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Knocking Out Cultural Identity and Choosing Peace

Boxer Nazia Khatun shares her story of unearthing the beauty of true Islam.

I talk a lot, I get excited easily, fall in love quickly, I go from 0 to 100 mph within seconds, I can be bold, and at times I can be timid. I am able to like certain things excessively, and then get bored way too fast for my liking. I am also the type of person who needs to be constantly doing something to feel satisfied or fulfilled or I get agitated and my mind takes me to dark places. Like a child I have major tantrums and after a few days of victimized-like sobbing I am OK.



That was actually me growing up. Trying to find meaning to my life and at times over analyzing everything. I was born into a Muslim, Bangladeshi family. Naturally we were taught how to pray, how to read the Qur’an and follow Islamic rules. My parents also ensured we learnt our mother tongue for speaking and writing. While, I could speak and understand Bengali with no hesitation, understanding Arabic was something which I could not grasp though I knew that it was compulsory for us to learn the Qur’an and pray. By the time I was 16 years old I had read the Qur’an at least eight times, but after that as my own personality was flourishing, I began questioning things.



Culture and religion easily get mixed up in the duality of one’s ethnicity and religion. Trying to find my own identity proved difficult as I was battling what I was supposed to be with what I wanted to be and naturally a realm of anger overtook my personality and character. I quickly found myself rebelling in a lot of things as is common for teenagers. I had parents and a culture who were constantly telling me what is right and what isn’t. This thing called “sinning” and another called “guilt” lived hand in hand.



As I developed eating disorders and became majorly self conscious, I somehow found myself on a path of self destruction. I never recall praying five times a day growing up, it was only the morning Fajr prayer that I did without fail. When it came to fasting I somehow excused myself and skipped a few fasts here and there in my 20’s. At a point faith meant very little to me and I did not feel bad about it either. With all the anger and frustration infused in me I decided to take up boxing. This was when I really lost myself. I lost myself trying to find meaning in my life and make sense of what was going on around me. The pressure of fitting into society, the pressure of fitting into this ideal version of what my parents wanted me to be, the pressure of being a perfect role model to my younger siblings… I became none of that.



There became a battlefield in trying to be this so-called “me” without even really knowing “me”. I was beginning to become a people-pleaser to everyone around me. I questioned myself time after time – what was wrong with me? Looking back, boxing was the only release I had from the anxiety and tension in my life, it gave me a great purpose, but hand-in-hand I found very little pleasure our fulfillment in my goal of being peaceful.



Peace is the word I had been seeking for most of my life. My thoughts and my mind were carrying a million things and the only way out was to train and train and train. I would train till I was exhausted so I could sleep without anything troubling me. I spent almost nine years of my life just searching for something unknown to me. I soon became a Body Transformation Coach to help others achieve their fitness goals. I realized that I was helping people with what I needed most help with when growing up. Within those years of being a trainer I still found myself very hyper, not so focused and with the media backlash on Islamaphobia it made me question my faith deeper. One thing I used to always ask was, ‘What was so magnificent about this religion that made iconic people turn to it? What was it about me that couldn’t resonate with this religion yet I was gifted with it and born into it?’ There was a lot of emptiness within my heart yet I could never find anything to make me content. For years I searched until I performed my ‘Umrah in Saudi Arabia in 2014. I was very reluctant to go with my family but I made the journey and the connection I felt cannot be described. Honestly, I had totally forgot about my duties as a human to our creator, and I knew why, too. I hated ‘religion’ being thrown down my throat; I hated this notion of how cultures created their own rules and regulations to excuse certain things.



For ten full days I followed the journey of our Prophet (SAW) and the footsteps of some of the greatest women in Islam and it made me realize some of the questions I had been asking were not the proper questions I should have been asking. Looking back I was most probably questioning more of the people around me and not the religion itself. As I came back to the UK I felt so lost, so consumed, so rushed and that peaceful feeling left me. My prayers were not as connected as they were when I was in Saudi Arabia and soon I found myself not taking prayers as seriously as I should have. I prayed when I needed God and that was when I was in trouble. In my happiest moments I forgot God. As the years went by I felt a silent death within me. By this time I almost felt like my heart was dying inside of me. For three months I felt pure sadness in my body and mind and it did not matter what I did I could not get rid of it. I called it a spiritual death.



As the winter fall came I enrolled in a workshop by Yasmin Mogahed. I loved her seminar as it was psychology mixed with Islam. It was perfect for me and she was talking my language. It was also a time I felt I needed rescuing, to elevate this heaviness from my heart. The one thing I still remember till this day is her following statement: “When we are ill we seek the doctor, the doctor gives us medicine. So when we are troubled and feel restless always remember the medicine for the heart is PRAYER.” And there it was, the missing element from my life. So I challenged myself to pray for that week. I set aside a time for each prayer and gave myself time to meditate. Normally when making du’a I would always ask for things. Now when making du’a I show gratitude for what I have and by doing so there has been a shift in my mindset. I prayed and stuck to my challenge, first for a week, then another week and then another until it became a habit to pray. It became fun too and before I knew it, my soul was being called to prayer. If I had clients I would take ten minutes out and ensure that the specific prayer was completed. I am not perfect all the time, but by adding prayer and meditation into my life I feel so much calmer. That peace somehow came by magic.



I started to attract more peacefulness, I was able to think more rationally but most importantly I felt myself become stronger. My workouts are so much more exciting and I can carry on knowing who I am inside. My trip to Al-Aqsa mosque in Palestine also made me aware of so many things about myself, so I came home to work on the small habits that no longer were serving me and I found myself loving myself a little bit more and expressing my emotions more clearly. I realized that culture messes elements of religion up. It cannot be forced on anyone and everyone has their own way of dealing with religion and the purpose they use it for. One should never feel guilty and I believe the guidance is important and the meaning behind what people learn needs to be explained too, in everything. I feel so many of us are so lost in this society and we are always constantly looking for a fix. We find solace in so many things, for now mine is a beautiful religion called Islam. Though the world may see this religion as a threat, I see it filling my vessel for that feeling of contentment and peace. I use it to serve me the way I want religion to – with a fine line of balance giving me levels of discipline and also organizing myself around each call to prayer. It has also taught me to accept myself as a Body Transformation Coach and to excel in what I am giving to my clients. So many times we miss what is already in front of us and closer to home than we think. I am thankful to have circled around the world and back to what was always mine.




Nazia Khatun’s Fitness Reborn UK is a fitness organisation that serves Muslim females from the South Indian and Arab communities. It uses a different approach to attain long lasting results, taking clients on a 1-2-1 transformational journey of self-discovery and recreating new habits so each person can learn how to fall in love with their bodies and mind.

Website : www.fitnessrebornuk.com

Instagram: @fitnessrebornuk1