Yoga in-sync with Islam, experts say
Andra Wisnu, The Jakarta Post, DENPASAR
Islam and yoga share more similarities than some parties would like to admit, a seminar concluded Thursday.
Titled "Yoga and Pluralism and the Islamic Perspective on Peace" experts participating in the forum, held at the Bali-India Foundation office in Denpasar, said that Islam shared many similarities with Yoga.
The seminar is part of the International Bali-India Yoga Festival, which will run until Tuesday.
Salman Harun, a professor at Jakarta's Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University and a noted Koranic scholar, said the act of prayer in Islam, or shalat, could be perceived as a form of yoga.
He argued that most forms of yoga as practiced the way they are today not Hindu in nature and that the practice is simply an age-old method created by people trying to connect to a cosmic force.
"In that sense, the moves done while praying, like the way we stand, the ruku (bending over with the hands over the kneecaps), the sujud (kneeling with the face down on the floor) and the way we sit during praying is similar to yoga," he said.
"Besides, most Muslims would agree that the moves in shalat are beneficial to our health."
He said that, despite popular culture linking the method to Hinduism and Buddhism, this has little to do with the way yoga is practiced around the world.
Furthermore, he said, the breathing exercises done in yoga are also implicitly mentioned in the Koran.
He cited Surah Al-Qaf, verse 16, which states: "It was We who created man, and We know what dark suggestions his soul makes to him: for We are nearer to him than [his] jugular vein". "To breathe is to be under God's watchful eyes, which means have to have breathing exercises is to get closer to God. That is when God is closer to you than your jugular vein," he said, adding "and yoga teaches that technique."
Salman's observations may bring some unification between yoga and Islam after the two were pitted against each other by an Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) issued fatwa (edict) banned yoga, on the grounds that it contained elements of Hinduism.
The MUI edict was issued after its Malaysian counterpart also banned yoga.
While the Malaysian council banned yoga completely, the Indonesian council permits forms of Yoga which are purely physical.
Salman said the MUI may have felt compelled to declare its authority in issuing the edict after looking at various forms of yoga, some of which include incantations and seemingly ritualistic practices.
He urged the MUI and officials to educate the public on the recently issued fatwa, saying that most people would not be able to tell the difference between yoga in popular culture and yoga that incorporates chanting.
He said he saw nothing blasphemous in Muslims practicing yoga, further suggesting that yoga should be introduced to madrasahs (Islamic schools) to familiarize Muslims with yoga.
"Yoga asks people to believe in God. Which God depends on that person, but the practice itself is in line with Islamic teachings," he said.
Dr. Martin Ramstedt, a German researcher with the Max Planck Society, who was among the panelists, agreed with Salman, though he went farther, saying that the MUI's edict was more motivated by political and economic ambitions and less by religious concerns.
"At the moment there is this summit in Jakarta on Islamic countries, so for economic and also political reasons, Indonesia has to somehow prove that it is Islamic in character," he said, referring to the World Islamic Economic Forum (WIEF) held in Jakarta between March 2 and 3.
"I understand that certain measures like the fatwa against yoga, the pornography law, the raise in alcohol taxes feeds into it. At least that's what I think."
Later in the evening, the Indonesian Yoga Association was established with 20 members, mostly yoga masters, joining its board.
AA Ayu Shri Sri Wariyani has been elected as the association's chairwoman with Salman, Ramstedt, Ratu Bagus, Ida Pedanda Made Gunung, Acharya Laxmi Narayan and Stefan Denarek serving as advisors.