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'Holy and holistic': Indian Muslims warming up to Yoga
World Yoga Day
Photo courtesy: IBNS

'Holy and holistic': Indian Muslims warming up to Yoga

| @indiablooms | 21 Jun 2024, 11:23 am

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 a common ground between Hindus and Muslims.

Ever since Sufi encounter with ancient practice of Yoga in medieval India, the confluence has withstood the tests of times and the wrath of fanatics. Today we may come across a number of Muslim yogis (Yoga practitioners) active in almost all parts of the country. They include women too.

Like facing obstacles in Muslim countries, the reception of Yoga among Indian Muslims too had to endure backlash from conservative clerics. But they were countered with a potent argument: Yoga is a science and thus religion-neutral.

Yoga, according to Ashraf F. Nizami’s book Namaz, the Yoga of Islam 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.

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 the salat (five-time prayer a day) to the physical exercises of yoga asanas.

Badrul Islam is a yoga instructor at a government academy in Dehradun. Photo: IBNSBadrul Islam is a yoga instructor at a government academy in Dehradun. Photo: IBNS

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.

Leading Indian seminaries and Sufi figures have lent their support to the practice of Yoga, freeing it from religious yoke. Darul Uloom Deoband, which has earlier issued fatwas against Yoga, has now mellowed down. It has established in popular imagination that Yoga today is a way of life for the followers of all religions.

Yoginis, the women practitioners

Among those who have taken the lead to popularise the ancient curative techniques is Azra Qadri, who is associated with a leading political party and doubles as a Yoga instructor. She told the media that Muslims must break social barriers and take to every positive practice that is prevalent in India.

Qadri holds a yoga class for around 32 women.

Women participation in promoting Yoga has yielded rich dividends and the number of women taking to physical exercises to stay fit has surged phenomenally in recent times. Almost every park of the cities in the country has men and women doing Yoga at different parts of the day.

PM participates in 10th International Day of Yoga celebrations at Srinagar, in Jammu and Kashmir on June 21, 2024.PM participates in 10th International Day of Yoga celebrations at Srinagar, in Jammu and Kashmir on June 21, 2024.

Like Qadri, Tasneem Kanchawala is busy making Yoga a lay-person’s guide to good health. She herself has recovered various ailments after regularly doing Yoga asanas. She overcame acute thyroid with the help of yoga and recognised its power in making a person healthy.

It was after her recovery, she made it a point to trickle in her experience to help other women of society, most specifically Muslim ladies.

"Even if you are a homemaker, yoga will help you remain fit and ward off diseases. Yoga is an important part of Indian culture and science, and when the whole world is embracing yoga we, as Indians, should not lag behind," she told The Times of India in an interview. 

Yogis, the men practitioners

One of the prominent Indian Muslims who have been practicing Yoga and have written in its favour is Kaif Mahmood, who teaches Comparative Religions at Jamia Millia Islamia.

He advocates that narrowing down Yoga to its attachment to religion is belittling its therapeutic benefits. He however is not in favour of forced following of the practice.

He says that Yoga is not an ancient version of modern gym where one learns various exercises to keep the body in shape.

"Yoga – as far as it has a bodily aspect, which incidentally, is not its most important aspect – is, and always was, a method of knowing oneself through a subtle, experiential, intimate awareness of one’s musculature, breath and emotions, and the links between them," he wrote in an article on explaining Yoga in www.kafila.org.

Mufti Shamoon, head of Uttarakhand Madrasa Board and a friend of Baba Ramdev, has been promoting Yoga for years. He likens the benefits of Yoga to those of namaz and roza (prayer and fasting). Self-control, piety and rhythmic momentum of the body and other spiritual gains the goals of these disciplines; he averses in his interactions at the Yoga gatherings.

Some Muslims in India have pursued Yoga with so much passion that they have almost attained perfection and are called acharya (teacher) because of their expertise. One such teacher is Acharya Rafik Khan, a 39-year-old devout Muslim, who has not let the fierce backlash and hostility from his own community affect his pursuit of Yoga.

A popular man in Hemgiri block of Sundargarh district, Acharya Khan’s relentless efforts to promote Yoga in the remote tribal-dominated pockets as well as his community have gradually brought the results.

Photo Courtesy: UnsplashPhoto Courtesy: Unsplash

Taking inspiration from him, a number of Muslims have shed their inhibitions and have become ardent practitioners of Yoga.s

His pupils comprise people from all age groups, school and college students, working men and senior citizens.

"My only mission is to take Yoga to every household irrespective of religion and caste. Yoga is not religious, it's only goal is to promote physical and mental well-being among the people,” he said in his interview with The New Indian Express.

Apart from above examples of Muslim men and women taking Yoga to courtyards of Indian homes, a crop of such enthusiasts is added to the list every year in a mission that mixes holy with holistic.

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