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Tuesday, 25 November 2008

A dissenting view of the yoga ban



The Parthenon- symbol of democracy( read freedom to disagree)

My short article on Yoga: The road to perdition has elicited many strong views. One commentator has even said I don’t know the significance of fatwa. I am also ignorant about halal and haram. Well, I am keen to go into forensic arguments, at a later date.

Fatwa has not stopped people from using their analytical minds. Ijmak ulamak will continue as long as there are ulamaks around. They will continue to flourish as ulamaks gained proficiency in the sciences. Hence the door to ijmak ulamak is never closed.

The fatwa on yoga has already been given out. We are told not to question the issuance of fatwa. Readers have the option to follow this. As for me, I will continue asking questions until my doubts are cleared. My reason for this is simply because I do not believe our modern Malaysian ulamaks are infallible. They are human beings and are therefore subject to the same human imperfections. If a decision is reached in secrecy, it will give the impression, that the edicts are done posthaste. Why must it be shrouded in secrecy and thereafter not open to question? We Muslims have our own star chamber?

Just to open up the debate a little further, I found an article over the internet written by a Muslim scholar on yoga. As it is quite long, and given the objection of many to longish articles, this article will be divided into several parts.

Here is Part 1, below:-

This is not a case of syncretism between two religions (which would be spiritually invalid). Yoga is not a religion. Rather, it is a set of techniques and skills that enhance the practice of any religion. A French author named Jean Déchanet discovered this in regard to his Catholic faith and wrote the book Christian Yoga (New York: Harper, 1960). In my case, 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.

Yoga arose from the matrix of the Hindu world, although according to Mircea Eliade it is of pre-Hindu origin and can be traced back to prehistoric shamanism. Like India's other gifts to world civilization, for example the system of place notation on which all mathematics depends, yoga is not tied to the Hindu religion but has a universal applicability. It helps one to follow one's own religion better whatever that may be. It has certain specific affinities with Islam that make for an interesting study.

1. Metaphysical Doctrine.
Since the metaphysic of Advaita Vedanta is in agreement with the tawhîd (doctrine of oneness) of Islam, there is perfect compatibility between Islam and yoga on the highest level. All traditional esoterisms agree that everything in manifestation has its origin in the Supernal. The manifestations on the material plane are derived from the ideational realm of archetypes (known as al-a‘yân al-thâbitah in the metaphysics of Ibn al-‘Arabî). This world, limited as it is, is just an expression of the ultimate Reality, and will ultimately be reabsorbed in its supernal Origin. Advaita Vedanta and Islamic esoteric metaphysics are agreed that God is the only absolutely real, eternal Reality; all else is contingent and therefore transitory. The unitary view of reality in Advaita Vedanta accords well with the tawhîd (divine oneness) of Islam, and the Oneness of Being in the Sufi doctrine of Ibn al-‘Arabî.

It is interesting to compare the symbolism of Prophet Muhammad's nighttime ascent to Heaven, al-Mi‘râj, with the corresponding symbolism in yoga. The Prophet ascended on al-Burâq, a riding beast with the head of a woman, through the seven heavens to the Throne of God. In yoga, the kuNDalinî is a feminine power (shakti) that dwells at the base of the spine and ascends through seven levels (represented by the seven chakras) to the summit of liberation (brahmarandhra).

2. Salât and Âsanas.
One of the most obvious correspondences between Islam and hatha yoga is the resemblance of salât to the physical exercises of yoga âsanas. An Indian Muslim author, Ashraf F. Nizami, noted this in his book Namaz, the Yoga of Islam (Bombay: D.B. Taraporevala, 1977). The root meaning of the word salât is 'to bend the lower back', as in hatha yoga; the Persians translated this concept with the word namâz, from a verbal root meaning 'to bow', etymologically related to the Sanskrit word namaste. The thousands of postures and variations known to hatha yoga can be classified into a few basic types, including standing postures, spinal stretches, inverted postures, seated postures, and spinal twists. The genius of Islamic salât is to incorporate all of these in rudimentary form into a compact, flowing sequence, ensuring a thorough, all-round course of exercises for good health that is easy for everyone to practice.

2 comments:

Grand Marquis,  25 November 2008 at 04:07  

This article will open up a typical tiresome debate similar to the debate between Salafi vs Sufi. In fact the article clearly portray the renown, yet controversial Sufi's figure, the ibn Arabi.

The method of the writer trying to justify the validity and the compatibility of Yoga and Islam is no different than how the Sufis justify their practices that are not traceable to the practices of the prophet S.A.W. and the companion.

To be able to judge on whether it is right or wrong requires thorough understanding on the matter of aqidah. Most importantly, we want to know what is our stand on the matter of aqidah. Then the matter can be easily resolved.

