Yoga and Islam: Reconcilable Differences?

Hand on yoga matVery few of the millions that unfurl their yoga mats in the U.S. would call themselves Hindu. Here yoga, found everywhere from health clubs and community centers to studios and hospitals, is a decidedly secular activity. While it is true that yoga often uses mantra and references Hindu mythology (as evident in the Sanskrit names of many asana) the practice itself does not require adherence to any specific religious dogma. (Though some Hindus are taking point with that.)

It seems hard to believe, then, that there are entire Muslim majority countries in Asia and the Middle East (such as Egypt, Malaysia and Singapore) where fatwas, (juristic rulings based on Islamic law), have been declared by Islamic councils and yoga has been banned for Muslims. In those countries certain aspects of yoga, including Sanskrit mantra, have been deemed Hindu worship and therefore a sin.

The controversy makes it difficult for Muslims who wish to abide by the rules of their religion, yet are drawn towards yoga’s many benefits. Some, like Mohd A. Quayyoom, an imam who runs the Muhammadi Community Center of Jackson Heights, New York, suggested reform as the way to proceed. As reported in the New York Times, Quayyoom feels the benefits of yoga to be too great to pass up on, but deems certain practices—like the use of Sanskrit mantra and of wearing tight yoga clothes to be unacceptable. But a reformed version, he says, “will not contradict with Islamic religion.”