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Yoga in Islam : A form of ibaadat (prayer)

19 Jul

Rajaque Rahman, a Practising Muslim talks about how blinkered interpretation of what’s permitted and forbidden in Islam is making the Muslim world hesitant to take advantage of universal healers like yoga and meditation.

Even as I was persuading a group of Muslim elders in Itanagar — the capital city of eastern-most Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh — to give yoga, pranayama and similar ancient Indian techniques a try for a healthy and happy living, the group went serene with the azan for the Jumah (Friday congregational prayer ) from the neighbourhood mosque. As I followed them to the mosque, I noticed the gentleman who was the most vocal and orthodox during the discussion was heading in the opposite direction. When I queried why he wasn’t coming to the prayer, I was flabbergasted by his innocent but distorted logic. “I can’t go to the mosque as I have to pass through shops that slaughter and sell meat of swine to reach there. You know, Islam strictly prohibits swine meat. I would rather miss the prayer than commit haram by going near swine meat,” he reasoned.

Though I knew Islam prohibits eating swine meat, I never imagined somebody would ever interpret that prohibition in such a myopic way. When I pondered over it, I realised this type of blinkered interpretation of what’s permitted and forbidden in Islam is what is making the Muslim world hesitant to take advantage of universal healers like yoga and meditation.

Art of Living Course participants in war-affected areas in Middle East

People from war zones in an Art of Living meditation

Like the old man, orthodox Muslims fear the practice of yoga will erode their faith in Allah and Islam. As the Quran and Hadith (Prophet Muhammad’s teachings) have nothing specific that will make practise of yoga haram (forbidden), they based their judgement on their own concocted fear that supposedly ‘Hindu’ elements of yoga would destroy the faith of a Muslim.

As a Muslim who has been practising yoga for over a decade and has experienced the depth of yoga at the physical and spiritual levels, I felt the best way to allay the fear is to look at the Hindu philosophy on yoga and see how and where it contradicts the tenets of Islam. For this, I wouldn’t settle for anything less authentic than Maharishi Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the founder of the Art of Living has given an extensive and lucid commentary on the yoga sutras.

Yoga simply means uniting with the Self. The Yoga Sutras starts by calling itself an enunciation in union. And a self-imposed discipline to attain that union is yoga. Is striving for such a union with the Self against Islam? Definitely not, for Prophet Mohammed has said, “He who knows his own Self knows his Lord.” So anything done in pursuit of knowing the Lord cannot be termed as forbidden in Islam. Instead, it will count as a meritorious act of honouring and following the Prophet. So yoga as a spiritual pursuit is very much permissible in Islam. Dara Shikoh, eldest son of the Mughal Emperor of India, Shah Jahan is known for his Persian translations of the Yoga Vashishta and the Bhagavad Gita.

The best explanation of why yoga is not just a permissible, but also a desirable act for Muslims is to be found in the second sutra of the Yoga Sutras. “Yogas Chitta Vritti Nirodhah.” It means yoga is stopping all the modulations of the mind. Ceasing all the outward activities of the mind and reposing in Allah is the ultimate goal of Islam. So any act done to reach such a state cannot be un-Islamic.

People in Iraq learning yoga and meditation through The Art of Living

Iraqis get solace in yoga and meditation

In fact, it represents the highest form of ibaadat (prayer). Prophet Mohammed said, “I have a time with God to which even Gabriel, who is pure spirit, is not admitted.” Hence, the soul of prayer is a complete absorption, a state without room for any outward thoughts which is also the ultimate purpose of yoga. So doing yoga asanas with the sole intention of attaining a thoughtless state so that one can connect with Allah wouldn’t make one a bad Muslim.
This leaves only one ground for orthodox mullahs to frown at yoga: that yoga stems from polytheist beliefs of Hinduism. But when yoga means union, how can it be linked to polytheist beliefs? In fact, yoga takes one away from polytheism and leads to Advaita, which is in perfect agreement with the Islamic doctrine of tauhid (oneness of God).

Just because something has its roots in Hinduism, it doesn’t become forbidden for Muslims. If it were so, many arts, languages, foods and cultural practices with roots in other religions, would also be forbidden to Muslims. So, when we can accept foods and music from other cultures, why not the wisdom to unite with the Self?

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28 responses to “Yoga in Islam : A form of ibaadat (prayer)

  1. Ensures

    July 19, 2012 at 9:15 am

    Administrator – Kindly convey my sincere appreciation to Sri Rahman ji for this wonderful blog. Wonderfully bought out how Yoga resonates & is in sync with prayers and concept of Advaita which also is an aspect of Oneness with God in Islam. Great piece of read.

     
  2. Ashwin Belagodu

    July 19, 2012 at 9:33 am

    wonderfully written… Thx for this wonderful blog 🙂
    Also, Hindu’s wont mind visiting a Muslim doctor when he/she is not keeping well and the other way round is also true…

     
  3. Avinash

    July 19, 2012 at 9:39 am

    beautiful!

     
  4. Indian

    July 19, 2012 at 10:40 am

    When jogging or swimming has nothing to do with ‘Hinduism’ or ‘Religion’ how can Yoga or Meditation be strictly a ‘Hindu’ thing? This knowledge is for all mankind.

    If anyone feels that even though “Yoga’ and ‘Mediation’ are beneficial things, but are not following (and dont allow their children to follow it) just because they think it is from another religion, I think it is simply wrong.

     
  5. Sunil Kumar

    July 19, 2012 at 11:08 am

    Excellent

     
  6. Sylaja Kannan

    July 19, 2012 at 11:42 am

    Great insight Rahman. Thanks for the introduction to Patanjali Yoga Sutras. I read commentaries from Sri Sri Ravi Shankar on Patanjali Yoga Sutras on http://www.artofliving.org/patanjali-yogasutra.