Malaysian Tigress 25 November 2008 at 09:06  

Throughly agree with grand marquis and also the fact that he wasn't trying to appear "holier than thou" here, ...but seriously Datuk, the author drawing the parallels between solat and yoga postures, simply draws shivers through my spine. And of course the Israk and Mikraj parallel...lagi lah...

I don't know when Islam started to become so confusing....and various levels of enlightenment relegated to only those who achieved a certain level as in the normal tarikat and sufi practices...didn't Allah say in Al Imran ayat 7 "..for those in whose hearts there is a deviation, they follow that which is not entirely clear thereof...seeking (polytheism and trials) and seeking for its hidden meanings, but NONE know its hidden meanings save ALLAH, And those who are firmly grounded in knowledge say, "we believe in it, the whole of it (clear and unclear) are from our Lord..."

Sufism to me makes Islam "daunting" and complicated, not as how it is...simple and easily understood by everyone

An excerpt on sufism:

A thorough and critical examination of historical and present day Sufism, quickly reveals the influence of numerous religious ideas foreign to Islam. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, who so vehemently argues against the idea that Sufism is based on religious practice and doctrine inherently alien to Islam, does admit that in his opinion, Zoroastrianism “had more intimate contact with Islam than did Manichaeism.”29 Nasr states that in Persia “Zoroastrianism provided first of all a vocabulary for Sufi poets like Hafiz who often speak of the ‘fire-temple’, the Zoroastrian priest, etc., as symbols of the Sufi center (khaniqah or zawiyah), the spiritual master and so on..”30 Nasr also states that “Zoroastrian angeology and cosmology were also resuscitated by Shibab al-Din Suhrawardi, the founder of the [Sufi] school of Illumination or Ishraq, who made these symbols transparent in the light of Islamic gnosis.”31 Though these assertions have a solid scholarly basis, they fly in the face of Nasr’s earlier attempts to declare Sufism a legitimate and original development of Islam. Nasr appears to realize the quandary he has placed himself in, attempting to resolve the dilemma with the declaration that “this manner of speaking, however, does not at all imply an historical influence of Zoroastrianism upon Sufism.”32 Most scholars would be perplexed by this rather illogical conclusion, especially when it is considered that Zoroastrianism as a religion predated Islam by over 1000 years.

The further one delves into Sufism from an academic perspective, the more clear it becomes that both the origins and content of Sufism clearly show the inclusion of religious ideas and influences contrary and contradictory to orthodox Islam. The scholar Elliot Miller states that “[being] based on experience rather than doctrine, Sufism has always been more open to outside influence than other forms of Islam... in addition to early influences from Christianity, one can find elements of Zoroastrianism, Neoplatonism, Hinduism, and other diverse traditions.”33

Martin Lings, himself a practicing Sufi, in his work What is Sufism?, states that “Prince Dara Shikoh (d.1619), the Sufi son of the Mogul Emperor Shah Jahan, was able to affirm that Sufism and Advaita Vedantism [Hinduism] are essentially the same, with a surface difference of terminology.”34 Prince Dara Shikoh was also responsible for the translation of the Bhagavad-Gita, the Yoga Vasishtha, and the Upanishads into Persian.35 Seyyed Hossein Nasr acknowledges that “many Sufis in India called Hinduism the religion of Adam,” and, “[the] orthodox Naqshbandi saint Mirza Mazhar Jan Janan considered the Vedas as divinely inspired.”36

While Sufi teachings have been influenced by various religions, their practices also bear close similarities to those of Hinduism and other mystical religions of the East. The Sufi orders are led by shaikhs, who play the same role as Hindu gurus. Some of the shaikhs were described as having “pronounced psychic powers.”37 The master-disciple relationship was seen as an essential facet of Sufism by the reformer al-Ghazali who stated,

the murid [disciple] must of necessity have recourse to a shaikh [master] to guide him aright. For the way of faith is obscure, but the Devil’s ways are many and patent, and he who has no shaikh to guide him will be led by the Devil into his ways. Wherefore the murid must cling to his shaikh as a blind man on the edge of a river clings to his leader, confiding himself to him entirely, opposing him in no matter whatsoever, and binding himself to follow him absolutely. Let him know that the advantage he gains from the error of his shaikh, if he should err, is greater than the advantage of his own rightness, if he should be right.38

Most Sufi orders still consider the five pillars of Islam to be essential, and practice them piously. However, under the leadership of the shaikh they go far beyond this, aiming “to break the conditioned patterns of behaviour which inhibit the desired spiritual awakening.”39

(jangan marah ye Datuk...ni bukan personal attack...atau attempt at appearing holier than thou..)

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