Thursday, November 05, 2009

Blindsight: Yoga and Islam

Rajaque Rahman, a devout Muslim, is a former journalist now engaged in teaching yoga-based spiritual programmes, as part of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living Foundation. To him, both – Yoga and Islam – have common goals…

Recent fatwas forbidding Muslims from doing yoga have left many confused about what Islam really says about it. Malaysia’s National Fatwa Council and Indonesian Ulema Council’s edicts on the ground that yoga will erode their faith in the religion reflect a complete ignorance about the discipline of yoga.

As the Quran and Hadith have nothing specific that deign the practice of yoga haram, the ulemas based the ruling on their own concocted fear of supposedly ‘Hindu’ elements of yoga destroying the faith of a Muslim. The best way to allay their fear is to look at the Hindu philosophy on yoga and see how and where it contradicts the tenets of Islam.

Yoga simply means uniting with the self. Maharishi Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras starts by calling itself an enunciation in union. The asanas, the practice of which is the focal point of these fatwas, are just one way of attaining that union. Is striving for such a union with the self against Islam? It cannot be. For, Prophet Muhammad has said, “He who knows his own self knows his Lord.” So anything done in pursuit of knowing the Lord will count as a meritorious act of following the Prophet. So yoga as a spiritual pursuit is very much permissible in Islam.

The best explanation of why yoga is not just permissible, but also desirable 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. Prophet Muhammad 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 as a means of attaining a thoughtless state will qualify as the highest form of ibadat (prayer).

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).

It’s universally proven that yoga brings peace of mind, and on that count yoga is almost obligatory for Muslims. For the Quran says, “The only religion with Allah is Islam.” As Islam means peace, peace of mind is a prerequisite for one to be truly following Allah’s only religion.

Outweighing all these synergies of yoga is the discomfort among Muslims in chanting certain sounds, particularly Om which generally forms a part of yoga. This uneasiness is caused again by lack of knowledge about what Om signifies and why it’s chanted. Contrary to the general misconception, Om isn’t a name of a God or a prayer to a particular God. Om is a universal sound that is chanted for its effect in harmonising one’s being and creating peace within and without. The vibration the sound creates has the power to take one to that state of complete absorption which Prophet Muhammad mentioned as his time with God. That’s why Om and other similar sacred sounds such as Aameen and Amen are normally chanted at the time of supplicating before God. Hindus chant Om before praying for peace, Muslims and Christians chant Aameen and Amen respectively after seeking blessings from God. This proves that the accent is on the resulting state of harmony which helps one connect with God easily.

So doing yoga with the sole intention of attaining a thoughtless state so that one can connect with Allah wouldn’t make one a bad Muslim.

For Complete IIPM Article, Click on IIPM Article

Source :
IIPM Editorial, 2009

An IIPM and Professor Arindam Chaudhuri (Renowned Management Guru and Economist) Initiative

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