Muslim students do yoga in a yoga class (Source: YouTube) Photograph: (Others)
Are you in India today?
If you happened to be out on the streets in the morning hours, chances were that you would have walked right into a collective gathering of people performing yoga asanas as part of celebrations of the third UN International Yoga Day today.
While almost all cities had organised yoga sessions in public areas, Lucknow, the capital city of India’s largest state Uttar Pradesh witnessed a massive gathering of 51,000 people and more to celebrate the day.
And this time there weren’t just Hindus, but Muslims too.
Apart from individual participants ranging from different professional backgrounds and students from largely Muslim schools and colleges in Uttar Pradesh, Muslim Rashtriya Manch of UP took up an active role at the event.
Speaking on the occasion, Mahiraj Dhwaj Singh, national co-convenor (organisation) of Muslim Rashtriya Manch for UP and Uttarakhand said, “More than 1,000 Muslims had contacted us about participating in the International Yoga Day celebrations, but at least 300 have confirmed their participation. Most of the participants will be observing roza, while performing yoga. In fact, most of them are likely to arrive at the programme venue after Sehri (pre-dawn meal).”
More than 1,000 Muslims had contacted us about participating in the International Yoga Day celebrations, but at least 300 have confirmed their participation. Most of the participants will be observing roza, while performing yoga.
This narrative, however, breaks from the usually accepted discourse of yoga belonging to Hinduism. The ancient Indian tradition known for bringing harmony between man and nature and instilling a great form of restraint and fulfilment is now seeking supporters within religious minority factions too. Shripad Naik, Minister of State, (independent charge) Department of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy (AYUSH) believes that yoga has the ability to change our perspectives of life. He said, “It brings through a renewed sense of health and wellbeing among other health benefits.”
Syed Yaser Ali Jeelani, national spokesperson, in charge and convener of Muslim Rashtriya Manch Delhi Pradesh also emphasised on how as a Muslim there is nothing wrong with calling yoga our own and that it is for our benefit to claim yoga and grow with it. He said, “Only fanatics and religiously intolerant people have a problem with yoga. Yoga is Indian and we as Indians must embrace it. There is no mention of its being wrong for us Muslims to follow it. As a Muslim, yoga is equal to namaz and I would follow yoga with equal fervour as Sanatan Dharam would follow the essence of Hindustani culture.”
It must be brought to context here that it’s the holy month of Ramadan and that Muslims are fasting through the day since the hour of dawn till sunset, going without food or water for 30 days straight. Ramadan started on May 28 and it has been 24 days since the Indian Muslims have been observing fast today.
Only fanatics and religiously intolerant people have a problem with yoga. Yoga is Indian and we as Indians must embrace it.
It’s pertinent to mention Ramadan in lieu of Muslims participating at the event, as it throws light on the dedication and eagerness to perform yoga that drove the fasting Muslims to continue practising in the scorching heat.
Kaushal Raj from the organising committee of the International Yoga Day celebrations in Lucknow said, “We started training from May 9 as they (participants) had to be trained in different asanas according to the Common Yoga Protocol. It was a prerequisite to being a part of the event. The event was to be performed in the presence of PM Modi, CM Yogi, AYUSH minister, Police, Patanjali, Army and other important people.”
Trained according to the Protocol in 25 different asanas for the celebrations, those participating were motivated by a singular sentiment of adopting yoga in their daily lives as an intrinsically Indian cultural symbol, love for which stems from avid nationalism.
In a build up to the mass congregation today, organisations such as Muslim Rashtriya Manch, Shriram Mandir Nirman Muslim Karsevak Manch, and others who describe themselves as “secular Muslim organisations” have gone all out in the support of yoga, which has an Indian identity rather than a religious one.
Azam Khan, the national president of Shriram Mandir Nirman Muslim Karsevak Manch, was fasting while being present for the event. Before it started he said, “I will be participating in the third International Yoga Day celebrations and performing various yoga asanas (postures).” He had requested for a separate section for the rozedaars (those fasting) on the venue with provisions of a shade as they would not be able to have water even after physical excursions for the entire day till sunset.
With more number of Muslims associating themselves with the practice of yoga, it is important to note how the physical art has found its new haven within political circles. Every political party wants to claim yoga and promote it to gain political numbers.
Yoga has become the new ‘magic’ factor in crunching numbers--in appeasing all factions of the society. Vote bank politics has a new competition in the garb of yoga diplomacy.
When Mohsin Raza, minister of state for Muslim Waqf and Haj, was contacted, he said, “I will also participate and perform yoga while observing roza. Both yoga and roza are good for one’s health.”
Yoga does not have a religious identity, it is not Hindu or Muslim, it is Indian and we as Indians owe it to the land of Sanatan Dharam to respect the sentiments of the land.
Yaser Ali Jeelani adds, “Yoga is a part of our Hindustani routine. It is the coming together of kriya, vilom, discipline, love. It does not have a religious identity. It is not Hindu or Muslim, it is Indian and we as Indians owe it to the land of Sanatan Dharam to respect the sentiments of the land.”
What works in favour of yoga is its universal nature without any religious, identity or ideological barrier, as claimed by all secular organisations who worked to make Yoga Day celebration a success.
Yoga is easy to do, fun to watch, and offers an easily propagated discourse. The fact that roza and yoga are being spoken in the same length and is being accepted by some factions of the minority community, is a battle half won.
The sentiment was first fanned when Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi made comparisons between namaz (Muslim way of prayer) and Surya Namaskar (a prominent asana of yoga). He had said, “All asanas (postures) in Surya Namaskar, Pranayama activities are similar to the way namaz is done by our Muslim brothers, but nobody has ever tried to bring them together because few people are interested only in ‘bhoga’, not yoga.”
He went on to say that “up until 2014, even talking about yoga was considered communal but things changed after PM Modi took steps to make yoga popular across the world”.
Government ministries are now working overtime to market yoga as a religion-neutral exercise and ensure maximum participation nationwide. To put things in perspective, the Union AYUSH Ministry released a book called "Yoga and Islam", on its universal appeal and acceptance. To appease the Muslims, the Ministry also decided to drop the words Om and Surya Namaskar.
He said, “Denouncing the celebration on the ground of opposing certain hymns or celebrating it on Sunday only echo our fractured mindset and all the more highlight the need for a yogic life. Even Surya Namaskar is not a form of worship but well known as a capsule form of yoga which anyone can practise in a short span of time. If leading a healthy life is a human right, then it should be available to all human beings, irrespective of religion.”
But this does not go down well with everyone. Some elements in RSS feel that these compromises make yoga lose its essence and that Muslims cannot have a way out of it if they claim to be Indian, in every sense of the word.