As the dust settles on the retirement of the most dominant athlete to ever set foot into the mixed martial arts arena, we look back at the career of the impregnable Khabib Nurmagomedov and analyse the key ingredients to his success.
Before jumping into these qualities, it is important to state that this is by no means an endorsement of the sport. Rather, it is an analysis into how Khabib Nurmagomedov transcended the sport.
Khabib is admired by many across the globe and holds a special place in the hearts of Muslims – a community that is constantly marginalised. Such a toxic environment can discourage the conveyance of a confident Islamic identity, yet Khabib Nurmagomedov does exactly that.
The inferiority and subservience Muslims are led to feel is contrasted with the superiority and sheer dominance of Khabib in the brutal battleground of the Octagon arena. His aura of invincibility is solidified by his very public and unwavering faith, which is what draws endearment from the Muslim community – a love that extends beyond sporting admiration.
Let us now take some time to analyse the athlete’s key qualities. Qualities that are not unique to the individual, rather qualities taken from the Qur’ān and Sunnah. Anyone wishing to draw real inspiration from Khabib’s career should understand the measure of success extends beyond this dunyā. It is however, through the application of divine commands and prophetic teachings, that one can enjoy fruits in this life, and most importantly, the next.
“First of all I want to say Alhamdullilāh, God give me everything.” Boos ensued the packed arena as Khabib continued in an increasingly determined manner, raising his voice to proclaim, “Alhamdullilāh, I know you guys don’t like this.”
These were the scenes from the final media appearance before Khabib fought Conor McGregor, broadcast to millions across the globe, where Khabib showed the world what his religion meant to him.
In another notable incident in the build-up to this bigotry-fuelled bout, Khabib berated a reporter for greeting him with the sālam whilst congratulating McGregor on his whisky brand. Khabib abruptly interrupted the interviewer with some strong words: “Hey, you cannot say assālamu ‘alaikum and congratulate about whisky.”
This bout turned Khabib into a global icon. Not only did he dismantle his disgraced opponent physically, but he did so whilst defending his unwavering love of his religion.
Khabib’s global media appearances frequently assert the dhikr of Allāh (subhānahu wa ta’ālā). Khabib is known for regularly praising Allāh through taḥmīd (Alḥamdullilāh), so much so that famous sporting personalities such as Cristiano Ronaldo, knowingly or unknowingly, convey the dhikr of Allāh to millions of followers on social media platforms. This action may appear trivial in nature, but is powerful in reach. Ronaldo is a global icon and holds the record as the most followed personality on Instagram, so there is no knowing who the comment could touch and propel into action.
Reliance and certainty in Allāh (subhānahu wa ta’ālā)
Khabib may be known for making his opponents submit on the global stage, but it is his submission in sujūd that resonates in the hearts. Khabib is consistent in his expressive servitude and conviction in his Creator and frequently affirms the might of Allāh (subhānahu wa ta’ālā): “When Allāh [is] with you, nobody can beat you. Nobody. You have to believe this.” 
The physical act of sujūd is a noteworthy symbol of humility and servantship and is the parallel opposite to the notion of pride and arrogance in triumph.
Defending our Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam), Our Honour
A dream of Khabib and his late father (rahimahu Allāh) was to retire undefeated as the number one pound-for-pound athlete in the sport. This title was earned by Khabib following victory over his latest opponent, and Khabib took to Instagram to celebrate this achievement.
Not a single hour passed from the athlete enjoying in the worldly success to strongly addressing provocation directed at our beloved Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam). Khabib would later post (translated from Russian):
“Whoever hates the Prophet Muhammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) and tries to defame him and belittle his dignity will certainly be at a loss. His deeds will be in vain, and the good memory of him will forever leave the hearts of people. As for the Prophet Muhammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam), he managed to achieve genuine perfection that no one else from God’s creation could achieve. The evidence of this is the good memory of him and the large number of his supporters and followers.”
The French authorities’ demonising onslaught against Muslims intensified in the subsequent days, but so did Khabib’s response in retaliation. The relentless pressure Khabib uses to dominate opponents in the Octagon was channelled via his social media with back-to-back warnings to the shameful perpetrators.
