30 October, 2009

Blindsight: Yoga and Islam



Sunday Indian, 1st November, 2009

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.

Polytheism in the name of Allah

Chairman of National Fatwa Council of Malaysia, Abdul Shukor Husin, while passing a fatwa against yoga last year stated, “Many Muslims fail to understand that yoga’s ultimate aim is to be one with a God of a different religion. When one has affirmed to ‘La Ilaaha Illallaah’, how can a Muslim think of another “God of a different religion?"

‘La Ilaaha Illallaah’ (literal translation: ‘there is no god but God’) establishes beyond argument that there is only one God. If a Muslim thinks there are different Gods for different religions, he is negating the essence of Islam and unwittingly subscribing to polytheist beliefs. However, differently we may pray and by whatever name we may call, it goes to that one source. Further, the Quran clearly states that God can be invoked in different names. “Invoke God, or invoke the Most Gracious by whichever name you invoke Him. He is always the One, for His are all the attributes of perfection [Al Isra 17:110]. Another verse [Al Hashr 59:22] proves that God is beyond even the 99 names mentioned in the Quran. “Glory be to God, beyond any associations. He is Allah, the Creator, the Evolver, the Bestower of Form. To Him belong the Most Beautiful Names.” This means that God can be addressed by anything that’s uttered in reverence and with a sense of beauty.

The time has come for religious leaders to go to the basics of tauhid and reinterpret it to present the real essence of Islam to the world. Such a correction will go a long way in stopping many atrocities against humanity committed in the name of cleansing the world of infidels.

2 comments:

anantvasudevan said...

Good. This is the first time I have encountered a muslim trying to understand the spirituality within Islam. As a Hindu, I am proud to say that Vedic culture, which is primarily spiritual, recognises and respects all paths to the enquiry of truth as valid including Atheism(provided an atheist enquires into truth). If more and more muslims see and understand islam in this way, we could very well have a global family of religions as different paths to God, without being hostile to one another and the world would ideally be like a family (Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam).

godrealized said...

What is Dharma...? "Your right to do what is just and right and not what was destined"! The concept of Hindu dharma as detailed in sacred Bhagavad Gita is integral to all teachings of Hinduism! In absence of Dharma... the whole world simply could not exist! It is this inherent dharma (righteousness) that makes the world go round!

Dharma exists from times immemorial. Even before any religion existed in world... dharma existed! Dharma exists from times life came into existence on mother earth. Following our inner dictates... human beings controlled their life! Dharma is elixir vitae... sap of cosmic system! It is presence of dharma that makes journey of life worthwhile!