Last year was a momentous one for Amina Khan, the founder of Amanah Fitness. She made history when she was named 2018’s Canadian Fitness Professional of the Year at the World Fitness Expo, becoming the first Muslim in history to receive this tremendous honor.
“The fitness industry is often quite exclusive towards Muslim women, so encouraging Muslim women to step into the health and fitness industry with this national award was a huge honor,” Amina confides. No doubt, having a Muslim woman recognized and celebrated for her dedication to this important, yet often overlooked, aspect of a healthy and happy existence is truly a moment of elation!
Championing the ideology that fitness is for everyone, three years ago, Amina set out on a mission. She created Amanah Fitness to use the psychology of motivation to help women of all cultural backgrounds feel their best through healthy and active lifestyles, regardless of how they dress or look. Tremendously, in the years since its inception, the Amanah Fitness community has grown to a whopping 50,000 strong, boasting a host of diverse individuals from all cultures and backgrounds.
MuslimGirl.com sat down with this health and fitness powerhouse to learn more about how she hopes that Amanah Fitness will play a vital part in encouraging diversity and inclusivity within the fitness industry.
MUSLIM GIRL: So Amina, tell me a little bit about yourself!
AMINA KHAN: I am a formerly chubby, lazy, couch potato turned obsessed fitness professional!
Growing up, I struggled with my weight, and had self-esteem issues as a consequence. After my own 60-pound weight loss journey, I realized how important our weight and health is to our overall happiness, and mental and spiritual health, too.
Today, I’m trying to share this blessing of fitness with as many Muslims around the world as I can. My goal is to help Muslim women change their lives through faith-based fitness in our online community, Amanah Fitness. Currently, I’m completing my PhD degree in Health Psychology and researching solutions to barriers to exercise for Muslim girls and women.
Can you explain to me what Amanah Fitness is all about? Why did you feel it was important that a community like Amanah Fitness exist?
The problem is that Muslim women are neglected by the mainstream fitness industry. Health psychologists, across the board, criticize the mainstream fitness industry for being overly sexualized, and this can lead to body image issues, self-objectification, and exclusion towards women who prefer to dress modestly. Anyone who’s ever gone to a public gym, or tried a workout DVD knows that there is a clear lack of relatable fitness role models for Muslim women.
Amanah Fitness is a global online fitness community for Muslim women that I created to solve these problems. We help Muslim women lose weight and change their lives through modest workout programs, and ethnic healthy-eating and lifestyle education.
For example, we have an awesome modest home workout bootcamp program for Muslim women. Education is really important to us, so we produce a weekly online lifestyle show to teach a new, faith-based approach to weight loss, healthy eating, and exercise. As well as that, we’re pioneering expert research on Ramadan meal planning, fasting fitness, sleep, and stress, to change the way Muslims fast in Ramadan.
Through Amanah Fitness, I wanted to be the role model I never had! I wanted to prove that modesty is no barrier to living a healthy and active lifestyle. I wanted to empower women and families all over the world to experience the transformative power of health — even if they don’t feel they “belong” in mainstream fitness programs!
Okay, so I have to ask, if only to quell my own curiosity: how and why did you settle on the name “Amanah Fitness”?
It’s funny, because most people assume my name is Amanah, but I didn’t name Amanah Fitness after myself!
The word “Amanah” means “trust” in Arabic. It represents the philosophy behind our entire brand— that our bodies are an “Amanah” from God, and it is our responsibility to learn how to take care of this huge blessing.
As someone who could never relate to the bikini-body focus of the mainstream fitness industry, this new approach to my health was extremely liberating.
When I considered my body an “Amanah”, I stopped focusing on trying to become an impossible size 0, or hating the way I looked in the mirror. I focused on respecting my body and taking small steps to treat it as a precious trust. With this mindset, the weight naturally fell off, along with a lot of the stress and pressure surrounding health and fitness!
It just so happens that my name, “Amina”, also sounds very similar to “Amanah”!
That’s really beautiful! So, tell me, how did you get started in the actual business of health and fitness, and why did you feel it was important to do so?
Let’s face it, research shows that Muslims may be more likely to be overweight and obese.
