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Yoga 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 practiced 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 realization 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 Muslims.
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 realization 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 highest level.
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, practiced 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 practice will practice, the so-called super-pious will frown. Even in the Middle East and Iran, yoga is a pet with Muslims.
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 for Om.
(The author is a commentator on social and religious issues. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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