is clear that the Islamic Ruku and the martial arts bow are different there is an Islamic proscription which we might contravene in martial arts.
Leave The Face Alone
The Qur’an says; “When any one of you fights, let him avoid (striking) the face.”
It also says, “The scholars said: it is forbidden to strike the face because it is soft and all of a person’s beauty and most of his senses are located there. If the face is hit, there is the fear that all or some of them may be destroyed or disfigured. Any defect in the face is a terrible thing because it is so prominent and obvious, and usually the person who is hit in the face will not be spared some disfigurement.”
And it adds, “Al-Nawawi did not discuss the details of this prohibition. It is clear that it is haraam, and this is supported by the hadeeth of Suwayd ibn Maqran al-Sahaabi, that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) saw a man slap a slave (or a boy) in the face, and he said, ‘Do you not know that the face is inviolate?’”
That makes it pretty clear – while martial arts may be permissible as a whole, it is clear that the martial artist who strikes someone’s face is crossing a very clear line in the sand as a Muslim.
Boxing Is A Problem
Islamic scholars echo that they find this idea particularly abhorrent and that it is, indeed, completely haram to strike someone’s face.
They also say that they have particular concerns over one martial art, boxing. They note that there are many levels of martial arts and that, in the main, they consider them good exercise and healthy for the body and mind.
They have no objections to these arts except that they should be modified to avoid striking the face, which is relatively easy in many arts and in some, like Judo or Jiu-Jitsu, there is no face striking required at all, anyway.
However, they feel that boxing is a criminally dangerous martial art. That it is impossible to remove face striking from boxing and that there is overwhelming medical evidence that boxing results in fatalities on a semi-regular basis.
The Ban On Causing Harm Is Clear In Islam
There is a consensus among Islamic scholars which was reported in al-Mawsū’at al-Fiqhīyah al-Kuwaytīyah 2/356
“Harm is forbidden and avoiding it is an obligation by consensus, as long as it does not expose a greater harm. In that case, harm is committed in accordance with the agreed upon rule: lesser harm is committed to protect from a greater harm.”Al-Mawsū’at al-Fiqhīyah al-Kuwaytīyah 2/356
Ubaida ibn al-Samit (PBUH) said, “Do not cause harm or return harm.”
And Abdullah ibn Umar (PBUH) offered this stern warning as a consequence of causing harm to others; “If someone kills so much as a sparrow or anything larger without a just cause, then Allah the Exalted will ask him about it on the Day of Resurrection.”
The Prophet (PBUH) himself said,
“Shall I not tell you what distinguishes the best of you from the worst of you? The best of you are those from whom goodness is expected and people are safe from their evil. The worst of you are those from whom goodness is not expected and people are not safe from their evil.”
This seems to be a very clear message that it is haram to cause harm to others and there is wide agreement among Islamic scholars that this should be treated as an absolute prohibition on boxing.
However, there is no such agreement for other martial arts which appear to be considered halal as long as the prohibition on striking the face is observed.
A Non-Islamic Guide To Martial Arts That May Help
It may help when deciding whether to do martial arts or not to bear in mind this guidance from the most famous martial artist of all time – Bruce Lee; ““Ultimately, martial arts mean honestly expressing yourself. To express myself honestly, not lying to myself. That is very hard to do. Expressing yourself through movement, through anger, through anything. You see yourself in a combative form. It is the art of expression of the human body. Here is natural instinct and here is control, you are to combine the two in harmony, going to neither extreme. If you have one to the extreme you would be very unscientific, another to the extreme and you would become, all of the sudden, a mechanical man. Running water never grows stale, it keeps on flowing. And you have to train. You have to keep your reflexes, so that when you want it it’s there.”
This spiritual representation of martial arts would seem entirely appropriate if used as a guiding principle when balanced with the desire not to cause harm and to avoid face strikes.
While martial arts are halal (allowed) overall, be careful with the details. It is haram (forbidden) to strike your opponent’s face and to you cause great harm to your opponent. For this reason, boxing may specifically be considered haram but most other martial arts will be halal as long as you are careful when practicing them.