After losing weight 7 years ago, I got certified as a fitness instructor and I started teaching Muslim women how to exercise. Over and over again, the same concerns kept coming up:
Lack of modest fitness opportunities. Unhealthy ethnic foods. Lack of motivation. Lack of knowledge and comfort.
We have to look at the pockets of our community that are largely neglected — busy moms and dads, older aunties and uncles who have to pray in chairs due to a lack of mobility, and women who wear hijab or choose to dress modestly and don’t feel comfortable at the gym.
I always found it sad that we have such awful health outcomes in our community when there’s so much in our Prophetic tradition that discourages overeating, and promotes a physically fit, active life.
I wasn’t sporty, or naturally thin growing up. Yes, fitness does make you look better, but that’s not what matters most. I’m more interested in changing health in the Muslim community because I think we’ll be a happier, kinder, higher-impact community, and closer to the true spirit of Islam if we can put a dent in the rising rates of Muslim obesity.
Many young Muslims are starting to get into fitness today, which is great. But to have a bigger impact on the health of the entire Muslim community worldwide, I want to include those beyond the 5-10% of young people and health-conscious Muslims who already enjoy exercise. We have to look at the pockets of our community that are largely neglected — busy moms and dads, older aunties and uncles who have to pray in chairs due to a lack of mobility, and women who wear hijab or choose to dress modestly and don’t feel comfortable at the gym.
These barriers to health require a more holistic approach to begin untangling these complex problems! So I began my PhD degree in Health Psychology to be able to develop safe spaces for Muslim female fitness, in order to reverse cultural trends discouraging women from exercising. Through our workout programs, I want to help Muslim women improve their fitness and health in a way that aligns with Islamic values.
My goal is to continue to create faith-based fitness which is empowering instead of discouraging. Of course, this includes featuring female Muslim fitness instructors. But it also includes the messaging, and way we talk about our bodies. For example, in our modest workout programs, instead of the typical messaging of “Imagine how your legs will look in a bikini after this,” you’ll be hearing “Think about how grateful you are to Allah ﷻ for strong legs that can move like this,” during workouts. The way we talk about our bodies has a huge impact on the way we think about ourselves, and our self-esteem. There’s already so much pressure on Muslim women, so I think a faith-based, body-positive approach to fitness is essential and much needed today!
Did you find yourself hitting a lot of roadblocks in establishing Amanah Fitness? I’d be surprised if you didn’t come across people who didn’t believe this was a space that needed addressing.
Absolutely! I’ve encountered so many people who didn’t believe, and still don’t believe, in my mission.
An interesting roadblock I was surprised to face is that I get massive amounts of hate from Muslims who argue that I shouldn’t only be targeting Muslims, or “Why isn’t this for everyone?”
I’m not sure where this attitude comes from. As a health psychologist, I can tell you that in order to help people change their lives successfully, health and fitness education must be specific for target demographics — that’s how we can address population-specific health barriers.
For example, a fitness or diet program for non-Muslims should address calories from alcohol and how to portion control these drinks. In comparison, a program for Muslims should address Ramadan-specific fasting fitness recommendations as well as concerns about modesty in exercise.
Interestingly, we do have non-Muslim females sign up for our programs who have never raised this concern. Every single cultural and faith group has different health needs — acknowledging this and catering to these differences isn’t being exclusive. I’m not preventing anyone of any faith group from signing up for our programs, and I welcome all members with open arms. But gearing our programs towards Muslim women to address their specific fitness needs and health concerns allows me to serve my clients better, and get them incredible results as this is my area of research and expertise.
Finally, I just want to emphasize that despite these naysayers, I am immensely grateful to the thousands of Muslims who HAVE supported me and my mission from the start. Many of the amazing women who signed up for my bootcamp program even before we witnessed all our amazing weight loss success stories are still with me today, and that support has encouraged me even when I felt like giving up.
Aligning myself with a strong support system from those who understood the importance of my mission, as well as my family and incredibly supportive husband has been key in helping me overcome the negativity. And of course, remembering why I’m doing this and purifying my intention is a daily requirement when you’re trying to be a public figure, in order to maintain sincerity.
