By Aftab Ahmad, New Age Islam
June 30, 2015
As the International Day of Yoga has passed, there is every possibility that the controversy around Yoga will die down. But it has once again brought to the fore how badly divided Muslim leadership is, how unprepared Muslims are to face the complexities of modern life. Yoga is a part of Indian culture and has been in practice in India, both among Hindus and non-Hindus as a form of physical exercise. Since the Union government wanted most Indians to participate in it on Yoga Day, it sparked a row over whether doing Yoga was in accordance with Islamic ethos or not.
Some had expected that Muslims would be on one platform either declaring Yoga permissible or non-permissible according to Islamic jurisprudence. But as usual, Muslims were divided on the issue of Yoga as we are already divided on the issue of support to terrorist and extremist organizations. All India Muslim Personal Law Board vehemently opposed it, saying it was against Islam’s monotheistic values as Muslims worship only Allah and that chanting Shlokas from Hindu scriptures or worshipping the Sun in Surya Namaskar was against Islamic Shariat.
However, Maulana Mahmood Madani of Jamiat Ulema Hind opined that sans Hindu Shlokas, Yoga was not against Islamic ethos and values. A couple of journalists also opined that there was nothing wrong doing the Yoga sans Hindu Shlokas.
In fact, Yoga has never been an issue with Muslims as they have always seen it only as a mode of physical exercise. During the 80s, the high school Physical Education Urdu text books had illustrations and descriptions of Yogic Asanas which the Muslim students were supposed to perform in order to keep fit. And they enjoyed doing it.
However, there was no mention of any Shlokas or Surya Namaskar. No Muslim organization ever protested the inclusion of Yoga in High School Urdu text books. During the physical exercise class, both Hindu and Muslim students did Yogic exercises in school. No guardian or any Muslim organization raked up the issue then because there were no Shlokas involved.
Muslims overreacted due to the mention of Surya Namaskar. As a matter of fact, Surya Namaskar is not a part of Yoga which has been developed by Baba Gorakhnath, the founder of Nath Panth. It was developed around 10th or 11th century. Nath Panthis are disciples of Shiva with whom Yoga is associated or is believed to have originated. The Nath Panthis do not believe in idol worship or Sun worship. They are ascetics who seek their union with Supreme God through tantric practices, breathing techniques and meditation. Therefore, Surya Namaskar is a latter day innovation. But it's just the name of one of the Asanas. It does not even involve saying good morning to the Sun or any kind of salutation at all. The name of the asana, however, means "Greetings to the Sun."
However, the controversy over Yoga left Muslims again in a confused state as they could not decide whether Yoga was compatible with Islam or not and the confusion of the Ulema and religious leaders over the issue left common Muslims confused.
It has been observed that despite a comprehensive rule book like Quran and their jurisprudential canon which Muslims boast of, we are confused on every issue concerning modern life and society. It seems that we Muslims are not able to decide unanimously over issues arising out of the requirements of the modern day complex society. Already we are divided on the definition of terrorism and caliphate. We Muslims have not been able to decide what can be brought under terrorism and who can be accepted as the Khalifa of the entire Muslim community. We are not even on the same page on the question whether Muslims should have one Khalifa for the Muslims of the entire world or several as was the case earlier in most of history, except the earliest times when there were few Muslims and basically in one area.
Despite being in possession of the Quran and a number of commentaries and exegeses explaining the verses of the holy scripture and volumes of Hadith, we are divided on whether ISIS, Taliban or Al Qaida are terrorist organizations. Many Muslim Ulema overtly or covertly support ISIS as the manifestations of fulfilment of the aspirations of Muslims to establish a caliphate. However, there are other Ulema and organizations who believe that ISIS is not an Islamic organization but a sectarian terrorist organization. Many Muslim Ulema and organizations believe that Taliban is not a terrorist organization while there is a section which thinks otherwise. Many educated Muslims refer to all these terrorists as Mujahedin. We even find admirers of worst terrorist organizations like Boko Haram and Al Shabab who have been opposing modern education and abducting girls and forcing them into prostitution.
Under these circumstances, we Muslims need to reorient ourselves and produce modern interpretation of our religious texts according to the changing times. We should undergo a total overhaul of our religious mentality, orienting ourselves according to the requirements of the fast changing world we live in while keeping our basic faith intact. Should we not come out of our 7th century mindset? This cannot be achieved until we form a unanimous definition of most basic issues concerning Islam and Muslims like who is a Muslim, who is a kafir, should we Islamically co-exist and interact with non-Muslims or should we not as Saudi-supplied madrasa text books tell us. And so on.
Aftab Ahmad is a columnist for New Age Islam. He has been studying the Holy Quran for some time.