There is a historic association and appreciation of archery within the Islamic tradition. Archery is present in many Islamic texts, being a Sunnah - an activity the Prophet Muhammed specifically recommends. Raheem Scott from Leicester Archery Academy explains how Muslims can observe the sacred period of Ramadhan and still practice archery.
The lunar month of Ramadhan, which contains the thirty days during which Muslims abstain from food and drink from the crack of dawn until dusk, is scheduled to start on March 22nd this year. While many Muslims adjust their routines in order to prioritise acts of worship during the days and nights of the month, work, school and training schedules cannot and should not be abandoned. Hence, the question arises as to how to approach archery sessions during Ramadhan.
The first point to note is that, in Islam, archery itself is seen as an act of worship! The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, is reported to have said: “Everyone who walks between the two points of the archery field will have merited the reward for a good deed for every step he takes.”
Since the reward for every good deed in Ramadhan is believed to be multiplied by 70, continuing to practice and compete during the days of fasting, whether at an outdoor or indoor range, is a great way to keep active whilst at the same time benefitting from the blessings of the month.
In fact, there are numerous sayings of the Prophet regarding the benefits of archery, and while on one level these reflect the importance of archery at that time as a martial skill, Muslims believe that all his teachings have an enduring and timeless wisdom, which is why in many Muslim communities, long after archery stopped having any military importance, archery continued to be practiced, simply to gain the blessings of following these prophetic teachings. In the Ottoman Turkey, for example, the practice of archery became a very sophisticated and important cultural and spiritual institution.
This connection between archery and Islam is undoubtedly the main reason for the establishment of many archery clubs in and around Muslim communities in the UK over the last fifteen or twenty years, such as my club, Leicester Archery Academy, and is surely also the reason why increasing numbers of Muslims join their local Archery GB clubs.
Many people assume that fasting is thoroughly exhausting and would severely reduce a person’s ability to keep up with daily work and exercise routines, but most Muslims find that after a day or two, the body and the mind readjust and a lighter, more focused state is often one result of this. Labourers and farmers across the Muslim world have always succeeded in putting a good day’s work during Ramadhan and there is no reason not to keep up with your archery practice if you wish to do so.
Around ten years ago, a good friend who was a great charity supporter as well as the founder of One Nation Archery Club, based in Luton, suggested a sponsored archery marathon during Ramadhan, in which each of the participants would shoot one thousand arrows in a day. A few of us at LAA got involved and spent several very enjoyable hours completing the challenge. Whether we have been involved in physical activity or not, the prayer and the breaking of the fast each day at sunset is a uniquely beautiful experience, and the spiritual and physical enjoyment of that day was particularly memorable!
Perhaps the speed at which Muslims operate may dip slightly while fasting, but in archery, this can actually be an advantage. Shooting with an empty mind and an empty chest, which is recommended by many high-performance archery coaches, actually becomes easier when the stomach is also empty, in my experience at least. I am sure elite level archers plan their intake of food very carefully during a long shoot, so as to reduce stomach and digestion activity within the body and avoid having large changes in blood sugar levels while they are shooting.
I once took part in an inter-club competition whilst fasting, and I’m sure it was no coincidence that I equalled my Portsmouth Recurve PB on the day, and also ended up winning the barebow category. I am not a high-level archer by any means, but it was noticeable that the state of fasting kept my mind focused on each arrow and the details of my shooting routine, and thoughts about the outcome and the performance of other shooters, which often impact my own shooting negatively, faded away.
As a convert to Islam, it is common that non-Muslim family members will express sympathy as Ramadhan approaches because they imagine that it is a time of difficulty and inconvenience. In reality, however, the benefits and enjoyment of fasting, and the numerous blessings that are experienced during the month, whether on the archery range, in the mosque, or at home, far outweigh any brief pangs of hunger or thirst that may occasionally arise.
To find out more about Project Rimaya, Archery GB's project to help empower Muslim communities to learn and grow through the sport of archery, and access a sport which is significant to them, click here.