The Olympic Games

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As the greatest sporting event of the modern world is underway, Muslims should be considering the Islamic standpoint on this event. Let us start with the background to the Olympic Games.

The Ancient Olympics

The Olympic Games, which began more than 2700 years ago, was stooped in idolatry and paganism. It was first held in Olympia, Greece, which was a sanctuary where thousands of statues, temples, tombs and altars of the Greek gods were kept. The greatest shrine of them all was an ivory and gold statue of Zeus. The ancient Olympic Games were part of a religious festival to worship Zeus and other Greek gods. People believed that such competitions pleased the spirits of the dead.
Of the five day event, the first day of the Games was devoted to sacrifices to the pagan gods. On the fourth day, 100 oxen were sacrificed as an offering to Zeus. On the final day prizes were awarded and thanksgiving sacrifices offered to the gods. Athletes taking part in all the competitions had to be completely naked. In 393 C.E. Emperor Theodosius I, a Christian, banned the games as he regarded them as pagan shows.

The Modern Olympics

The Olympic Games were revived in the late 18th century, and retained a number of characteristics of the ancient Games. The Olympic Flame symbolises the sacred flame burned at the altar of Zeus. Greece, as the country of origin of the Games, is honoured in both the opening and closing ceremonies.
Some of the terminologies of the ancient games have been retained. The word 'athlete' originates from 'Aethlius', who, according to Greek mythology, was the son of Zeus. The words 'gymnasium' and 'gymnastics' both come from the root word gymnos (meaning naked). A gymnasium in ancient Greece meant a place where the young men exercised naked.
The Magnitude of the Games could be gauged from the following facts. The opening Ceremony of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics had an audience of 3.5 billion people. In that year, 10 500 athletes from 197 countries took part. The 85 000-seater Atlanta Centennial Olympic Stadium was worth $168 million. The Atlanta Centennial Olympic Park was worth $50 million. $47 million was spent on housing in the Olympic Village which could accommodate 15 000 Olympic participants. It is said the cost of a ticket for the Opening Ceremony for a good seat was $636. Over 11 million tickets were on sale.

Specific Harms in Modern Times

The Olympic Games have often been used as a means of broadcasting political views and to exert political pressure through boycotts. It has also become the height of commercialism, with some $600 million being spent bytelevision companies and another $300 million by multinationals just to secure broadcasting and advertising rights. It is the epitome of extravagance and wastage. By way of example, at the Opening Ceremony of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, a crowd of 83 000 watched almost 5 hours of frivolous dancing, singing and parading which included a cast of 5500, 300 members of a marching band, 500 cheerleaders, over 300 dancers, riverboats and 30 pickup trucks. Due to the symbolic continuity between the ancient and modern Games, we can reason that today's Olympic Games are by nature and origin also immoral and irreligious.


Muslims should pause to reflect on offering support to these games, even in a tacit manner. Every moment spent in front of the screens, or eagerly awaiting news over the radio or in the papers is indirect support and approval of this colossal show of wanton indulgence. Will we allow these diversions to lull us into a state of indifference to the realities of life? Have we so quickly forgotten the plight of the downtrodden and oppressed brothers and sisters, persecuted by the people who are behind some of these fantasies?
While the original Zeus may not be with us, nevertheless the idols have reappeared in a new guise. If when the Azaan is called, Muslims are too busy with the Games to respond on time, then is a sense, they have made the Games an idol. Idols in a Muslim home? Allah forbid! May Allah Ta’ala save us from all forms of Shirk, even in a subtle or indirect way.
If the time and resources squandered on this display of arrogance and extravagance were spent on the needy of the world, major crises could be solved overnight. The Darfur crisis could be dealt with within days, and the flood victims of South Asia would have shelter and food for many weeks. Yet sadly, these Games have become a kind of opium of the masses, making people mindless and uncaring.

Even if we are weak in offering much by way of Nafl (optional) ibadat, let us not be party to evil and vice. The challenge of this day and age is abstention from sin. This is the advice of all the pious personalities. If we do not wish to apply Itr (perfume), let us at least not smear ourselves with filth. These are trying times for the Ummah. Who does not know this? Let us focus on the important issues that face us and our progenies.

The Hadith mentions: " A person will be (resurrected) with those whom he loves." (Bukhari and Muslim). Would we like to be raised among the worshippers of Zeus on the Day of Qiyamah?

Article taken (with Thanks) from Jami'yatul Ulama Canada


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This page was last updated on June 14, 2003 .