Indonesian scholars praise Indian ulema for endorsing yoga

By Azera Rahman, IANS,

Bali : Many Islamic scholars in Indonesia agree with Indian clerics that yoga doesn’t contradict Islam and point to many similarities between the two. Their views are helping Muslims who practise yoga resolve their dilemma in the face of a ban on certain elements of the ancient health technique.

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“I couldn’t have agreed more with Indian Islamic seminaries and ulemas who say that yoga does not contradict Islam. That is what I have been saying – yoga is just a means to a healthy living,” Salman Harun, director of the Centre of Multifaith Education in Jakarta, told IANS.

He said the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), which issued the fatwa against the Hindu elements of yoga in late January, does not represent the majority of the Indonesian Muslim opinion. Indonesia has the world’s largest population of Muslims.

Harun said better understanding of the art that yoga is would ensure that such steps are not taken in future. He was speaking at the first weeklong International Bali-India Yoga Festival last week.

Stefan Danerek, a scholar who has studied Islam and has also been practicing yoga for the past few months, went on to draw parallels between Islam and yoga.

“The ‘salaat’, which is the ritualistic beginning of the Islamic prayer, and the ‘asanas’ are very similar. The concentration and focus required – and even the manner of praying in Islam – is similar to yoga. Therefore one can draw a lot of parallels between the two,” Danerek said at the festival.

Harun also said that herbal knowledge has been included in the Hadith, one of the holy Islamic texts, but has not been explored much.

“One should remember that the fatwa issued by MUI does not hold the status of official state law, which is the highest authority in the country,” he added.

For those like Fatima Andriani, a practicing Indonesian Muslim who learns yoga, the ban on certain elements of yoga had become a matter of great concern. The interaction with the scholars has however relieved her dilemma a great deal.

“I am a devout Muslim and I do yoga for exercise and a better health. The ban had come as a surprise to me because doing the asanas had not chipped my faith as a Muslim at all,” Andriani told IANS after attending the festival.

“But this interaction has relieved me a great deal – especially the parallels drawn between salaat and the yoga asanas.”

Danerek capped the debate, saying: “Yoga is halal. It is not bound by religious and other boundaries. And just like the holy Koran teaches, it spreads the message of unity and peace”.

(Azera Rahman can be contacted at [email protected] )