     
  7. Chidambaram (@chidhu7)

    July 19, 2012 at 11:51 am

    Positive Article! Just want to point one thing, “Advaita” doesnt only mean “Oneness of God” , It actually means there is no difference between “God” and “Self”.Wonder if that notion would ever be acceptable in Islam.Having said that, Nice work!

     
    • Ensures

      July 19, 2012 at 10:09 pm

      IMHO, it does gel with the concept of Islam in my very limited knowledge. As you rightly said is not Oneness – It is actually Non-Dualism (Oneness implies there could be Two-ness or multiple-ness) Islam pretty advocates the same – practices may be on the basis of Dvaita (just like in a Hindu philosophical system) but goal is Non-Duality. Aham Brahmasmi 🙂

      Sufism and Irfan (Tasawwuf) are traditions of Islam that advocates concept of ego destruction (i.e removal of subject/object separation between man and divine) “through various spiritual exercises that increases longing for union with the divine”
      Wahdat al-Wujud or Unity of Being, is the Sufi principle of Tawhid (loosely Advaita). Tawhid implies that all phenomena are manifestations of a single Wujud (being), which is al-Haq (Truth, God)

      Expert comment needed to confirm my interpretaion (Rajaque/Ameen please). My intrepretation is based on my understanding (could be grossly wrong) and hence open to change/withdrawal 🙂

       
  8. Roopa

    July 19, 2012 at 12:44 pm

    Wonderful post A R Rahmah ji.
    Here is interesting reading about Patanjali Yog Sutras http://www.artofliving.org/archive/971

     
  9. Satish Suthar

    July 19, 2012 at 2:11 pm

    wonderfully written.

     
  10. Anonymous

    July 19, 2012 at 2:21 pm

    Wonderful! Much appreciated! The Breath and the Heart and the Soul are beyond barriers of religion.

     
  11. Anand Narayan

    July 19, 2012 at 3:10 pm

    Excellent.. Hope you continue writing about such topics, and thus bridge such imaginary divides we have created in this world.. All our wishes 🙂

     
  12. mohammed ameen

    July 19, 2012 at 3:56 pm

    its a very good article..completely i agree with it..i think evry muslim who feels dat practicising yoga & meditation is sin in islam..they must read it for real picture
    Heartiest congratulations & good wishes rajaque bhai

     
    • Ensures

      July 19, 2012 at 10:01 pm

      Brother Ameen, you should also be writing here. I love to see that happening very soon.

       
      • Meenu

        July 19, 2012 at 10:30 pm

        I agree. The basis of Art of Living is to share our positivity and make a positive difference to the world we are living in. It would be nice to know of your experiences Ameen.

         
  13. aman

    July 19, 2012 at 3:58 pm

    very nicely drafted..

     
  14. M K

    July 19, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    Dear Rajaque, you have very beautifully dealt with misplaced fears about yoga and its impact on religiosity of practising Muslims. Hope to see you more active on the blog. In fact, the world over, millions of people from different religious and racial backgrounds practise Yoga as a secular discipline for keeping physical and mental hygiene that leads to spiritual realizations. Refusal to practise yoga because it appears to have Hindu roots is as foolish as avoiding cell phone because it was apparently invented by a Chrsitian!

     
  15. Meenu

    July 19, 2012 at 4:51 pm

    Superb! Need more such sane voices

     
  16. Nakul

    July 19, 2012 at 6:08 pm

    Great write up Rajaque….

     
  17. Critic

    July 19, 2012 at 8:47 pm

    Annnounce any events like an outing, fun games, course, Satsangs (The all important PS is most welcome: Refreshments/Prasad follows) Pulled from a section of this site …. Now don’t u see the true light … Prasad

     
  18. Anonymous

    July 19, 2012 at 9:59 pm

    great…need to create more awareness about this…thanks rehman ji for this beautiful write up!

     
  19. sharika

    July 19, 2012 at 11:27 pm

    great insight! thank you for sharing:)

     
  20. Anonymous

    July 20, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    Beautifully written by Rahman ji……it beautifully states that how by yoga u can attain the spiritual growth no matter which ever religion u r born in….it results in highest form of prayer in one self towards the lord…and he beautifully explains how yoga helps to attain the state of mind which is appreciated in Islam..when prayer Happens on its own…

     
  21. Raj

    July 20, 2012 at 7:39 pm

    Heartly congratulations to Shri Rahman ji. Advaita and Tauhid one and the same. I think, as Sri Sri Ravishankar has said, Religion is like a peel of the fruit and real fruit is the spiritualism. Jai Gurudev.

     
  22. kaepy

    July 21, 2012 at 9:30 am

    love the way it’s written!! Man it’s guruji!! he has transformed the war causers, warriors and war victims to bring a violence free divine society

     
  23. Dr. Manikantan

    July 21, 2012 at 1:29 pm

    Thank you Rajaque Rahman, for an inspiring article. I am sure this message of yours based on your personal experience will reach millions of human hearts all over and unite them cutting across the divisions of caste/ creed/ culture/ religion/ nationality and connect them to the divine vision of Sri Sri Ravishankar- ‘One World Family’. Waiting to read you more often.

     
  24. Anonymous

    July 27, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    Realise that yoga means union with self and the self is made up of love.The very bases of existance is love,hence any aversion to yoga is terrible ignorance.

     
  25. Neema

    September 21, 2012 at 2:07 pm

    If only people had the same kind of open-mindedness as this writer, it would benefit them. If one is closed, the lose out on the wondrous benefits of the simple and easy to practice yoga.

     

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