Amid disagreements within the Muslim board over observing 21st June as the Yoga Day, there have been exceptions within the community who are more than elated to celebrate this day.
Refusing to accept the idea that Yoga is against Islamic doctrines and that Yogic kriya may turn one into a Hindu, these handful rightly state that Yoga has nothing to do with religion, but a way for self-development and well-being of the mind and the body.
In fact, it has also been established that there are several postures in Islam that match Yogic postures. In fact, experts have also found links between the faith and Yoga.
Does Yoga make you a Hindu?
Not for Farida Hamza, a Muslim living in the US. She has been a devout Yoga practitioner for the past many years. In 2012, she decided that she woukd teach it. Although, her family members were not very pleased to know about her decision, they finally conceded. She said,"When I told my family and a few friends, they did not react positively. They were very confused as to why I wanted to do it - that it might be going against Islam."
Incidentally, Hamza underwent her Yoga training in a Hindu temple. She admits she was skeptical at first. She said,"I felt very guilty but in the end, I had to trust that Allah understood my intentions. I let them know I did not want to take part in any rituals and they were so respectful of how I felt."
Consider Iran, dominated by the Sharia law. However, Yoga has managed to prosper in this country. Nevertheless, Yoga teachers here are very careful in mentioning the practice as the "sport of Yoga", which has been accredited by the Yoga Federation.
Another case in point is the well-known Indian politician-Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi-who believes that Yoga has nothinf to do with religion. On his Twitter habdle, @naqvimukhtar, he said,"Yoga is a light ,which once lit ,will never dim .The better your practice ,the brighter the flame. Yoga releases the creative potential in life."
In fact, he was also seen doing Surya Namaskar in his residence, even when it is considered forbidden in Islam. He urged the people protesting against it, saying
"We are proud that countries around the world have accepted International Yoga Day. Those who are protesting against it are either unaware of its health benefits or are unable to understand its importance. So please stop politicising the issue."
Apprehensions across faith
Islam is not the only faith where Yoga is seen suspiciously. Even Christianity has questions about the Surya Namaskara, which is dedicated to the Hindu Sun God. Also the revered chant-Om-which is considered primodial in Hinduism and Buddhism is debatable among the Christians.
US too has repackaged Yoga in primary schools and renamed all the Sanskrit names of the postures to kangaroo" "surfer" and "washing machine". The lotus position has been rebranded "criss-cross apple sauce", the Surya namaskar has become the "opening sequence" and the organisers insist that it is all just a form of physical exercise.
A Christian organisation, the National Center for Law & Policy (NCLP) took up the cause of the protesting Christian parents against Yoga in school. To this, the San Diego County Superior Court ruled that although yoga's roots are religious, the modified form of the practice is fine to teach in schools.
The Yogic link
Farida Hamza is clear now that there has to be certain intermittent links between the faith and the Yogic kriya. For instance, " the ethical precepts of yoga - captured in the principles of 'yama' and 'niyama' - share many essentials with the five pillars of Islam."
She further adds,"Each pillar that we follow in Islam, or the duty that we have to do, is sort of existent in yoga. Simple things like - you give alms to the poor. Well, a yogi is supposed to do service. You have to be honest, you have to be non-violent - all of these are in Islam and in yoga. The way we pray as Muslims, each pose that we do is a yoga pose," she adds. So Muslims that hate yoga are probably doing yoga without realising it. Muslims even join their middle finger and thumb together during prayer, similar to a yoga 'mudra'," she adds.
However, she is of the firm conviction that Islam did not come from Yoga or is even influenced by it.
Revered Guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar explains what Yoga is on his Art of Living blog and said,"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 yoga as a spiritual pursuit is very much permissible in Islam, he explains.
He also cited the Mughal emperors who were inspired by the Yoga. For instance, Dara Shikoh, the eldest son of the Mughal Emperor of India and Shah Jahan is known for his Persian translations of the Yoga Vashishta and the Bhagavad Gita.