In Conversation with Muslima Trainers

Muslims have a fitness role model in the Prophet (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam)

By Sarah Pervez

May/June 2022

Losing weight was the last thing on Asma’s mind, a 50-year-old client who contacted Jabeen Jabbar of JabsFitLab’s (JFL). She couldn’t bend or sit on the floor due to knee problems and general mobility issues caused by periods of Covid-imposed inactivity. She had just one goal in mind when she reached out to her fitness instructor: “I want to prostrate to my Lord for more than 20 seconds, Jabeen. And I want to stand up and pray.” 

Asma put away her salah chair after three months of determined and consistent workouts four times a week. Her workouts included posture correction, flexibility movements to increase the range of hip and knee mobility and, finally, strength training. She now stands before God every day and prostrates to Him to her heart’s content. 

Muslimas seem more inclined to share grandma’s recipes than workout techniques. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But somewhere along the way, Muslims forgot about the prophetic traditions of staying fit and treating our bodies as a precious trust (amana) from God.

Popular fitness culture focuses on extra lean, fit and toned bodies along with the newest fad diet — a reality to which most Muslimas can’t relate. In their bid to lead modest lifestyles, mixed gyms and spandex workout fashion keep them away from these spaces, where they feel unsafe, uncomfortable and self-conscious. Counting calories at home is tedious because the sodium-free, fat-free and food-free recipes are a far cry from their staple delicious foods. 

“Community centers and mosques should hold health fairs, seminars with trainers and nutritionists, talks on healthy meal ideas and benefits of physical activity. Engage and educate.” said Kifah Muhammad of GetFitWithKifah. Muslims should do more to encourage women to get into fitness, because as caregivers they often let their own health take a backseat. 

Kifah Muhammad

Muhammad also feels this is an excellent opportunity for Muslim entrepreneurs. “The market is wide open for healthy halal meal kits and modest activewear, as more and more Muslimas become aware of their fitness needs.”

Muslimas such as Muhammad saw this situation as an opportunity to create just such a space. While Muslima fitness trainers may still be few in numbers, they’re just as fierce as the ones you find on Peloton. These pioneers and trailblazers took charge of their own health. When the pandemic hit, they went online and started countless women on their own fitness journeys. 

These online Muslima trainers provide fun and flexible results-driven workouts and a partner on their fitness journeys. Muslimas no longer worry about feeling uncomfortable or modestly attired. And because of the trainers’ diversity, they’re also getting culturally sensitive and sustainable nutrition guidance.

We spoke to personal trainers who are paving the way and inspiring Muslimas to return to the Sunnah of fitness as a form of worship, fitness and strength. 

Fitness as a Way to Revive the Sunna

Zainab Ismail has 25+ years of experience as a movement specialist, holistic nutritionist and master personal trainer (PT). She was among the first to teach the foam roller in the U.S., now a staple at gyms nationwide. Foam rollers help athletes relieve muscle tightness, soreness and inflammation, and increase a joint’s range of motion.

She was also among the first instructors at the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), teaching at their institutes nationwide and in Asia. Having worked with top-level athletes and celebrities, she now works with people with injuries, prenatal and postnatal women and, occasionally, athletes.

When Ismail reverted to Islam 13 years ago, she brought her knowledge to Muslim spaces, where her expertise remains unmatched. She founded Fit for Allah, which promotes prophetic traditions regarding health, medicine and food, and merges them with fitness practices. Her Ramadan guides focus on staying hydrated and energetic during fasting by eating foods that the Prophet (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) liked. Her stress-free sleep guide suggests making wudu, dusting the bed three times, reciting sleep du’as, clearing your heart and following other bedtime-related sunnas. 

She even has tips to improve physical stamina and getting mentally fit before leaving for umrah and hajj, all of which incorporate the teachings of the Quran and Hadith. Ismail is a strong advocate of getting fit for the sake of God by following the Sunna’s wisdom so we can worship Him to the best of our abilities. 

During the Covid closure, she stopped in-person training and started online training. She has expanded and diversified her clientele to include Muslims around the world. What Ismail finds alarming is that she sees more young Muslimas with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) than non-Muslims. Women with PCOS have ovaries that may develop small collections of fluid due to a hormonal disorder. This has a lot to do with a sedentary lifestyle and food choices that lead to fertility issues and weight gain.

