A close friend introduced me to the idea that practicing martial arts has the potential to assist a Muslim in achieving a higher spiritual connection with God. Since I had always associated martial arts with Asian culture and Eastern religions such as Zen Buddhism, the connection with Islam did not immediately occur to me.
But after sitting in on one of my friend Imran’s aikido and karate classes at a dojo in the United Arab Emirates last month, the correlations began to unfold before my eyes. The mood was set when, just before starting two hours of rigorous and meticulous training, a number of students and the sensei assembled to pray Islam’s sunset prayer, known as maghrib.,………………..
While learning defensive fighting skills is the core purpose of training, interactions between students were remarkably cordial. A deep sense of equality filled the room; no matter how advanced in skill an apprentice, young or old, happened to be, s/he made an effort to enrich the experience of peers. Whether the belts they wore around their waists were black, brown, purple or white, everyone appeared to derive some value from the session.
This was inspiring for me because of the commonalities I saw with Islam. Muslims at varying stages along the spiritual path share a common ambition: to forge an intimate bond with the one Almighty God. Islam embodies an undeviating path to peace of mind, attained by aligning one’s physical, mental, financial, family and community affairs to this primary goal, which we should help each other work toward.
For a martial artist, the journey of perfecting technique doesn’t end with a black belt, it demands continual dedication and training. Imran told me later than evening, “Karate is like a pot of boiling water, and constant training is the fire that keeps the water boiling,” citing wisdom from a prominent karate instructor that can underlie both martial arts and Islamic devotion.
The comment brought to mind the concept of Al Insan Al Kamil in Islamic theology, describing the perfect being who has achieved unity with God in mind, body and soul. Attaining this level of consciousness demands a series of traits, such as steadfastness (istiqamah), self-inventory (muhasabah), improvement (tahsin) and humility — each honed to perfection.