The word "Hijab"—which literally means screening or, better said, protecting something from the view of others—refers, in the Islamic context, to a kind of attire or a piece of clothing that covers a woman's body and hair.
Not long before the advent of Islam were women regarded as objects of men's lust; female children were buried alive. To be brief, women were subject to physical exploitation and degradation. Islam, however, elevated women's status in society and granted them equitable treatment.
This idea is underscored many times in the Quran: “And whoever does righteous deeds, whether male or female, should he be faithful such shall enter paradise and they will not be wronged] so much as [the speck on a date-stone” (4: 124); or, “Whoever commits a misdeed shall not be requited except with its like, but whoever acts righteously, whether male or female, should he be faithful such shall enter paradise, provided therein without any reckoning” (40: 40). There are copious other examples in this regard.
The fact that Hijab (in Islam) is not exclusively for women is equally important and worthy of attention; men also should be heedful of their clothing and their behavior. As a matter of fact, the Holy Quran first speaks of the word 'Hijab' about men and then women: “[Prophet], Tell the faithful men to cast down their looks and to guard their private parts. That is more decent for them. Allah is indeed well aware of what they do. And tell the faithful women to cast down their looks and to guard their private parts, and not to display their charms, except for what is outward, and let them draw their scarfs over their bosoms, and not display their charms except to their husbands, or their fathers, or their husband's fathers, or their sons, or their husband's sons, or their brothers, or their brothers" sons, or their sisters" sons, or their women, or their slave girls, or male dependants lacking [sexual] desire, or children uninitiated to women's parts. And let them not thump their feet to make known their hidden ornaments. Rally to Allah in repentance, O faithful, so that you may be felicitous” (24: 30-31).
One out of the many benefits of the Hijab is to preserve and secure the stability of marriage, but how? Dressing modestly reduces extramarital sexual tensions between men and women.
Hijab, in essence, obliterates the ill thoughts of sick minds. In social interactions also Hijab does urges men and women to focus on the personality of each other, to build their relationship upon respect, virtue, and decency. In this way, they protect and propagate chastity and morality in society.
There are many great examples of chaste and pious women in the history of Islam who have tremendously contributed to the advancement of Islam and humanity in general.
As a key Islamic value, Hijab is consistent with human nature. Men and women are by nature in favor of maintaining their dignity and self-esteem, and Hijab paves this way; it gives them an inner strength and empowers them to tell the world their decency and virtue cannot be compromised. The result is inner peace.
Therefore, from the teachings of the Quran, we come to realize that Hijab is the best principle (or code of conduct, if you will) that guarantees a better condition for male-female interactions in society because it keeps rampant desires on a tight leash. On a larger scale, observation of the Hijab prevents the society from falling into corruption and degeneracy.
We also realized that Hijab is not merely limited to the physical covering of the head and body; in fact, the physical Hijab must be accompanied by the Hijab of the heart and the mind.
Amidst the hustle and bustle of everyday life—with its common pitfalls and concealed traps—Hijab is truly a liberation beyond measure; it frees us from the slavish imitation of pseudo-liberal fashions that appear by day and vanish by night. It is a shield that protects our honor and helps us focus more and more on our superior goals.
You may wonder why Muslim women do not take part in some sports. Are certain types of sports forbidden (Haram) for women in Islam? Are women in Islam not allowed to enjoy themselves doing such recreational activities? Well, actually the question whether women in Islam can play sports is somehow same as the question if Muslims can eat or drink!!
And the answer is like, of course we can eat and drink! But, Islam always wants us to observe some rulings for our personal or social benefit. For example, drugs or alcoholic drinks that could lead to intoxication are forbidden in Islam, since they are far more harmful to the people and the society than they are beneficial [i]. So we can enjoy all the tasty foods and drink that God has kindly given to us [ii], and we should always be careful not to go further than such limits.
In the same way, we can say that generally speaking; there is nothing wrong with playing sports in Islam, both for men and women. Conversely, Islam encourages us all to do what makes us strong and healthy!  Still, there are things to keep in mind since according to Islam, we are not supposed to receive harm, nor to harm others .
Take gambling for example, which has become a part of many games and sports today, and which walks many people on the road to their ruin! When playing sports, then, we should take care that it doesn’t include any kind of gambling. The same is with sports which might lead to serious injuries to oneself or another person.