“There are girls who don’t know how to ride a bike!” she exclaims. Diabetes and prediabetes are also a matter of concern among her clients. She says that Muslims should encourage girls and women to become more active by incorporating enjoyable physical activity in their daily lives.

Muslims are consuming nourishing halal foods, but they need to know how to eat them in moderation. They must separate culture from faith and embody prophetic teachings in matters of food and an active lifestyle. She admonishes them, “Forget the gimmicks! Have real food, be consistent and follow the Sunna!” 

Fitness for Worship

Jabeen Jabbar, “Coach Jabs,” founder of Jabs Fit Lab, an online fitness hub for women, is a NASM certified personal trainer, group personal trainer specialist, youth exercises specialist and mental toughness coach. 

Jabbar, who became a trainer after losing 55 lbs., has developed a unique understanding of the struggle and discipline required to achieve such a transformation. 

“Basically, there are no shortcuts to achieving good health. Physical activity and good nutrition — unprocessed foods and avoiding junk food is key. I did High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) twice a week and ran when I first started.”

Jabbar was certified by NASM in 2019, shortly before Covid hit. When the lockdown started in June 2020, she announced an online bootcamp that became so popular that there was no turning back. 

“I’ve gained confidence, got my strength back and recovered from surgeries quicker thanks to JFL. My journey has inspired and motivated my husband to start his own fitness journey,” said Zainab Valimohideen, who started with Jabbar three years ago and loves working out with her.

JFL offers a holistic approach to weight loss and health goals. Jabbar was concerned when her 31-year-old clients came to her complaining of tiredness, knee pains, joint pains and just not knowing why their bodies crashed after 8 p.m. 

“It’s a vicious cycle. Our bodies are like machines. For them to work well, they need to be used well, otherwise they’ll rust and stop working. This is not rocket science. Consistency is key. Move more, eat well, hydrate and get your sleep. Watch your energy levels and mood improve with these four steps.”

Jabbar firmly believes that mental strength affects physical strength. Her classes are tailored to suit individual needs and include mental coaching apart from HIIT, cardio, Pilates and yoga. Jabbar, who wants to help women build their spiritual connection with God, starts every class by stating the right intention and reminds them, “Nothing can hold you back when Allah has your back.” 

Fitness for Life Strength

Salwa Qadir is a national level PT, nutrition coach and stretch therapist at GoodLife Fitness — Canada’s largest gym franchise — in Toronto. She has been a trainer for over eight years and is the gym’s first Muslima PT instructor. 

Having worked exclusively with women both in-person and online, Qadir struggled with her own weight and was bullied until her mid-20s. However, she turned her life around after finding her calling in strength training and weightlifting. Now a PowerLifter who can lift 200+ lbs., she states, “All fitness journeys are won in the mind. We all experience days when we don’t want to get up and move. The successful ones are those who move even when they don’t feel like it.” 

It was hard for her when the pandemic closed the gyms. Viewing her home as her comfort zone, she didn’t think home workouts were possible. But when clients reached out, struggling with their mental health due to inactivity and Covid stress, she decided to offer Ramadan online classes. 

“Exercise is an instant mood booster. It is incredible to see how gaining strength transcends a client’s life and increases their personal and professional confidence,” she said. 

Qadir sees women with low functional strength, which causes joint pain and weight gain. Her classes focus on building strength using either one’s body weight or actual weights. She wants people to understand that strength training can give far more benefits than just weight loss. Women, she says, must prioritize their health while they still are healthy. By working on developing strength now, they can prepare for old age when basic movements become challenging. 

She recommends setting small, realistic goals to get started to help build a consistent habit while improving stamina and endurance. A huge advocate of strength training, she says, “Physical strength is the first form of empowerment. People don’t make the connection that strength training will eventually lead to independence in their old age. Want to get up from the toilet seat on your own at 70? Do squats. Want to walk up the stairs easily? That’s what lunges are for. Get strong for functional life strength. Always choose strength over skinny.” 


Sarah Pervez, a storyteller, avid reader, spirituality seeker and published author, loves telling simple stories, finding meaningful lessons in life and looking at things through other people’s perspectives. After years of reading whitewashed literature, she is slowly building a bookshelf full of color and loving it. 

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