Yoga beyond religion - Firoz Bakht Ahmed
I follow all the Islamic tenets in the right interpretation and spirit and so, I can say that there is no such thing as yoga being haram
(disallowed) in Islam. Rather, I have found that Islamic yoga is a reality. It is possible to employ the skills of yoga to worship Allah better and to be a better Muslim.
Issuing fatwa declaring yoga anti-Islamic by some Malaysian and Indonesian ulema is nothing but misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the fact that yoga and namaz are almost identical.
Having practiced yoga during my school days, I found that it can easily be integrated with the Islamic life; in fact the two assist one another. Not only is there no conflict, but 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 one of the most potential common grounds between Hindus and Muslims.
The purposes of yoga and Tariqat-e-Naqshbandi (Sufi lifestyle) are apparently similar since both aim at achieving mystical union with the ultimate reality namely Brahma or Allah. Islamic mysticism is undoubtedly impacted by the uncanny Vedic and Buddhist influences desiring to achieve mystical union with the Supreme Being or as one may also call nirvana or fana (a term used by the Sufis).
The Indian Muslims' love affair with yoga is a complex thing, born of many factors. 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 M Dechanel wrote a book on Christian yoga recording that practicing 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 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 till the 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 Quran, in addition to all else it may be, is a set of breathing practices.
The enigmatic and most revered Qari (one who melodiously recites Quran) Abdul Basit of Egypt, whose recitation of the Quran is considered the best till date, practiced breathing exercise exactly similar to pranayam and was able to recite a surah by holding his breath for such a long duration that even the medical experts were amazed. However, no one told the Qari that he did it with yoga.
Nowadays, yoga is commercially promoted for health and repel diseases. In fact, less exercise owing to long office hours on computers is one of diseases of modern world. Cars, motorcycles and computers are our main pulse beat of contemporary life. People no longer think about physical and spiritual exercises, which makes a good excuse for Muslims to be offered yoga practice.
Besides, many western societies are materialistic and for limitless monetary gains people would fall prey to rat race and superiority whereas their spiritual sides remain void. Forms of yoga such as Patanjali, Tantra, Sankhya and Dhyana, among others, are non-religious as even the atheists can practice them. Yoga today is a way of life for the followers of all religions.
The place of yoga in the lives of most Muslims will not be shifted by the fatwas of Indonesian and Malayian ulemas. 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 clean chit and Swami Ramdev has also given the green signal that Muslims can substitute Allah for Ohm, but was it really required?
Quite interestingly, the word Ohm, according to Urdu or Arabic alphabet, is formed from three alphabets - Alif, Wao and Meem. If we consider the abbreviations of these, Alif means Allah, Wao or wa means 'and' while Meem means Mohammed. It shows that Ohm is a confluence of Allah and Mohammed. May be some super-pious will also frown upon me on this word play.
Firoz Bakht Ahmed is a commentator on social and educational issues.
Courtesy - Forwarded by my friend NARESH (This article was published in Times of India)
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