And how about women in Islam? Is there any special rule for them? Well, women are asked so much to observe Hijab and modesty, both in their covering and manners –as much as men are asked to take care of their sight, and maybe as much as both genders fail to do so! [iii]
Certainly, we know that it’s not really easy to conform to these rules. Women have extremely beautiful and charming bodies, which makes it the more trying for them to hold back the inclination (maybe the same applies to some male bodybuilders who tend to expose their bodies much more than cover it!).
Of course, it is all fine if you can take part in your favorite kind of sport in segregated places where there are no male spectators, or if there can be a special and verified covering for women in Islam, as we see many women doing martial arts, for example, with a headscarf, in order to be safe from sickly looks [iv] and to cherish what God has bidden them at all times.
Still, you may be interested in a type of sport which finds no way to go along with the Islamic tips on covering and modesty. You think to yourself, “Why can’t I go swimming at mixed pools? I’m not doing anything wrong, just wearing a comfortable suit for swimming! It’s men’s duty not to look at me in a bad way?” Well, quite so.
But what if some of them may fail to do so? Had you not better protect yourself from that? If you go to an outdoor swimming pool in the winter, YOU are not doing anything wrong. But the weather is cold! And regardless of your real intentions, it will harm you anyway! Unless you protect yourself from catching it with a jacket [v].
Think of how women’s body has become a, so to say, cheap commodity today, due to the lack of such considerations in some women. Think of how we could experience less abusive behaviors and more enduring families if all women preserved a certain level of covering and modesty and if all men protected their sight from what they shouldn’t look at [vi] Not to mention the heavenly reward that God has kept in store for those who listen to His instructions, and that is surely greater than the worldly benefit!
If you have made up your mind to live as a practicing Muslim, you be sure that you are doing the right thing, no matter what others say, and no matter what the circumstances. You can also be sure that God loves you very much for taking the trouble! And it never means that a Muslim woman who fails to do so is excluded from the Islamic Community (Ummah) and God’s mercy.
So, to sum up, what we said, Islam has no opposition to women’s sport. It just asks them to be modest before everyone and covered before non-Mahram men. If they think that the kind of sport they are to take up conforms to these suggestions, which a good many sports does, they can go for it without any restriction.
And if it doesn’t, they can find a way which goes closest to what God requires of them, or maybe they can think again and pick another type of sport for themselves.
[i] Quran, 2:219
[ii] Quran, 7:32
[iii] Quran, 24:30,31
[iv] Quran, 33:32
[v] You can read more about “the Islamic Etiquette of Looking” here.
[vi] You can have a look at our article about “Hijab” here.
- Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 78, p. 174, Sahih al-Muslim, vol. 4, no. 2052
- Wasa’il al-Shi’a, vol. 26, p. 14, Al-Mu’jam al-Awsat, vol. 1, p. 90
I am a Muslim woman. I grew up in an Islamic country. I went to segregated schools, sports clubs, swimming pools, friendly parties, and wedding parties. Then I chose Media as my career. I worked in different journals, made films, and traveled to various cities and countries, with or without my family.
As a Muslim who believes in modesty and follows the rules of Islam, my Islamic country is an outstanding place. However, I did not realize that, until I had to leave my country. I lived in Europe for several years. I had heard that the west is where the dreams of freedom come true. But after a short while, I found myself imprisoned in Europe.
I am a table tennis trainer, a good swimmer, a good basketballer, and relatively professional in many sports. In my Islamic country, I used to go to women’s sports clubs or women’s swimming pools after school since childhood. But years ago in Europe, I could not find any sports clubs that were segregated from men, so I could wear my comfortable sports set and play my favorite sports. Because there were men everywhere, and I wanted to keep my modesty, besides my Hijab.
Then a few Muslims came together and decided to rent a sports club for a few hours over the weekend. It sounded awesome, but when we went to that sports club that we had hired for women only, I realized that European Muslims who were born and raised in European countries were mostly very weak in sports.
Basically because since childhood they did not have access to segregated sports clubs to learn and practice any sports. And of course, my problem was that I could not find anyone to play professionally with and enjoy playing! Therefore for as long as I lived in Europe I felt imprisoned.
And when I returned to my Islamic country, I was so thankful that I had sports clubs (where we have our athletic competitions), gyms, swimming pools, spas, and even women-only parks! where we could enjoy running without a scarf or taking a sunbath, and not worry that we are doing anything against God’s will or orders.
