Professional Muslim fitness competitor and mom of four, Mujgan Khan, sits down with Clarion Project’s Shireen Qudosi for a heart-to-heart on family, fitness and faith.
Clarion Project: You’re a professional fitness competitor, who I might add, hosted an entire Thanksgiving dinner for a household of 30 people and didn’t even have a bite. Instead, you ate boiled fish because you had a competition coming up. That’s dedication. Where did you compete?
Mujgan Khan: I competed for the National Physique Committee (NPC) muscle contest. NPC is the premier amateur physique organization in the world. I won first place a couple of times and third place once in one of their bigger contests called Excalibur.
The shows I did were in Southern California, in Orange County and San Diego. I was nationally qualified, but never did a national show because the national show lands in the summer in Vegas and I could not bring myself to train and focus on myself during the summer when the kids are out of school. I didn’t want to mess with their summer, but the national show is where I would have gotten a pro card if I won.
Clarion Project: Was fitness always a part of your life growing up?
Mujgan Khan: Fitness was not something new to me. I have been always working out and trying to eat well. Even in college, I used to utilize the gym at the University of California, Riverside, in between my classes. But, I never really looked into bodybuilding.
Clarion Project: How did you get into bodybuilding?
Mujgan Khan: I trained with a good friend of mine at 24-Hour Fitness and even attended her first body building competition, but I never thought this would be something I would do. However, this all changed a few years later when I joined UFC gym. I worked out harder than normal for many reasons. One reason was I just had my third baby, and I wanted to be in the best shape ever. Another was me thinking, “This isn’t new to me. I should be able to transform my body into the next level.”
As I trained at UFC gym, I noticed another woman. She was like me. She lifted heavy weights,
she was there consistently, and she was a mom. I saw myself in her. But then I saw her body, week to week, change. I wondered to myself what is she doing differently? Long story short, I approached her, and she told me she was training for her first bodybuilding competition. She also told me she has noticed me in the gym as well, and thought I was also a bodybuilder or did some sort of competition. This was such a compliment to me. My figure was good enough to pass as a bodybuilder? Nonetheless this girl, Tamara, and I became super close. I saw her succeed in her first show, and I got the urge to do one.
Clarion Project: How did you decision to compete go over with your Muslim husband?
Mujgan Khan: It was a little battle to convince my husband, who is much more conservative than myself. But I believe he saw my desire to do this and he gave me the OK and support. I trained hard at the gym, I dieted even harder. He was with me from Step 1.
Then it came to posing. We were at the gym and I must practice my posing with my team. Posing was another deal for my husband. It required me to get in a bikini in front of everyone. He came to support me, and it was the cutest thing. You could see him fidget, squirm and loudly joke to disguise the fact that he was so uncomfortable. He even offered to pay for the gym windows to be tinted so people couldn’t peep through as I practiced.
When it came to show day, he seemed more excited than me. He seemed to be proud of what I had accomplished even before I stepped on stage. I was a nervous wreck on that stage. I felt everything shake and jitter. Have you ever been so nervous that your lips tremble uncontrollably? That was me on that stage. But the high was surreal. That feeling of “Wow, I did this and I am on stage with these beautiful women.” It was an amazing feeling. From the crowd, I heard my husband’s voice the loudest. He gave me the strength to stand there, smile big and try and act like I wasn’t scared at all.
The judges moved us around, I looked down at my feet and noticed I was standing on “The Star.” The star I noticed was just under my feet, none of the other girls. I silently prayed, “Keep me here please.” At the time I didn’t know the star meant first place, but I knew I wanted stay in this spot, and I did not want to move from this star. We ended the show with me on that star, with me getting first place. First place on my very first bodybuilding competition! A high I can’t explain. You just have to feel it.
Later, I found out how hard it is for people to come in first. Others have been competing for years, yet never got that first-place trophy. And here I was. This was the start.
Clarion Project: As Muslim women, our families include our extended families, and often everyone has a say. How did the rest of the family take the news of you being a competitive bodybuilder?
Mujgan Khan: My husband was supportive, no matter the battle he had going on in his head. His mother asked him if I had to wear a bikini. He said, “Yes mom, or else the judges can not judge her muscles, symmetry, body.”
Luckily my mother-in-law isn’t one to interfere much and said ok. She may not agree with it, but she didn’t say much to oppose it. My husband never got very comfortable with it but always was there supportive and understood the art of bodybuilding isn’t really to be there showing off your body, but your muscles and your symmetry. The stage and show was all very professional. He admired the hard work and dedication that went into it. I didn’t know that he took it so well until my cousin asked him one day after I had done a few shows, “Being Pakistani and coming from such a conservative background, I am surprised my cousin is bodybuilding. How do you let her bodybuild?”
His answer made me proud to have him as my husband. He said, “This was something she wanted to try and I wasn’t going to come in between that. But when she tried it, she was so good at it. How can I stop something she is so good at?”
Clarion Project: How do you respond to people who say you can’t be a Muslim woman and show off or expose your body by wearing bikinis or entering contests based on your appearance?
Mujgan Khan: I would say you can’t be Muslim and judge who can be one and who cannot.