Zainab Ismail (Nadoona) Interview

 I am a Puerto Rican convert, born and raised in New York City.  I was a Fitness Trainer/Speaker long before I became Muslim.

Who are you?

I am a Puerto Rican convert, born and raised in New York City.  I was a Fitness Trainer/Speaker long before I became Muslim. I have spoken all over the world talking about and teaching fitness.  Honestly, Allah has led me to do what I was doing before and gave me the ability to continue doing what I was doing after I accepted Islam.  I should be in sujood until my last breath, because my life has been nothing but a blessing.  I feel as a new Muslim, I have a greater impact, not only am I teaching fitness, but I am doing Dawah.  My diverse background benefits Muslims.

1. What made you interested in working out?
I have been an athlete since I was a child; I have been classically trained as a dancer since I was seven: I was a High School and College cheerleader; I was bicycling at 17 and 18; I was doing gymnastics Post-College; and I was even asked to audition as a professional choreographer for Madonna for her “Vogue” show, but they decided to use all men and so I didn’t actually get the part.  I have never been in professional competition, it has always been me vs. me- I am always trying to break my own record.

2.Who was your hero growing up? 
My father.  My father was in local politics in New York.  Local politics is very different than politics elsewhere in other states.  We have boroughs here in New York.  My father was the Assistant Borough President. He was pretty high up on the chain.  Because of him, I am an activist.  I am what you call a Super Lefty Liberal Democrat.  My father taught me to help those who can’t help themselves.  Because of social media and my large following, I try not to get too political or do too much favoritism.
My parents divorced when I was young, I have had no help since I was 17.  When I turned 18, I was by myself and went into survival mode.  I was fortunate that I was done with High School by the time I was 16 and did my undergrad by the time I was 20.
After my undergrad, I decided I wanted to be a lawyer but it was too expensive and too long.  So I decided to go into accounting because I was thinking about surviving, making about 40-50k out the door.  But I hated it.  I was a people’s person and while I was good at accounting, I could not see myself stuck in a desk myself, detached from others.   That was when I looked into fitness and health.

3. What is your ultimate goal? 
I want to help as many people as I can by being the reminder to take care of their bodies.

4. What are your accomplishments? 
Being the Super Lefty Liberal Democrat Feminist that I am, I am constantly smashing glass ceilings.  There are no women high up in the field of movement and fitness.  In 2000 and 2001, I was one in four chosen in the country as a Facilitator for the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM).  This is a top certification. I traveled the country as a Facilitator.  That is when a company hired me to Facilitate in Hong Kong and Malaysia in 2002.  I was the first American Woman in the Olympic Athlete facility in Malaysia and in the Kuala Lumpur University, I looked very young and not the typical American they were used to seeing- blonde hair with blue eyes.  The professors had me prove myself worthy of teaching.  At the time, I had no idea Malaysians were Muslims. I just assumed they were Asian like other Asians I knew about.  This played a part in my conversion to Islam as it stuck in the back of my mind; I remember that it was Ramadan when I went to Malaysia; I had no idea it was Ramadan nor did I know what Ramadan was at the time.
As a woman, I have stood in front of and monitored hundreds of female and male personal trainers.  I was blessed to have something like this fall into my lap.  As for the hijab, it is not and should not be a barrier from hopes and women with hijab should be able to achieve anything.   Am in a position to do whatever I want to do.

5.what is your greatest challenge? 
Because I have no female role model, not in my field and not in the Islamic teachings, everything I learn there has a different twist that applies to me because I am a woman.  I am in a field that is male dominated and I have learned to adapt to whatever circumstances I am put in.  I studied with the pioneers or top scholars in my field I would compare them to Hamza Yusuf and Imam Zaid such is why I understand the importance to study with a teacher and have high regard for our scholars.   Yet, I am a woman, and I have no real female role models.  This has been a challenge.   My whole life has been a journey.  The nature of the Ummah in the West is that there are so many different ways to practice our religion.  Sometimes this can cause conflict but as long as I am focused and honest, things work out.