Firstly, a picture of a shoe print over the face of the French President Emmanuel Macron was shared with the following caption:
“May the Almighty disfigure the face of this creature and all its followers, who, under the slogan of freedom of speech, offend the feelings of more than one and a half billion Muslim believers. May the Almighty humiliate them in this life and in the next. Allāh is quick in calculation and you will see it.”
“We are Muslims, we love our Prophet Muhammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) more than our mothers, fathers, children, wives, and all other people close to our hearts. Believe me, these provocations will come back to them. The end is always for the God-fearing.”
Holy Qur’ān 33:57
إِنَّ الَّذِينَ يُؤْذُونَ اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ لَعَنَهُمُ اللَّهُ فِي الدُّنْيَا وَالْآخِرَةِ وَأَعَدَّ لَهُمْ عَذَابًا مُّهِينًا
“Surely those who offend Allāh and His Messenger are condemned by Allāh in this world and the Hereafter. And He has prepared for them a humiliating punishment.” 
Only a few hours lapsed until the next warning from Khabib:
“Today, under the pretext of fighting for freedom of speech, enemies of Islam and Muslims of various levels are trying to offend the feelings of hundreds of millions of believers around the world by drawing caricatures of the best of people. Do they think that in this way they will be able to extinguish the light of Allāh, the spread of which He promised to bring to an end in His beautiful book? Do they think that their low and vile actions will be able to harm someone who came to this Earth with only one purpose: to lead people out of the darkness of ignorance and worship of idols to the light of truth and worship of Allāh alone, the Creator and true Lord of all things? By this act, they not only offended the feelings of Muslim believers, but also defied the Lord of the worlds, who promised to protect His messenger from the attacks of ignorant people. Well, they did what they did and their work is with Allāh, and we will only say that truly you cannot harm Muhammad and the bright memory of him in the hearts of one and a half billion people.”
“May Allāh bless our beloved Prophet as well as his family, companions, and all those who followed them in the good. And may Allāh bring down His punishment on anyone who attempts to dishonour the best of people, Prophet Muhammad. Indeed, Allāh does not break promises.” 
Khabib demonstrates the need to defend our religion and honour of our beloved Messenger (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) in whatever capacity we can. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) advised us to act when encountering evil:
“Whoever among you sees an evil action, let him change it with his hand [by taking action]; if he cannot, then with his tongue [by speaking out]; and if he cannot, then with his heart [by hating it and feeling that it is wrong] – and that is the weakest of faith.”
Focus on the afterlife
In an interview two weeks before his retirement, Khabib expressed his desire to eventually walk away from the sport. He wished to spend more time with his family, friends, and village community.
Despite his illustrious career, Khabib spoke most passionately about his goals beyond the worldly life: “For life, I don’t need too much. Even if you [are a] billionaire, you never eat more than one bread in one day….I want to do whatever I need when I die, because I really believe [in] the next life…you have to do something that [is] important for you in [the] next life.” 
Khabib went on to describe the legendary tarbiyah (Islāmic nurturing) of his father: “My father always talked about this with me. He always tried to do something good for people around him…he always did something and always said ‘I hope this is going to help me for [the] next life.’” 7
Overwhelming love and obedience to parents
Khabib Nurmagomedov’s deep affection for his parents is one of his universally loved traits. The following could have warranted a separate article – such is its weight.
Inseparable role model
Khabib’s father, the renowned Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, was more than a parent. In a heartfelt tribute following the passing of his father, Khabib said: “You will be missed, father. You were a father, friend, brother, and coach all rolled into one. You taught me almost everything I know. I hope you were pleased with me. After all, the contentment of the parents is the contentment of Allāh.” 
An overwhelming outpouring of condolences across the globe followed Abdulmanap’s death. The loss was felt by many, not only because Abdulmanap was a coaching legend who changed the face of the sport, but because of the intimate relationship held between father and son – a closeness many wish they had with their own parents or children.
