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Extreme fitness, the Muslim way

Ahlya Fateh

Published: Updated:

When I was working at Vogue Russia I was asked to serve as a guinea pig for a beauty feature we were running about taking a highly unfit specimen (me) and turning her into a toned, sculpted, hard bodied gym bunny (me also) after 12 weeks of hi impact cardio, no carbs and lots of sessions at the Moscow steam baths. This experiment culminated in a photo-shoot of myself in lots of lycra, showing off my newly chiseled curves – there is no greater incentive to stick to a regime than the threat of seeing it in documented in a glossy magazine. Pictures taken, I breathed a sigh of relief and turned once more to blinys and sour cream for sustenance over yet another interminable Russian winter.

We all know that brutal exercise is the only thing that is going to keep us sliding into our skinny jeans. I know everyone raves about Spanx and the like but I maintain that the bulge has to find a home somewhere so it just migrates higher and higher up the body resulting in chubby shoulders and dreaded back fat.

If more women are aware of their own fitness and health, will that not result in healthier children?

Ahlya Fateh

So, we work out; Pilates, circuit training, spinning and other torturous methods to keep ourselves in shape. But what if body con bandage dresses and tight pencil skirts are not your thing, for the many Muslim women who choose to dress modestly is exercise unnecessary? If you are going to cover up all over does it matter that the body underneath the abaya may not be up to scratch?

No excuses

Well yes it does, according to Nadine Abu Jubara, who has created a fitness DVD aimed at Muslim women and features an instructor wearing a hijab, long sleeved top and pants instead of the spandex crop top and shorts so beloved of TV fitness instructors. The video, called Nadoona Extreme, relies on the premise that dressing modestly is no excuse to let your body go, and that “long sleeves and flowing tops shouldn’t mean flabby arms and love handles.” Actually, in my experience the latter results in having to wear the former! Abu Jubara has backed up her treatise with a personal trainer,

Zainab Ismail, who has worked to create a fitness regime for those women who wish to “fulfill their moral and religious obligations” by keeping their heads and bodies covered. At first I have to say I was skeptical, surely if you are working out at home to a DVD then it doesn’t matter how the instructor is dressed or what you choose to exercise in, if you are in the comfort of your living room. However, when I discussed this with women who do choose to cover up, they all felt that such a video was more than just a marketing gimmick. For those who would have eschewed going to the gym at all, even a “ladies only” one, Nadoona Extreme shows how one can adapt workout gear to satisfy one’s requirements for modesty and many told me that they would not want to watch DVD where the instructor was dressed in skimpy hotpants. I can see their point, but perhaps for different reasons!

Both Abu Jubara and Ismail are based in the U.S., but are hoping to establish their brand across the globe, and are quick to point out the health benefits of regular exercise. They begin each section of the work out with a prayer to reinforce the notion that physical fitness and spiritual wellbeing go hand in hand. Moreover, they are keen to show that this work out is for all women whatever their religious persuasion. Whenever I see an article which includes the line “aimed at Muslim women” my heart sinks a little as I would like to believe that all women are equal and one religious sector shouldn’t need to be targeted in order to exploit that leaning, but I am then made aware quickly that this state of equality exists in my head most of the time. Today, as childhood obesity in the Middle East hits the headlines with the number of overweight 13-15 year olds reaching one in two in parts of the region, this is a real issue that needs to be tackled head on. If more women are aware of their own fitness and health, will that not result in healthier children? So maybe I will be trying out the moves of Nadoona Extreme in the privacy of my TV room. However, I might give the “Fit for Allah” smoothie a miss!

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Ahlya Fateh knows all about fashion and publishing. As the former managing editor of Tatler magazine and the managing director of fashion brand, Tata Naka, she has combined a strong creative vision with an understanding of strategy and management. Ahlya lives in London and is a mother of two.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.