Every faith has a defining characteristic, the prophet Muhammad is believed to have said. For Islam, it’s modesty.

That idea guides many Muslims in metro Detroit, who believe that separating men and women in certain situations is a requirement of their faith. Working out in public gyms is one of those times, they say.

“We try to avoid as much as possible placing ourselves in situations where we can be seen in immodest ways in front of the other gender,” said Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Ammerah Saidi, 23, of Dearborn spoke of her concern in a letter sent to Fitness USA this week, asking the company to reinstate women-only days at its Lincoln Park gym.

Earlier this month, the facility allowed men to attend a new part of the gym on women-only days, allowing men and women in all sections of the gym to see each other.

“Men and women in Islam cannot work out together in the same facility since this would be within the confines of modesty,” Saidi wrote. “We are … also not allowed to move in compromising ways, which would be the case if working out in front of men.”

Saidi and Walid point out that Christianity and Judaism also urge modesty.

In some Orthodox Jewish communities, the sexes are separated in schools, synagogues and during weddings, said Allan Gale, associate director of the Jewish Community Council of Metropolitan Detroit. The gym facilities at the Jewish Community Center in Oak Park, he noted, have special hours for women.

Ibrahim Hooper, an official with the national office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Islamic rules of modesty also apply to men.

“Many Muslim men avoid going to these kinds of workout facilities because of the attire worn by other people,” he said.


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