Khabib’s tribute was accompanied by verses 23 and 24 in Sūrah Al-Isrāʼ, where Allāh (subhānahu wa ta’ālā) commands us to respect parents and reveals a powerful du’ā to invoke His Infinite Mercy:
وَقَضَى رَبُّكَ أَلاَّ تَعْبُدُواْ إِلاَّ إِيَّاهُ وَبِالْوَالِدَيْنِ إِحْسَانًا إِمَّا يَبْلُغَنَّ عِندَكَ الْكِبَرَ أَحَدُهُمَا أَوْ كِلاَهُمَا فَلاَ تَقُل لَّهُمَآ أُفٍّ وَلاَ تَنْهَرْهُمَا وَقُل لَّهُمَا قَوْلاً كَرِيمًا
“Your Lord has commanded that you should worship none but Him, and that you be kind to your parents. If either or both of them reach old age with you, say no word that shows impatience with them, and do not be harsh with them, but speak to them respectfully.” 
وَاخْفِضْ لَهُمَا جَنَاحَ الذُّلِّ مِنَ الرَّحْمَةِ وَقُل رَّبِّ ارْحَمْهُمَا كَمَا رَبَّيَانِي صَغِيرًا
“And lower your wing in humility towards them in kindness and say, ‘Lord, have mercy on them, just as they cared for me when I was little.” 
Khabib took every opportunity to remind the world about the position of respect a parent holds over their child and the consequent responsibilities.
When his father was unwell, Khabib prompted us to “pay attention not only to your family, but also to your parents, because parents are the keys to Paradise. Appreciate parents, because those who no longer have them would give everything they have, just to sit with them for five minutes over a cup of tea.” 
This command of dutifulness was ever-present in Khabib’s post-fight interviews. In his penultimate contest, Khabib advised young fans to “respect your parents, be very close to your parents. This is very important. Parents are everything. That’s it, and everything in your life is going to be good.” 
Addressing the sense of strength and independence felt by many in their adolescent years, Khabib continued his advice:
“When you’re 15/16/17 years old, you think you know everything, you feel a little bit of power and forget about when you were two years old…sometimes you don’t respect you parents. You have to remember everything – when you grew up, how they support you, how they give you life – this is very important. Be close to you parents and that’s it.” 12
Khabib’s retirement contest saw him give the following advice to his opponent after victory: “Be close with your parents … because you never know what’s going to happen tomorrow.”
His deep understanding of a parent-child relationship is perhaps best understood by the surreal nature of his final victory. Whilst primed for an end to the contest, Khabib feared his opponent would rather risk breaking his arm than submitting. With the opponent’s parents in attendance, Khabib decided to change course of victory in less brutal fashion.
Khabib’s long-time friend Daniel Cormier attested: “He goes ‘I didn’t wanna hurt him in front of his parents so I said if I put him in the triangle and if he goes to sleep, he’ll go to sleep, get up and be fine.’” 
Not only did Khabib have the clarity of thought to alter his plans with the world’s attention on his shoulders, he also had the compassion to switch submissions in respect of parental discomfort. No parent would like to see their child hurt.
Respect and obedience
Respect and obedience are values that a child owes to their parents – values that Khabib took great pride in upholding. The pleasure he gained from serving his parents could not be attained by any other means.
Such qualities are perhaps best exemplified by the dinner invitation extended by Khabib’s father’s to Khabib’s former shamed opponent, Conor McGregor. Abdulmanap publicly invited McGregor to their home as a guest. When a reporter asked whether the history of degrading insults levelled by the former opponent at the family would be considered, Abdulmanap replied: “Our religion shows grace not only in words, but also deeds. If he comes, you will see that. He will be our dear guest.”  When asked if Khabib would respond in a similar manner, Abdulmanap replied: “Whenever I make a statement, he [Khabib] never stands against that. That is the rule of the game in our republic for centuries.” 15
This exemplary obedience is not solely restricted to Khabib’s father. Khabib’s mother also plays a crucial role in his life. She is, after all, the reason why Khabib ultimately pulled the curtains on his undisputed career.
The decision to retire was not one Khabib took lightly. He revealed how he sought counsel from his mother and gave his word to retire after three days of consultation. He explained in his post-fight conference: “It was the first time, after what happened with my father. When the UFC called me about [fighting] Justin, I talked with my mother [for] three days. She didn’t want me to fight without [my] father, but I promised her it was going to be my last fight, and if I give my word, I have to follow this. It was my last fight here.” 
