Making An Exercise Space for Muslim Women


Writing is, of course, one of expressing yourself and earlier in the show, we heard about another way, dance. Well, our next story involves a very specific type of dance, Zumba, the heart pounding, hip shaking Latin inspired fitness craze has been garnering all sorts of aficionados. But in this story, we'll visit a Zumba class attended by aficionados who have something rather particular in common. They're all Muslim women. Jonna McKone headed to the newly opened Nur Center in Falls Church, Va. to learn about the expanding offerings for the hundreds of thousands of Muslims living in our region.


Walking through the doors of the Nur Center, in an industrial strip mall you'll be welcomed by Mukala Muhammed (sp?) the center's receptionist and assistant teacher. There are couches, tea and art displayed on the walls. On this particular night, there's a crowd of women and girls waiting to get sweating for the evening's Zumba class.


Hi, my name is Hadil Alyamani. I'm the Zumba instructor here at the Nur Center. It's all-women's class. Our logo is ditch the workout and join the party. You can burn up to 1,000 calories in my class, lots of fun dance movements using a lot of Latin rhythms and definitely some hip-hop.


You can find Alyamani three nights a week, twisting and turning, telling her students to lift their knees higher. She's wearing spandex and a skimpy shirt from the Zumba clothing line. Alyamani is Yemeni. She is Muslim and was born in the U.S. On a Monday evening, her class of mostly Muslim women is packed with more than 30 participants. But the Zumba doesn't officially start until the moment is right.


When it's 7:25, I definitely kick all the guys out and say, its Zumba time.


On most days, Alyamani, 21, wears a scarf or hijab to cover her hair and neck as do many of her students. But in the privacy of their own homes or in an all-women setting such this, they'll take the hijab off.


It's kind of difficult for most of us to go into a regular gym, you know, like Gold's Gym or Sport and Health, these type of places where it's mixed crowd because I've seen men in Zumba and so a Muslim wanting to go workout would find it very, very uncomfortable. Either she would probably stay way in the back, you know, where the guy can't really see her because you're in there shaking just about everything. You're having fun.


That's Toni Lindsey who regularly comes to the Nur Center Zumba classes along with her daughter, Miriam Lindsey, 11. For Miriam, this class is a chance to connect with other Muslims.


Well, I go to a public school so I'm not really around, like, a lot of Muslims. So when I come to the Nur Center, I'm surrounded by, like, Muslims and stuff. It makes me feel comfortable.


And that, says Ahmad El-Khatib, is the whole point of the Nur Center, which opened at the end of 2010.


The next generation of American-Muslims, I think, were deeply rooted now in a kind of building our identity through programs like what we're doing here. You can come in for a workout, you can come in for a documentary, a book signing, poetry.


El-Khatib, 27, is the director and cofounder of the Nur Center. Nur translates to light in Arabic. He teaches here along with his mother and sister and says he wants to draw more groups including non-Muslims to the center's programming.


We're a very diverse place, in terms of ethnicity. I'd say, you know, the majority of our students are Muslims, but we do have about 20 percent of our students who are from other faiths and that is a growing number.


The Nur Center isn't the only organization offering exercise classes to the local Muslim community. Yasmin Shafiq is on the board of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, or ADAMS Center, a place of worship and a nonprofit that offers everything from computer training to Boy and Girl Scout programs.


There's a lot of cultural growth in the Muslim community, especially over the past I would say 10 to 20 years, simply because of the maturing of the Muslim community and the sheer growth in numbers from say, like, the immigrant Muslim population coming in. I don't think it's necessarily track-able even, but you certainly see a lot more activity than you did 20 years ago.


As for Hadil Alyamani, the Zumba instructor at the Nur Center, she studies business at George Mason University and also works at the clothing store, Bebe. She is something of a trailblazer and likes it that way.


I was definitely, I think, the only Arab-Muslim-American at the Zumba Convention there. I didn't see anyone else or I didn't meet anyone else that was Arab.


She says some of the younger girls in her class ask her for fashion advice. How to dress modestly, but still look like their friends. Alyamani maintains that at the end of the day, there is just not a huge difference.


I think a lot of people think we're oppressed and we're not able to do what we want or wear the things we want, but they need to understand that we are only dressing modestly to not have unwanted attention towards us. We're wearing what you're wearing. We have jeans on, we have a blazer on and everything. We just have it in a different style than you.


Alyamani says the hijab connects people to her religion, but is also a personal expression of identity. It's more than just a piece of cloth and it's not the only thing people should see when they look at her. One of Alyamani's dreams is to open Zumba fitness centers along with clothing stores. There couldn't be anything more American than that. I'm Jonna McKone.


You can learn more about the Nur and ADAMS Centers on our website,
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