The subject of Sports in Muslim Heritage deserves special attention. Not even Muslims are aware of the vast contributions the classical Muslim world had made to sports development. For example, we all associate Cricket with “Britishness”, yet this game originated in North India around 700 CE and travelled westwards reaching its climax when the British adopted it as theirs. Another game is Polo, an ancient sport from Persia and Afghanistan. The Muslims enjoyed it greatly. Manuscripts show miniatures of men and women jointly playing in the same field.
It is believed that Prophet Muhammad loved sports. Traditions of the Prophet record that he raced with his wife Aisha. She won the first sprint, but lost on the second round. He encouraged parents to teach children swimming, riding and archery.
The Arabic word for sport is Riyadhah. It is interesting to note that the same word is used for mathematics and the Sufis used it to refer to exercising the soul. Sport in Muslim Heritage has been associated with exercising the body, the mind and the soul. Sporty behavior was normally linked with high morals and exemplary behavior such as chivalry, trustworthiness and generosity. When Muslims reached Spain, Sicily, Istanbul (Constantinople) and other parts of the world, they stopped all sports which inflicted harm on the players, like gladiators and the like. One wonders if those Muslims would have allowed knock-out in boxing.
We have recently noticed a surge of sportsmen and women from the Muslim world participating in the Olympics. Of interest is the high percentage of women players. But of particular interest is the appearance of Muslim women with Hijab competing with “Sharia-compliant” dress code, i.e only face and hand of women are to be shown. When, in 2008, Bahraini lady Ruqaya al-Ghasara won her gold in 100 and 200m run, she shook the world with her dress covering all her body.