Ramadan is underway and Coach Maleeha Rahim is encouraging fitness in the midst of fasting
Rahim is a personal trainer and founder of Ihsaan Fitness, where she supports Muslim women through exercise.
Thursday marked the first day of fasting for thousands of Muslims across Metro Atlanta, who joined Muslims around the world in observing the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. From sunrise to sunset, this means no food or water, and a focus on charity, prayer, and spiritual health.
*Quick side note - check out my iftar reviews from last Ramadan (here and here). Both Bismallah Cafe ($10 iftar boxes) and Ameer’s Mediterranean Grill ($27 buffet served daily, requires reservations ) will continue their Ramadan specials this year, along with the legendary buffet at Mughals in Norcross and Chai Pani’s to-go boxes in Decatur*.
It can also mean that for anyone following a regular fitness or nutrition regiment, they’re thrown off, and can easily fall into a pattern of dehydration and heavy, late night eating.
“A lot of times people think while fasting it’s hard to exercise,” says Maleeha Rahim, who grew up in Buford and lives in Gwinnett County.
Rahim is the only fitness trainer in Metro Atlanta catering to Muslim women, as far as she’s aware. “I’m the only one I know of. Do you know any?”
I told her I didn’t.
“It’s not a common field to get into,” she says, laughing. “At least for a Pakistani person it’s usually lawyer, doctor, engineer, something like that.”
In 2020, Rahim founded Ihsaan Fitness, a business that offers everything from personal training to workout plans to group fitness classes (both online and in person at local mosques). The majority of her clients, she says, are Muslim women. “I’m happy I’m providing this kind of service because many of them have said we don’t have something like this.”
For Ramadan, she’s launched a 30 day fitness challenge, encouraging folks to get moving, even if it’s just 15 minutes a day. “The feedback I’m getting are that the exercises are enough to not tire them out, but also provide them enough energy to get through the day.”
I spoke with her about barriers to exercise, Ramadan fitness and nutrition tips, and more.
Tell us about your journey. What inspired you to become a fitness trainer?
Many things inspired me to become a fitness trainer!
Growing up, I have always enjoyed being active, doing outdoor activities, working out and just moving in general. My first gym experience was actually while I was in college, and I have to thank my roommate for persuading me to come with her to the gym for my FIRST time. I was a little nervous to be honest. It was my first time going to a gym, not knowing exactly how to use the equipment, and on top of that I wore a hijab too so I wondered- would people stare at me and give me looks? I was completely wrong though. Everyone was just minding their own business. That day really changed my life a lot. I gained a huge amount of confidence. My first gym experience pushed me to help women, and especially Muslim women, gain strength and confidence just like I did.
I wanted to have a unique career that not many Muslim women have, or at least that I know of in this area. There really is a big need for a space for Muslim women to train and exercise comfortably, and I hope to provide that service for our community here in Georgia and beyond. InshaAllah my goal is to raise more awareness on taking care of our health and preventative health measures. We really need that in our community!
Your focus is empowering Muslim women through exercise - what do you think are the biggest barriers to getting fit? Why?
One of the barriers might be clothing/modesty. I wear hijab and I remember my first gym experience, I felt a little awkward walking into a gym fully covered with a hijab while other girls were dressed way differently. Also, most gyms are mixed, so guys and girls working out together. That can be uncomfortable for some people too. Many of my clients also are working full time, mothers with kids/babies, and have lots of life stuff going on besides that. Schedules can get pretty busy. My goal is to help women find ways to exercise and move past these barriers. Don’t want to go to a gym? Workout at home. Don’t have time to exercise? Even 5 minutes is better than nothing! I encourage my clients to think of exercise as something that’s part of your daily routine, and less of a chore. Prioritizing movement is important. I have found that moving past these barriers empower women to take control of their schedule and build confidence.
What's a typical day like for you?
Because of Ramadan, my schedule is a little different than usual but I am an early bird and get things done better when I am up early in the morning. I love getting my workout done and out of the way in the morning because it gives me energy for the rest of the day. After working out, I train clients either 1-on-1 at their house or gym, and then I train clients at some of my in-person group fitness class locations. When I come home, I train many online personal training clients and online group fitness class clients. Then, I spend some time on the computer, creating workout plans/programs, social media, business things, etc. My days are pretty busy most of the time like everyone else, but I do get to eat and spend time with my family too in between all that!
What has been the most surprising part of your work?
The most surprising part of my work is the hard work my clients put in and the results that they get! MashaAllah it makes me so happy to see my clients stronger and exceed their own expectations for what they thought they could do. Also, it’s so awesome to see my clients changing their habits and for many of them, exercise is now a part of their life! Seeing my clients excel really is what motivates me to keep going and keep doing what I’m doing.
And the most gratifying?
Alhumdulillah I couldn’t have been more thankful for the support I’ve been getting so far from the Muslim community. I do expect some people who might not fully agree with what I’m doing, but for the most part many people have encouraged me to keep going with my passion. Allah knows my intention and the reason why I want to keep doing what I’m doing. In the end I want to make a difference in people’s lives. Alhumdulilah it’s so good to see that more awareness is being brought up in our community for nutrition, exercise, and other health matters.
Many people fall off their regular fitness regime during Ramadan. What tips do you have for people who want to keep up their regular exercise, while fasting?
I always say- something is better than nothing (at least for most people). You do not necessarily have to go all out when working out during Ramadan either. A lot of times we underestimate the power of just walking. Walking is incredible for health! It can be done anywhere, no equipment needed, and it’s super low intensity. Try stretches, yoga, mobility exercises. You can also incorporate strength training too, especially if you’re already used to training that way. Just be mindful what time you workout. Sometimes you might have to lower the intensity for the exercises and that’s okay. Our main focus should be to become spiritually strong, but at the same time if we can focus a little bit on staying physically strong too, that would be awesome inshaAllah. With the right intention, even moving your body can be considered an act of worship!
How do you adjust your fitness routine and nutrition during Ramadan?
I understand schedules can get pretty busy or off during the month of Ramadan (as is mine), but we should try our best to do what we can and what we are able to handle. I try not to be too hard on myself if I can’t workout or skip a workout one day for whatever reason. But, I try my best to be active in some way each day, even if it’s for 5-10 minutes. Something is better than nothing!
When it comes to nutrition, I try to continue my usual eating routine but put a bigger emphasis on nutritious foods that can help me have a more energized day. Foods with protein, fat, and fiber always help me have more sustained energy. But also, I will not say no to a samosa or two that’s for sure!
What are your favorite foods to eat for suhoor (pre-dawn meal) and iftar (evening meal to break the fast)?
I usually have large meals for suhoor and iftar, since there is no lunch in between and we have a smaller eating window.
For suhoor, I usually like to make an omelet/wrap with a couple eggs, cheese, and veggies. Can’t forget hot sauce! I also like to eat oatmeal or cereal, fruit and yogurt parfait, and sometimes I will have a milkshake or protein shake.
For iftaar, fruit/dates is my go-to when breaking my fast. Fruit gives that instant glucose/energy that my body has been needing the whole day! I love having typical desi food for dinner since that’s what we eat anyway and it’s easy to make. Usually that’s some sort of salan (gravy with spices) or rice dish with meat. A big colorful salad feels so refreshing to eat with it too! And once in a while I will enjoy some fried foods too- they taste so good!
What are your dreams for your business?
I hope to grow my business in Georgia and other places around the world. My goal is to change lives and help people improve their health. I want to encourage Muslim women to not let any barriers stop them from exercising. InshaAllah I also hope to open a women’s only gym facility in Gwinnett County in the near future. Stay tuned!!
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