MMA and the Islamic Dilemma
Mixed Martial Arts is a form of combat sport in which there are minimal rules and regulations, thus allowing the competitors to use a variety of attacking and defence strategies. When evaluating whether something is permissible or prohibited in Islam, the principle lies with permissibility. Thus, in order to state that competing in MMA would be prohibited, one would have to support their claim with jurisprudential reasoning. It seems unlikely that criticisms against MMA would reach the threshold of religious prohibition.
The primary MMA organisation is the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). The UFC is currently an international organisation which promotes MMA fights around the globe. The first UFC event was held on November 12, 1993 in Denver, Colorado. Regarding the topic at hand, the current regulations are important to know. There are weight class regulations, equipment regulations, hand-wrapping regulations, and specific round length.
The referee has the authorisation to stop the contest. He usually takes advice from ringside physicians and commission members. They stop the fight for a number of reasons, including, but not limited to: unconsciousness (even split-second unconsciousness), when one of the fighters forfeit, large open wounds, inability to protect oneself, and not fighting back.
There are a number of fouls, or illegal strikes. Some of these fouls include, head butting, eye gouging, biting, groin attacks, small joint manipulation, 12-6 elbow strikes, strikes to the back of the head, strikes to the spine, strikes to the throat, and kicking the head of a downed opponent.
The question that needs to be addressed is what would make MMA impermissible religiously? Sports are highly encouraged in Islam, even combat sports. The main potential problem would be the harm and injury that is caused through such a sport. There are many traditions which mention the phrase لا ضرر و لا ضرار. This means that there is no harm and no harming [in Islam]. The phrase is seen in so many traditions that some jurists have claimed it has reached the level of being a multiple-related tradition (tawatur).
The most important thing that must be clarified is what is harm. The scholars describe this harm as substantial bodily harm. This means that it is a harm or injury which causes death, brain damage, loss of limb, or anything else which can be considered substantial. I have not found any verdicts regarding MMA in particular, but I found the following verdicts from Sayyid Sistani and Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi:
Sayyid Sistani was asked about wrestling and boxing without placing bets. His answer: “They are permissible if they do not lead to substantial bodily harm.” Wrestling and boxing are integral aspects of MMA.
He was also asked about sports which can harm the body and he answered: “If the harm is not substantial and normal [for a person playing the sport to receive] then there is no problem in it.”
Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi was asked about sports similar to boxing at a professional level. His answer was: “Basically all those games and physical exercises are permitted that are beneficial to the health and do not cause any danger provided they are not connected to the illegal acts. Because every dangerous act by which there is a danger to himself or some other person is prohibited from the Islamic point of view and the game of boxing is not without any risk. Therefore we must refrain from these games…”
UFC fighters are almost constantly injured. They suffer sprains, lacerations, and even the occasional broken bones. Bleacherreport has listed the top ten injuries in the UFC. Here are some from the list:
Honorable Mention: Yoshiro Takayama’s swollen face after an epic battle with Don Frye at Pride 21. A swollen face would not constitute substantial bodily harm.
Corey Hill broke his leg after throwing a kick which was checked by Dale Hartt. Although this happens occasionally, the most memorable was Anderson Silva’s leg, if is not common. This type of injury would fall into the freak accident category.
Marvin Eastman cut after fighting Vitor Belfort. A cut, which is definitely ugly, would not constitute substantial bodily harm. Major cuts have occurred in other bouts as well, for instance the cut that Joe Stevenson suffered through as a result of BJ Penn’s elbow in their title fight.
Mark Hominick’s hematoma which was delivered over five rounds by Jose Aldo at UFC 129. This does look dangerous and the fight probably should have been stopped beforehand.
Big Nog’s broken arm inflicted by Frank Mir. Frank Mir is known for his vicious ground game and at times he causes serious injury to his opponents. The thing is, if Big Nog tapped out earlier, his arm would not have been broken. This is an important point, the fighter does not have to get injured, when his arm has reached its threshold he is supposed to tap. When he doesn’t, bad things happen.
When one compares MMA to other combat sports, such as boxing, they will realise that MMA produces much less injury. It is bloodier because of the smaller gloves and elbow strikes, but cuts do not constitute substantial bodily harm. In boxing people die, in the ring even, in the UFC this has not happened. In boxing people become paralysed, in the UFC this has not happened. Therefore, unless one can prove that MMA poses a serious threat to one’s wellbeing, so serious that it would be termed substantial bodily harm and would be likely to occur, than it should be deemed permissible. And Allah knows best.
Written by Shaykh Hamid Waqar