Boxing is a sport with significant connections to Islam, from the historic accomplishments of world champion Muhammad Ali to the rise of Muslim mixed martial arts. However, a number of Islamic religious authorities assert that boxing is inconsistent with the Quran and the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad recounted in sacred texts known as the Hadith.

Islam and Sports

According to Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Islam generally regards sports to be permissible, or halal, because they help prepare believers to strive for righteousness both by making them strong and by giving them an opportunity to engage in refreshing play. For instance, al-Qaradawi notes, a passage from the Hadith recounts how Muhammad wrestled three times with a strong tribesman named Rukanah. As the leaders of the Islamic Centre in Leicester observe, this anecdote would seem to indicate that boxing is halal, since it is analogous to wrestling as well as a constructive form of exercise.

Boxing and the Body

Nonetheless, some Muslims believe that boxing is prohibited, or haram. For instance, the Quran (5:195) commands believers not to engage in self-destructive behavior, while multiple passages in the Hadith attest that Muhammad specifically enjoined believers not to hit someone on the face. In addition, according to Islamic legal scholar Muhammad al-Munajjid, boxing is a frivolous waste of a believer's time and money. Moreover, al-Munajjid argues that boxing is inconsistent with Muslim principles of modesty, even for men, since boxers typically expose areas of the body between the navel and knees. Given such violations of Islamic law, one fatwa, or authoritative opinion by an Islamic scholar, states that it is also haram to watch boxing.

Boxing and Necessity

Even though boxing is generally prohibited, some Muslims believe that it can be allowed when it is required as part of one's job. For instance, moderate Muslim lecturer and peace advocate Muhammad Hisham Kabbini has noted that Islam has a principle of necessity, which makes an otherwise prohibited sport permissible if it is a duty, as might be the case in the military. Similarly, when Muhammad Ali continued boxing after his conversion, he justified it on the grounds of necessity, since he had no other way to earn a living.

Boxing for Islam

Despite such critiques, there have also been Muslims who believe that boxing is not just allowed, but it is a means of putting Islamic principles into action. For example, in the United Kingdom, a Muslim anti-terrorism program is using mixed martial arts, which blends boxing with other combat techniques, to channel the aggression of convicted followers of al Qaeda and to bring them to a less violent faith. According to the initiative's founder, confronting an opponent forces an extremist to confront his own beliefs. Even some Muslim women have embraced boxing, which, since it is not a team sport, can be practiced in single-sex gyms.