Talking too much about my memories of a Muslim woman was all for the goal to discuss a few misconceptions about being a Muslim woman and deprived of social rights.
Well! What should I say? This article is being written by an educated practicing Muslim woman who is now educating other Muslim and non-Muslim women.
We have narrations from our beloved prophet (PBUH&HP) that encourage us to learn until death; “Gain knowledge traveling”  or “Gain knowledge even if it is in China.” , which emphasizes the importance of gaining knowledge during one’s lifetime, even if one has to travel far distances and learn the knowledge from non-Muslims.
Also in another narration, our prophet (PBUH&HP) makes it an obligation to learn, and not only an obligatory for men, but he emphasizes that it is also a lifetime and necessary for women to be knowledgeable; “Gaining knowledge is an obligation upon all Muslim men and women” .
We also read in the history that the prophet’s (PBUH&HP) daughter and granddaughters were excellent teachers and used to teach women of their era.
The only issue that is raised about women’s education is being in mixed classes and groups with male students. In such situations, it is not women’s education that is forbidden (Haram), but like any other situation of mixed gatherings (men and women), people should be wary of their relationships.
Women should avoid flirting and chatting about different issues with men if it is not necessary. The relationship between students of the opposite sex is lawful (Halal) as long as there is no intention for pleasure. 
"Dalia Mogahed was the US’ first Muslim woman in the White House back in 2009 and one of Barack Obama’s ‘closest advisors’"
In Islam some duties that are obligatory for men, such as defending the borders of their country if it is attacked, or working outside the house to earn money for a living. But making it compulsory for men, never means that it is forbidden for women.
“Islam views women as masters of the family and emphasizes that the family environment must become a safe, dignified and tranquil one for women so that they could do their best in fulfilling their main task which is to care for the family .” That is the reason for which there is no force on women to work and bring money for the family. .
And that, in fact, is the most important social activity in itself. However, if a woman would like to participate in different social and political activities, besides her role as a wife or a mother, there are no objections towards it. Muslim women have no essential duties in their homes such as cooking or cleaning or sewing, etc. unless they wish to do it themselves. Otherwise, the husband could hire a servant to do the house works.
Nevertheless, the fact that women are less active in political activities comes down to their feminine nature. Imam Ali (AS) says: “woman is like a fragrant flower, and not a champion” , which means she should not be expected to do tasks that are beyond her capabilities. But it does not mean that she cannot choose to do things that may naturally be against her nature.
Also, some women may not choose to do manly tasks. However, at some point, they have no choice but to do so. For example, it is narrated that at the time of Imam Ali (AS), Lady Fatima (AS) went to the mosque and performed speeches. Or after the event of Ashura, Lady Zainab (AS) took on her shoulders the responsibility that was even hard for a few strong men and performed political speeches in different places.
There are plenty of issues that are forbidden in Islamic countries, either for men or women, which are not related to the Islamic law but go back to the old cultures and traditions of those nations. For example, wearing a veil for Muslim women, or preventing women from education, etc. are all amongst those old cultures.
However, many of them have been mixed up with the Islamic law, and people regard them as religious matters instead of social conventions. But we have to be clever enough, to distinguish between the Islamic law and old traditions of different nations. The same way that Muslims do not relate mistakes of “so-called” Christians to the religion of Christianity.
Driving is forbidden for women in very few countries, and there is no firm Islamic ruling to support it.
In fact driving in today’s world, makes traveling safer for women and there is no rational opinion against it.
There are many narrations from our Prophet (PBUH) that encourage people to do sports that are common in their time such as swimming, horse riding, and archery, and in those narrations, women were never excluded. In fact, no reference shows sports to be forbidden (Haram) for Muslim women. But in this case, again it is the issue of modesty and Hijab that should be observed.
Regarding sports that are forbidden (Haram), there is no difference between men and women. Sports that are connected to gambling or may harm the player are forbidden (Haram) for both men and women.
There is no problem for women having fun if they do not commit a sinful act; and again, there is no difference in this between men and women. The only point for women is that they should consider keeping their hijab and modesty (Haya) and do not join activities that may harm their chastity. You can read about forbidden (Haram) and lawful (Halal) fun in Islam in related articles.