So, we absolutely LOVE hearing about the fearless women of our ummah shattering people’s expectations with their relentless dedication and drive. You being the first Muslim woman in Canada to be named Canadian Fitness Professional of the Year fits that bill to a “T.” What do you believe the significance of winning this award is? Do you believe this means that we are taking positive strides towards accepting the importance of communities such as Amanah Fitness?
It was such an honor being selected as Canada’s Top Fitness Professional because I did feel I was representing Muslim women in the mainstream fitness industry. It’s important for Muslim women to be represented in mainstream fitness platforms like this because it send the message that “We’re here, and we need spaces, too.”
Above all, I’m extremely grateful that I was able to win this award while maintaining Islamic values of modesty. I hope the fact that Canada’s Top Fitness Professional chooses to dress modestly will inspire other Muslim women to never feel that they “don’t belong” in the world of fitness! If there’s no space for us, we have to make our own spaces!
This milestone also means we’re making strides towards more inclusive health education that caters to the unique needs of the Muslim community. One of the big steps I was recognized for at the World Fitness Expo was for our work pioneering RamadanReset.com — a free website compiling expert advice on ALL aspects of Ramadan health and fitness. Over 1 billion Muslims fast around the world each year, so the fact that there is a big gap in research on fasting fitness guidelines is a need that we’re working to address. This is a step towards more health professionals contributing to this field, and helping more Muslims live their healthiest life than ever before, inshAllah.
What’s next for you and Amanah Fitness?
My goal with Amanah Fitness has two parts: First, to increase the overall care Muslims have about their weight and their health. Second, to create the perfect fitness programs for every Muslim woman and family!
The biggest struggle is the first goal — making more Muslims care about their health. So we’re researching new ways provide to faith-based motivation and Prophetic examples to encourage fitness and healthy living. I believe the Prophetic tradition of health and fitness is something that as Muslims, we need to re-connect with! So we’re looking to collaborate with more Muslim organizations and influencers, mosques and places where Muslims gather to bring fitness to them. It’s not easy to change the mindset of an entire community, but nothing worthwhile is ever easy!
In terms of the second goal, when more Muslims care about their health, the rest is easy! There are so many new directions and projects we are excited about. We already have our signature online home workout program for Muslim women, but we plan on expanding it even further to provide an even wider range of fitness programs and training styles to suit everyone’s unique workout needs and goals. We’re always asking ourself “How can we make fitness reach every single Muslim woman?” So we have our work cut out for us!
Our Ramadan programs are also very important to us. We are really trying to innovate in the space of fasting fitness education to help Muslims change the way they experience Ramadan every year. Creating RamadanReset.com was a huge step in the right direction and we have a lot of other exciting plans coming up this year, inshAllah, including a brand new fasting fitness program that we can’t wait to share with everyone!
As a final note, is there anything else you would like our readers to know, whether it be about yourself, Amanah Fitness, or the ethos of Amanah Fitness?
It’s an exciting time for Muslim women in sports and fitness! We have incredible Muslim female athletes to look up to. There is a growing culture of supporting Muslim athleticism. Mainstream clothing labels, advertisements, and sports regulations are accommodating sports hijabs. This is all so wonderful, but I think now it’s even more important than ever to ask ourselves if, as a community, are we ACTUALLY becoming healthier?
Are we creating new opportunities for more Muslim women to exercise and learn how to live an active lifestyle? Are we embracing living a healthy lifestyle as part of our spirituality? Are we becoming more effective at fighting Muslim obesity in our homes, mosques, and gathering places? Are more Muslim women of all ages and fitness levels ACTUALLY starting to move more, every day?
We know that the mainstream fitness industry presents an objectified view of fitness. As Muslims we need to be aware of unknowingly following trends of self-objectification.
Modesty is a sensitive topic, and many women have different preferences when it comes to clothing and coverage. But there is still a long way to go when it comes to female inclusivity in the fitness industry. I think there’s still a lot of discussion needed as to what it means to be a modest Muslim woman today, and how to empower all Muslim women to exercise while feeling comfortable and maintaining the level of modesty we feel comfortable with.