Muslim communities continue to struggle with immense stigma around the topic of mental health even though, Islam strongly values the importance of caring for one’s mental health and emotional wellbeing,
The prophet Muhammad (saws), the greatest of greatest of creation and our role model, has practiced and recommended many activities which were beloved to him. These activities were not only loved by our beloved, but they are inherently beneficial to our mental, physical and emotional wellbeing.
Amongst these activities is archery. In a hadith narrated from Ibn Umar (ra), our beloved Prophet (saws) said “Teach your children swimming, archery and horse riding”.
In Sahih Muslim, the Prophet (saws) said, “Practice archery and practice horse riding, and that you practice archery is more beloved to me than that you practice riding.”
The Prophet (saws) was also reported to have said “Any action without the remembrance of Allah is either a diversion or heedlessness except four acts: walking from target to target (during archery practice), training a horse and learning to swim.” (Reported by al Tabarani on Good Authority)
So why archery?
Archery as some may know it today, is not simply aiming and shooting at a target. It is an activity that was deeply loved by the Prophet (saws) and he encouraged us to practice it and teach it to our children. As we say at Archery Ascension, if your aim in archery is to hit the bullseye you have missed the target completely.
Archery is a truly mindful practice.
Mindfulness is a mental state that is achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. It is often used as a therapeutic technique and is particularly helpful for bringing our attention away from future and past worries, distraction and consuming thought, back into the present moment. The Prophet (saws) is reported to have said, “There is no harm for any of you to take up your bow when you are feeling overtaken by burden, and thereby do away with your worries.”
A state of mindfulness can be achieved through various strategies such as practicing breathing techniques. This begins with being conscious of your breath. We are always breathing, but how often do we pay attention to the pace of our breath? How often do we notice and express gratitude for every breath we are blessed with? Within the practice of archery, the Muslim archers would incorporate breathing work and the remembrance of Allah during the different stages of drawing and releasing of the arrow.
Grounding yourself physically is also an effective form of mindfulness practice. Focus on the senses you have been blessed with; eyesight, hearing, smell, feel and taste. The next time you take a step outside, notice how the ground feels under your feet, how the wind feels against your body and the warmth of the sun on your skin. Notice the softness of a cushion, wiggle your toes or lay your hands flat on a cool surface. Simple actions that we practice daily, often without noticing or truly connecting with our senses. Grounding plays a significant role in the practice of archery. As an archer, one must build an awareness of their surroundings, their body, their bow, and the arrow in their hand.
For the Muslim, practice of archery is deeply rooted in our spiritual tradition. In engaging with it one may develop an awareness of their body, their breathing, their rhythm, speech patterns and thoughts. This increased awareness of oneself, elevates consciousness and grounds us. Our Prophet said to his Companions, “Go ahead, and shoot, and I am with all of you.’”
May your arrows fly true, and your dua be answered.