As a result of being born into a Muslim family, in a Muslim country, Islam was naturally installed in me by my parents and reinforced by our community where I resided. However, one of my earliest fascinations was Karate, which is drawn from Japan, a much more secular state. In Japan, Shinto, a very local religion, coexists with Buddhism.
In a similar fashion, Sensei (teacher) Abdullah Mohammad Hossain, who is committed to both Islam and Karate, finds harmony being a devoted Muslim as well as a Karateka. On a Saturday evening halfway through his class Abdullah yells out in Japanese, “Yame’’ (Stop). The students at KOFS (KO Fight Studio), a dojo, halt their Karate drill. Abdullah announces, “Ten minutes break for Namaz’’ (the ritual prayers prescribed by Islam to be observed five times a day).The students, in quick repetitive sessions, perform Wudhu (the ritual washing to be performed in preparation for prayer and worship). In minutes, they line up for Maghrib (the fourth of five formal daily prayers). The dojo has a diverse student body with men and women, Muslims and non Muslims, expats and locals, training together. Those who do not pray sit and talk softly, or just rest on one end of the dojo and ensure that they do not disturb those praying. In front of the dojo, Abdullah leads the Jamaat (congregation) as he does his Karate class. Abdullah, in no way, sees Islam hampering Karate practice, but instead, complementing it.
He has clear perspectives on two controversial subjects, ‘bowing’ and ‘strikes to the face’.
In Karate, everything begins and ends with Rei (greetings), where you often bow. Abdullah refers that in Islam ‘you cannot Sujud (prostrate) to anyone other than Allah’. He explains that the Prophet (SM) has prohibited us from prostrating to anyone other than Allah as stated in Abu Dawud, Ahmad and Ibn Majah. It seems that this has resulted in a common misconception. “Sujud is not Rai’’ elaborates Abdullah. In Japan, while executing a Rei, practitioners often look down and slightly bow, where the bowing is part of Japanese culture. However, Muslim practitioners often look straight. Abdullah quotes, “In the end it is your intention and thought that matters. You know in your head that you are just showing respect to your fellow Karateka, not worshiping him, and you believe in Allah to whom you submit.”
The next subject brings up the issue of striking someone in the face. Abdullah refers to the Hadith (collections of the reports claiming to quote what the prophet said) Sahih Muslim, authored by Imam Muslim where Abu Huraira, a companion of the prophet, reported Allah’s Messenger (SM) as saying “When any one of you fights with his brother, he should avoid striking at the face.” In Karate, you are taught attacks that are targeted to the face. It is a vital part of self-defense. The International Karate Organization (IKO) Kyokushinkaikan tournament rules allow only kicks, but prohibit hand strikes to the face. So how does a Muslim justify practicing Karate? Abdullah explains “Islam allows a Muslim to defend himself if attacked, and saving one’s life is fard (obligatory Islamic duty). It can be justified in Islam to do what is necessary to save oneself from harm’s way utilizing any necessary methods.’’
This is a far cry from the Taliban regime that formed a government and ruled Afghanistan from September 1996 to December 2011.
Their idea of Sharia law (legal framework/legal system based on Islam) prevented women from participating in sports and banned combat sports such as Karate.
My encounter with Islam and Karate makes me believe that Karate is a great way to introduce a person to different cultures and religions, and to broaden his or her knowledge base. It can increase your religious tolerance and allow you to be more receptive of people from different beliefs. It can make a person befriend someone with a different religious view and reduce radical religious violence, which is a critical issue that we must address.
Osu! (Advancing with a steady positive attitude.)
Mohammed Tanvir (Nick) Mosharraf has been practicing martial arts actively since 2002 and has been exposed to Boxing, Muay Thai, BJJ and Kyokushin Karate among others. He is an avid fan of Boxing and MMA. He believes in using combat sports and martial arts to foster community relations and also enable and empower people from all walks of life.