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Interfaith Dialogue ( 11 Apr 2012, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Is Yoga Un-Islamic?

By Aiman Reyaz, New Age Islam

11 April 2012

One thing that has been bugging orthodox Muslims lately is the adoption of yoga by liberal Muslims in their daily routine. Slowly and surely yoga has entered our houses and many of us are benefitting from it. Yet there is a large chunk of the Muslim community that considers yoga to be heretical and meant “only for the Hindus”.

I am 21 and I have been practicing yoga for the last 4-5 years. I derive numerous benefits from it: my concentration has improved, I seldom get stressed, my BMI i.e., Body Mass Index is 21.7, and most importantly, I am at peace with myself. There are also many other minor benefits like: I have improved my eyesight with Sirsasana and Sarvangasana, I have a cast iron stomach because of Paschimottanasana, for lungs I do kapalabhati and other breathing exercises. In fact I enjoy doing yogic exercise so much that I force my mother to do it and ask my elder brother to do the same.

One day recently a close relative was shocked to see me do yoga. I offer my 5-time Salah (prayer) and he thought that one who offers Salah should not do yoga because it has its origin in Hinduism. I did not argue with him and since that day I do not do yogic exercises in front of him. Another relative said: “yoga kuch bhi nhi hai, jo namaz hai usi ka copy hai” (yoga is nothing but a copy of namaz). This time I was shocked to listen. Again, I did not argue with him.

Let me first outline the basics. The word Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root ‘yuj’ meaning to bind, join, attach and yoke, to direct and concentrate one’s attention on, to use and apply. It also means union or communion. It is the true union of our will with the will of God. Mahadev Desai in his ‘Gita according to Gandhi’ says: “It is the yoking of all the powers of body, mind and soul to God...” This, I believe is the definition of Islam. Islam means acquiring peace by submitting one’s will to the Will of God. In Yoga also we attain peace by surrendering ourselves to God.

There is a misconception about yoga that it is all about exercise and some complex asanas (postures), but this is not so. Asana is only a stage of yoga. Patanjali enumerates eight limbs of yoga for the quest of the soul. They are:

1.       Yama (universal moral commandments)

2.       Niyama (self purification by discipline)

3.       Asana (posture)

4.       Pranayama (rhythmic control of the breath)

5.       Pratyahara (withdrawal and emancipation of the mind from the domination of the senses)

6.       Dharana (concentration)

7.       Dhyana (meditation)

8.       Samadhi (a state of super-consciousness brought about by profound meditation)

All these eight limbs of Yoga are also part of Islam and its teachings. Of Yama, the Quranic verses like 24: 27-29 and 58:81 deal with moral commandments; when we fast for one whole month we purify ourselves by disciplining our senses and motivations; many postures of salaah totally match with some of the yogic postures like Vajrasana and Virasana; while going for sajdah i.e., prostration our lungs exhale the residual air and inhales the fresh air; in the Quran we are told not to be guided be our senses, we are told to control our senses; in chapter Al- Inshirah, Allah tells Muhammad (pbuh) and all of us to concentrate and meditate with “all thy attention”; and finally we too should strive to attain a state of super-consciousness by “turning to Allah”.

The word ‘Om’ repels the Muslims; even the liberal Muslims cannot embrace this word freely. Every word has a certain connotation; this word ‘Om’ gives a different mental picture about the concept of God which Muslims do not find acceptable. What I suggest is this: do not say ‘Om’, as simple as that. A Muslim can be a very good Muslim even if he or she is a vegetarian; similarly a Muslims can follow yoga perfectly even if he leaves the portion of ‘Om’. Just because of a two letter word one should not discard this ancient blessing. Who knows all these yogic postures may have been a form of salaah of that time, since Allah says that “in every age have We sent a prophet” and “in every time have We sent a Warner”. May be this was the way of praying to God. In prostration eight parts of our body touch the ground they are: forehead, nose, two hands, two knees, two feet; in Sashtanasana also eight parts of the body touch the ground, they are: two feet, two knees, two hands, the chest and the chin or forehead.

All we need is a little remodelling of our thoughts. Yoga is not un-Islamic, rather it is totally Islamic. If we do yoga in totality, and I am not just talking about yogic asanas, then we will become much better Muslims. Yoga can help us channelize our minds in the positive direction; the young, who are injected the virus of orthodoxy, radicalism and terrorism, can be countered by doing yoga and by practicing the art of mind control. We need to push the whole Muslims community to accept yoga because it helps the young as well as the old; it helps the Hindus as well as the Muslims.

In conclusion I would like to say “Allah Shanti, Shanti, Shanti” (Allah peace, peace, peace).