This is an example of a man at the pinnacle of physical fitness and earning potential overcome by his mother’s loving plea.
Khabib’s attitude towards wealth embodied the well-grounded tarbiyah he received from his parents. After a request to auction his opponent’s shirt for charity following another convincing victory, Khabib said: “If you have money go in your hand, this is very good. If money go in your mind, this is very bad.”  The auction raised $100,000 for the opponent’s charity.
Khabib’s long-standing coach, Javier Mendez, revealed how Khabib’s maturity and leadership traits were beginning to flourish as additional responsibilities laid firmly on his shoulders. He explained how Khabib had opened free gyms around the world for underprivileged kids to train, ultimately fulfilling his father’s noble vision of “uniting all countries around the world with physical fitness.” 
His passion for helping others was cultivated from a young age. Whilst embarking on a mission to repair water supplies, restore medical clinics, and construct mosques in Africa, Khabib disclosed that one of his childhood dreams was to visit the continent: “I asked Allāh to give me the opportunity so that I could help…you don’t have to be a billionaire to help. If you have two rubles, you can already help, you can give one ruble…People think, ‘I don’t have the opportunity to help someone’ No! The opportunity is always there.“ 
Revealing the ultimate purpose for his mission, Khabib went on to say: “Some things, when you do with a sincere intention, are to receive the contentment of Allāh, and not the contentment of people, and then Allāh helps you in everything.” 20
This mindset is one that Allāh (subhānahu wa ta’ālā) praises in Sūrah Insān where He describes His righteous servants as those who seek no worldly praise for charitable acts:
إِنَّمَا نُطْعِمُكُمْ لِوَجْهِ اللَّهِ لَا نُرِيدُ مِنكُمْ جَزَاء وَلَا شُكُورًا
“We feed you for the sake of God alone; we seek neither recompense nor thanks from you.”
Resilience and mental resolve
Despite his unrivalled physical prowess, Khabib’s unshakable mental toughness is arguably regarded as his strongest quality.
Injuries plagued the build-up to what was dubbed as Khabib’s most dangerous opponent. Khabib was hospitalised and sidelined from training for several weeks. His coach, Javier Mendez, revealed how Khabib was overtaken with mumps and a subsequent broken toe. Worried about his athlete’s physical fitness, Mendez asked Khabib about the possibilities of cancelling the contest, to which Khabib replied: “My toe is broken but my mind is not.” 
Khabib’s opponents have often engaged in woeful insults to promote their events, draw bigger crowds, and ultimately secure bigger pay cheques. The build-up to Khabib’s contest with the pompous Conor McGregor emphatically displayed this embarrassing side of the sport.
Whilst his humiliated opponent vilely insulted Khabib’s religion, family, ethnicity, and language, Khabib remained firm with patience, humility, and dignity, leaving his talking inside the Octagon.
Such characteristics were praised by Allāh (subhānahu wa ta’ālā) in Sūrah al-Furqān where He describes His faithful servants as those who do not fall victim to petty disputes:
وَعِبَادُ الرَّحْمَنِ الَّذِينَ يَمْشُونَ عَلَى الْأَرْضِ هَوْنًا وَإِذَا خَاطَبَهُمُ الْجَاهِلُونَ قَالُوا سَلَامًا
“The servants of the Lord of Mercy are those who walk humbly on the earth, and who, when the foolish address them, reply, ‘Peace’.”
Khabib despised the nature of media attention and stressed the importance of humility and respect in his subsequent contests. In his penultimate bout, Khabib passionately explained: “[In] MMA, [the] number one thing is respect. When you come to the gym, the first thing your coach will teach you: you have to respect the gym, you have to respect teammates, coaches, you have to clean your gym. Everything is about respect. MMA is not about trash talking.” 
Hospitality has been embedded into Islām through the practices of our beloved Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam), who advised the believers to honour their guests.
Khabib is known to welcome friends to his region with open arms. When news of MMA superstar Georges St-Pierre’s arrival in Russia became known to Khabib, he not only advised George where to stay to get away from media attention, he also paid for the room on the condition that no alcohol was consumed.
