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Bateel Skycraper

 

Lets Get Physical

Lets Get Physical

Issue 6 Jun / Jul 2004

First Published on July/August 2004

To access the issue page, click here 

 

words Rabia Barkatulla photography Maeve Tomlinson

There is no denying the need for sports centres and gymnasiums in Britain. As Rabia Barkatulla reports, incidences of obesity and heart disease are on the increase and with a slimming and diet industry worth more than £6 billion across the globe, we are officially less fit than ever before.The easy option is to drown our sorrows in biryani and baklava and lament that, as Muslims, there are no suitable, discreet ways of exercising. You are left quite conveniently with the prospect of no exercise for the rest of your life.

“This is something we have inherited from our cultures,”comments Dr Zubaida Osman, “and it is causing our obesity problem to outstretch most of the general public’s. We need to un-learn what our cultural environment has been telling usand start taking care of ourselves.” Do Muslims really have aproblem? “Specifically Muslim women; they perceive restrictions that are usually self-imposed and perhaps feel that theycan’t go out and exercise.”

It is no wonder then that Hanif Qadir, along with his older brother Imtiaz, decided to open Al-Badr gymnasium, fitting neatly into the un-catered-for Muslim niche market that it isaimed at. With saunas, top-notch cardio-vascular equipment,a cafeteria and lounge area, Al-Badr looks every inch the professional gym. “For a long time it was in the back of ourminds, to do this,” recollects Imtiaz Qadir, the manager. “We wanted the Muslim community to be able to benefit from modern forms of exercise; particularly Muslim women.”

And the figures are impressive. For the three months thatit has been open Al-Badr boasts a healthy membership of around 700 people. By scheduling specific times for maleand female health-enthusiasts, the appeal is understandable. Gyms have become part of a social norm with one in almost every town center and now companies are introducing ‘work gyms’ for their employees often in the same building.

Imtiaz proudly reveals, “at least 500 members have toldme how relieved and happy they are that we opened the gym because a gym is not only a place to exercise, it provides afocus for the community and an appropriate environment catering for Muslim sensibilities. With mainstream gyms,you can sometimes feel like an outsider and be self-conscious and of course the free-mixing of the sexes is an issue. Here, we endeavour to create a relaxed Islamic atmosphere; the fruits of which are the connections, the friendships and the socialising that can and do happen.”

The services on offer are enough to entice a large and diverse clientele including a mixture of ethnicities as well as ages. I am told that members come from South Harrow,Essex and also travel down from the North. There is no wonder why when reflexology, aromatherapy, massage and personal training assistance are offered. It helps that the fully trained staff are all Muslim.“The idea was to create an alternative to mainstream gymnasiums,”explains Imtiaz, “but add to it as well. We have plans to develop twin halls – hopefully they will be used for everything: martial arts, aerobics and public functions too.We already have seminars and workshops targeting Muslim youth and encouraging them to get off the streets and direct their energies into something productive.”

The brothers decided to base the business in East London; a place they are both familiar with and which contains the largest percentage of Muslims in the city of London. Setting up the project was, by no means, easy. There was some opposition to the idea, but the support the Qadir brothers received seems to be genuine. “When I used to go round giving out flyers and posters in shops they would tell me they would pray for me and for the business to be successful.” Imtiaz says. The local Labour Councillor, Stella Creasy, was also enthusiastic about the initiative and along with crime prevention officer, PC Paul Hankins, proved instrumental in securing planning permission.

This community effort has certainly impressed mosque leaders in other areas who have had problems with their exercising

initiatives. “The community need to work to ensure projects like these are successful.” says Dr Zubaida “When I have to refer families to nutritionists what I have done is create awareness, and this awareness needs channeling.”

The industry for dieting may be saturating itself, but Muslims have been relatively slow on the uptake. Products appealing to more health conscious consumers are usually distributed in large food chains, yet we are still to see a Halal organic butcher shop. According to Dr Zubaida, “it is a necessary market to break into.”

A regular client at Al-Badr gym explains how she combated her weight problem. “Even though you can get all-female gyms nowadays, the organisers and instructors aren’t sympathetic to your needs as a Muslim. In aerobic classes we would have blaring pop music to motivate us; in Al-Badr we have Qur’an recitation. There was also a lax attitude when it came to showers and CCTV cameras; everyone else got on with it and couldn’t seem to understand my reluctance to use the changing rooms.” She initially was unsure that Al-Badr, “could have just been a fad with a big plastic ‘Halal’ sign on the front. Exploitation of the Muslim consumer is something we should all be wary of, but it is certainly not the case here.”

The reason for Al-Badr’s success cited by the founders and many of the users is that it is a genuine product packaged by genuine people. The Muslim community, similar to the non-Muslim community, is searching for effective ways to alleviate health problems such as obesity. Imtiaz Qadir aims to make the gym accessible to all and acknowledges that the rates at Al-Badr are kept down to ensure this, “the main idea was to attract everyone and to bring people together.” 

 




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