6. How long have you been seriously training for this sport?
I have been seriously training since I was 18.

7.  How long do you anticipate doing this? 
I want to do this until my age doesn’t allow me to do it anymore.  Allahu Alim.  I am now on a Dawah path Allah has put me on.  I also think that my path is a spiritual one.  I feel my path is to teach others about the Deen.  I won’t stop until Allah deems me to stop doing what I do- to stop helping others.

8. How much time do you spend training (daily, weekly)?  Do you ever train while you are working?
I work out 4-6 times a week, 1-2 hours a day.  And in warmer weather, I do more.  For instance, I may add a 30 mile bike ride plus my regular work out on a nice day.  It really varies.  No, I do not train while working.  You see most of my clientele is over the age of 60.  I am a Movement Therapist for them, which is a Physical Therapist plus a Personal Trainer.  I help those with mostly sedentary lives or those who are unable to move because of age.  My job is to help my clients have the highest quality of life to reach their ideal physical state.  But you have to remember that everything is based on individuality.  Everyone has a different threshold and it requires different things to make individuals move efficiently.   Class is not individualized.  It is with one on one training people see results.

9. Do you consider yourself to be someone who is a good ambassador for working out? 
(laughs)  I would like to think so.  Like I say, “You have to walk the walk if you are going to talk the talk.”  So I hope people see that I am trying to teach others to be healthy while also living what I teach.  I do not teach, suggest, profess or emphasize anything I do not do myself.

10. How do you stay grounded in your work and/or spiritually grounded? 
Good question!  I try to disconnect when I can.  I am so busy.  I have to remember that my external reality is not my internal reality.  I take classes at the Mecca Center in NYC (; I often speak to my teachers for guidance.  Sometimes, I read Al-Ghazali or Imam Haddad for the purification of the heart and the Nafs. I am constantly bombarded with correspondence on social media like Facebook, Nadoona website, training videos, and other social media outlets.  I struggle to find time to purify my heart and become a better Muslim and stay grounded.
My routine is to listen to lessons from Shiekh Hamza Yusuf. Do Dhikr, read the Quran, listen to talks from scholars like Habib Umar and Habib Ali whenever I can, sometimes in the car.  I cannot wait to go to the RIS retreat and hope to visit California soon for the Mawlid and one day, I would love to see the House of Allah.  That is my ultimate dream.

11. How do you bring about real change?
As I said before, I have to walk the walk in order to talk the talk.  If I am not in unison with what I teach, how can I be a good teacher?  I change by being the change that I propose.  By living the prophet’s Sunnah.  For instance, with my parents, they were suddenly elevated in my eyes because of the Sunnah- my mother three times higher than any other being and no “uff” from me to my father.  And they see it a living example.  And they love it.

12. What do you hope to be remembered for? 
Bismillah Inshallah khair.  My commitment is to help humanity and the creation of Allah; by teaching others to break the desire to overeat; to implement the Sunnah of 1/3 air, 1/3 water, and 1/3 food; to slow down on what we eat and how much.  We need to end the abundance of all diseases which is caused by overeating.    We have to remember that this is a part of worship.  You cannot have one without the other- the inward without the outward or the outward without the inward.


Video about Zainab’s Conversion:

Learn More About Zainab:
Twitter: @nadoonatweet

Bio for Zainab: 

Vice President of Nadoon
New York

Owner of Fitness Essentials LLC in New York and Trainer of the Fit for Allah sister’s exercise class. Zainab is a movement therapist, nutritionist, personal trainer, and nutritional coach. Zainab’s 20 years of experience in the health and fitness industry is nothing short impressive! We like the call her a scholar of the health and fitness world.
National level fitness competitor 1993-1997
East Coast Alliance Ace prep. 1994
ACE, CPT 1994
Apex Fitness/Nutrition coach/owner 1995-Present
Old NASM CPT, PES 1997/1999
New NASM CPT, PES (charter NASM class) 2000
NASM CPT Facilitator/instructor (East Coast) 2001-2003
Free Motion Master Trainer 2001-2003
Free Motion Fitness International Presenter (Hong Kong/Malaysia)
PT on The Net Master Trainer 2001-2003
Education Consultant Sports Club LA/Reebok Sports Club NY 2002-2008
Interned with Lenny Paracino (Gary Gray faculty) 2005-2010
Gray Institute Fellow of Applied Functional science 2009


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