How COVID has made fitness more accessible to Muslim women

Arif Miah, Creative Strategy Director at mud orange introduces a new survey that explores how the pandemic has helped to increase health and fitness digital options for British Muslim women.

Arif Miah

Creative Strategy Director mud orange


Over the past few years, we have seen the fitness world begin to increase its multicultural, multi-ethnicity and religiously diverse representation. Sportswear brands to sports councils have been featuring a diverse cast across marketing activity, and when it comes to Muslim women specifically, brands such as Nike, Adidas and Under Armour have seen successes with their own workout hijabs.

British Muslims are described as one of the least physically active groups within the UK, more so for British Muslim women. But activity from sports and fitness brands has yet to effectively engage, facilitate or break down existing barriers to get active. Although Muslim models are now more regularly featured in brand activity, it often comes across as tokenistic as marketing activity is usually geared towards product sales and PR rather than inspiring fitness participation, encouraging engagement or providing guidance.  

The interest in the health and fitness industry in general has been significantly rising amongst British Muslims, as literacy around the importance of physical activity and holistic wellbeing has steadily improved over the last few years. However, although the desire exists, there are structural barriers that prevent engagement, which ATL campaign work just won’t solve.

of British Muslims say they find it inspiring and motivating when they see successful Muslim athletes in the mainstream
Over half
of British Muslim women find it difficult to find suitable activewear
of British Muslim women say they’d prefer to attend women-only gyms, fitness classes or swimming pools

The transforming world of fitness

In our m.economy study on Health & Fitness for British Muslims, we explored how the pandemic has helped to increase health and fitness digital options to British Muslim women. British Muslim women found that the increased availability of home workout plans provide a sustainable and more accessible way to exercise, with 55% saying it’s helped them keep fit from the comfort of their own home.

While mainstream brands, gyms and organisations have yet to properly consider these barriers and develop creative solutions for them, during COVID-19 the world of fitness completely transformed, forcing fitness brands to shift how they engage their audiences. This has positive consequences on inclusive fitness.

Today, British Muslims are actively looking for ways to improve their fitness and they call for brands and organisations to do more so they can overcome barriers. Gyms and fitness centres need to create safe spaces for Muslim women to comfortably work out, and brands need to expand their existing efforts across their various channels e.g. their branded fitness apps/socials/blogs to directly engage and cater to diverse needs based on real insights to actually connect. 

1) Gender sensitive spaces

In our m.economy study, we found that 86% of British Muslim women say they’d prefer to attend women-only gyms, fitness classes or swimming pools. And this isn’t just for those who wear hijab or identify as ‘very religious’; our findings are consistent across all British Muslim women identifying at all levels of religious practice.

Currently, the availability of gender sensitive physical workout spaces is limited which is a huge barrier for Muslim women to start or maintain exercising. Sports and fitness brands need to consider how they make their spaces more appealing for Muslim women or facilitate fitness better in private spaces and homes through digital experiences.

2) Modest activewear

Another barrier for over half of Muslims living in Britain is that it’s difficult to find suitable activewear; this rises to two thirds for those who wear a hijab. Although there is improving availability of activewear that meets coverage standards, it usually doesn’t meet the functional need of breathability, durability and fit.

Our survey also found that only 13% of women say that sports hijabs currently available are fit for purpose. So, whilst many brands are putting efforts into making ‘inclusive’ activewear, there is still a lack of understanding of the needs to make the activewear not only functional, but also modest and stylish. It seems that many brands are still lacking feedback and insights from diverse customers.

Muslim women want appropriate activewear that’s comfortable, keeps them cool and makes them look the part. Brands need to consider how they provide modest activewear that’s suitable for different purposes and styles. The current homogenous approach towards sports hijabs and modest activewear ignores individual needs.

3) Ramadan fitness

Ramadan is the Islamic month when Muslims fast from food and drink during daylight hours. Due to the nutritional and lifestyle changes during this period the vast majority of people who work out regularly either stop exercising completely or reduce it significantly as they find it difficult to adapt their workout routines around fasting times.

For British Muslim men who stop working out during Ramadan, 67% say they would be more likely to attend their gym if it was open at night, so they could exercise after they’ve had their evening meal. The majority of British Muslims want more guidance on ways to keep fit at home to make it more maintainable. Brands now need to consider how they provide real-time fitness guidance during the whole month of Ramadan, beyond shallow editorials and articles.

Guest Author

Arif Miah

Creative Strategy Director mud orange


Arif Miah is Co-Founder and Strategy Director at mud orange. mud orange is an independent multi award-winning creative agency that specialises in Muslim and niche audiences. Based in London, they’ve built a global name for producing some of the most disruptive brand work and advertising campaigns that connect with new audiences, diverse communities, and emerging spaces.