is a part of holistic Islam
By Firoz Bakht Ahmed
Let me inform you that I am a staunch Muslim following all
the Islamic tenets in the right interpretation and spirit
and there is no such thing as yoga being 'haram' (disallowed)
in Islam. In my case, I have found that Islamic yoga is a
reality. It is possible to employ the skills of yoga to worship
Allah better and be a better Muslim.
A fatwa by some Malaysian and Indonesian ulema declaring yoga
anti-Islamic is nothing but misunderstanding and misinterpreting
the fact that yoga and namaz are almost identical. Such half-baked
ulema and intellectuals are actually responsible for letting
Islam and Muslims down.
Having practised yoga during my school days, I found it is
easily integrated with Islamic life, in fact the two assist
each other. Islam and yoga together make a mutually beneficial
holistic synergy. Both are agreed that, while the body is
important as a vehicle on the way to spiritual realisation
and salvation, the human being's primary identity is not with
the body but with the eternal spirit.
Maintaining a healthy and fit body is a requirement in Islam,
which teaches a Muslim that his or her body is a gift from
Allah. Yoga happens to be a common ground between Hindus and
The purposes of yoga and Tariqat-e-Naqshbandi (Sufi lifestyle)
is apparently similar as both aim at achieving a mystical
union with the ultimate reality.
The Indian Muslims' love affair with yoga is a complex thing.
There's the general disenchantment with strict, orthodox Islam
of the myopic clerics and the accompanying pull to alternative
forms of spirituality.
Yoga, according to Ashraf F. Nizami's book "Namaz, the
Yoga of Islam" (published by D.B. Taraporevala, Mumbai
1977), is not a religion. Rather, it is a set of techniques
and skills that enhance the practice of any religion. Nizami
writes that in namaz various constituents like sijdah is like
half shirshasana while qayam is vajrasana in the same way
as ruku is paschimothanasana.
Even Father Rev. M. Dechanel wrote a book on Christian yoga
recording that practising yoga is encouraged because it is
a way towards the realisation of Christian teachings.
According to Badrul Islam, a yoga instructor at a government
academy in Dehradun, one of the most obvious correspondences
between Islam and yoga is the resemblance of the salat (five-time
prayer a day) to the physical exercises of yoga asanas. The
root meaning of the word salat is 'to bend the lower back',
as in yoga; the Persians translated this concept with the
word namaz, from a verbal root meaning 'to bow', etymologically
related to the Sanskrit word namaste.
Since the yogic metaphysic of Advaita Vedanta is in perfect
accordance with the Islamic doctrine of tauhid (God's oneness),
there is perfect compatibility between Islam and yoga on the
The "Book of Sufi Healing" by Hakim G.M. Chishti
clearly states that life, from its beginning to end, is one
continuous set of breathing practices. However, in Tariqat-e-Naqshabandiyah,
the Sufi tradition of Islam, breathing practice has been there
exactly as in yoga.
The enigmatic and most revered qari, Abdul Basit of Egypt,
whose recitation of the holy Quran is considered the best
till date, practised breathing exercises exactly similar to
pranayam and was able to recite a surah by holding his breath
for such a long duration that even medical experts were amazed.
However, no one told the qari that he did it with yoga!
Nowadays, yoga is commercially promoted for health. In fact,
less exercise owing to long office hours on computers is one
of the problems of the modern world. Cars, motorcycles and
computers are the pulse of contemporary life. Because of these
conveniences people no longer think about physical exercise,
which makes a good excuse for Muslims to be offered yoga lessons.
Yoga today is a way of life for the followers of all religions.
The place of yoga in the lives of most Muslims, I imagine,
will not be shifted by Indonesian and Malayian ulema's far-fetched
fatwas. Those who practise will practise, the so-called super-pious
will frown. Even in the Middle East and Iran, yoga is a pet
Most Muslims in India are dazed that the all encompassing
credentials of yoga need to be debated. Let's appreciate that
at this time the pro-yoga fatwa by the renowned Darul Uloom
Deoband seminary has given it a nod and Swami Ramdev has also
given the green signal that Muslims can use the word Allah
(07.02.2009-The author is a commentator on social and religious
issues. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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