When Khabib was seven years old, his father and three uncles consolidated their sons into one household. In all, 16 boys lived in one three-storey house in Dagestan’s capital city of Makhachkala to train together.
Brotherhood developed naturally and was an integral part of Khabib’s upbringing. He is widely known for his loyalty, often accompanied in large groups of brothers from his region – an admirable quality, despite his fame.
What is most pleasing, however, is seeing Khabib lead his brothers in prayer. In his most recent training camp, Khabib was seen leading a group of 22 men in the gymnasium training complex.
This reminds us about the significance of good companionship. Our Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) likened a good friend to a musk seller; you either buy the musk or enjoy its smell. The only outcome is benefit. The seller bestows something on you, and you either purchase the item or take pleasure from the sweet smell.
Leadership is often developed through adversity. The responsibility of being head of the household passed down quicker than anticipated following the death of Khabib’s father in July.
Khabib has admirably taken on this responsibility, ensuring his father’s legacy continues. As noted earlier, his father always sought to help people with the hope of reward from Allāh (subhānahu wa ta’ālā) in the ākhirah.
Just three weeks after his father’s passing, Khabib met with regional officials in his native Dagestan to discuss his father’s numerous sporting projects. He told officials: “I would like to thank you for your respectful and trusting attitude towards my father. He had a lot of plans. I consider it my duty to see them through to the end.” 
Critical success factor
In total, 11 qualities have been noted in this article, and one may reasonably attempt to further narrow this into overriding critical success factors.
Khabib did this very introspection following his 28th professional victory. After praising Allāh (subhānahu wa ta’ālā), he humbly asked: “Alhamdullilāh. Alhamdullilāh. I don’t know why I have so much in my life?” 24 The question was later answered after his 29th victory. He detailed his hope in Allāh, patience, hard work, and his father’s guidance as the ingredients to his success.
The bond between father and child was demonstratively inseparable in the life of Khabib. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) described the supplication of a father for his child as a supplication that is undoubtably answered. 
Religion and parents played an unquestionable role in Khabib’s life, and it is perhaps this combination that unlocked his extraordinary achievements. We now see the public reciprocation of supplication as Khabib exerts his efforts for his father’s afterlife. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said: “When a man dies, all his deeds come to an end except for three: an ongoing charity, beneficial knowledge, or a righteous son who will pray for him.” 
It is warming to hear Khabib spread the knowledge of his father in interviews, continue philanthropic projects, and offer heartfelt supplications for his father. Khabib beseeched Allāh (subhānahu wa ta’ālā) for the highest level of Paradise for his father whilst dedicating his career to his life coach.
Desiring the light requires following a shining example. Allāh (subhānahu wa ta’ālā) reserved perfection for one man, and one man only, the seal of the Prophets, Muḥammad (sallAllāhu ʿalayhi wasallam). It is through adherence to Allāh and the Messenger (sallAllāhu ʿalayhi wasallam) where we find ultimate success.
Khabib Nurmagomedov, like all of us, has universal shortcomings. He has however implemented some of the divine teachings and consequently enjoyed its fruits. Such teachings originate in exclusivity but are unrestrictive in nature. We should all endeavour to adopt as many great practices as possible, for Allāh’s blessings has no bounds.
I reiterate the above is not to praise Khabib for being Khabib. He is by no means a perfect human being, but he appears to be trying to emulate the perfect human being (sallAllāhu ʿalayhi wasallam). The Prophet’s Sunnah is open for anyone to emulate and lead them to success in this life and the next. Khabib, despite his shortcomings, has followed some of these elements of the Qur’ān and the Sunnah, which has won him good character and success. If he can do it, so can you.
We ask Allāh to give us tawfīq to draw nearness to the religion and allow is to emulate the great characteristics of our beloved Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam). Āmīn.
 Saḥīḥ Muslim, 49
 Sūrah Al-Isrāʼ 17:23
 Sūrah Al-Isrāʼ 17:24
 Sūrah Insān 76:9
 Sūrah al-Furqān 25:63
 Saḥīḥ al-Bukhari, 5560; Saḥīḥ Muslim, 69
 Saḥīḥ al-Bukhari
 Silsilat al-Ahādīth al-Sahīhah (596)
 Saḥīḥ Muslim, 1631