Syed Bukhari

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Is Yoga Haram in Islam?

Yoga originated in ancient India as a Hindu spiritual practice. The word “yoga” in Sanskrit means “union.” The goal of yoga is to unite the individual consciousness with the universal cosmic consciousness. This is achieved through physical, mental, and spiritual disciplines and techniques.

Some key elements of yoga include body postures (asanas), controlled breathing (pranayama), meditation, and mantra chanting. These are said to balance the energies in the body and mind, leading to greater personal awareness and inner tranquility.

While yoga predates Hinduism, it became absorbed into Hindu philosophy and became an integral part of Hindu ritual practices. Given its Hindu religious roots, yoga is viewed by some Muslims as impermissible to practice.

Islamic Ruling on Yoga

Contemporary Islamic scholars differ in their views about the permissibility of practicing yoga:

  • Some scholars say it is absolutely prohibited, citing yoga’s Hindu origins.
  • Others permit yoga unconditionally as a form of physical fitness and exercise.
  • Some allow only certain yoga postures and breathing techniques as beneficial exercise, if done without any spiritual intent.
  • Others distinguish between different schools of yoga, prohibiting some branches but permitting exercise-based adaptations.

Origins of Yoga

Yoga’s origins lie in the pre-Vedic traditions of India, before the emergence of Hinduism. The fundamental text outlining yoga philosophy and practices, the Yoga Sutras, was compiled around 400 CE by the Hindu sage Patanjali. He defined the purpose of yoga as stilling the fluctuations of consciousness to reach inner lucidity.

By the Middle Ages, yoga had become an established aspect of Hindu culture. Different yoga schools developed, teaching spiritual liberation through physical postures and breath control. While yoga evolved over time, its religious roots in Hindu metaphysical beliefs remained intact.


Why Some Islamic Scholars Forbid Yoga

Scholars who completely prohibit yoga argue that:

  • Yoga is inextricably intertwined with Hindu religious rituals and beliefs, like sun worship and mantra chanting.
  • Even if yoga is treated as mere exercise, its origins in idolatrous religions make it impermissible.
  • Yoga postures resemble the worship rituals of polytheists. This imitation is forbidden.
  • Certain yoga practices have damaging physical effects.
  • Yoga promotes Hindu philosophical concepts counter to Islamic tenets.
  • Yoga meditation leads to altered mental states that allow satanic influences.

Why Some Scholars Permit Yoga with Conditions

Scholars who conditionally permit yoga argue that:

  • Only customs rooted in other religions that directly contradict Islamic beliefs are forbidden.
  • Yoga exercises and techniques can be practiced as beneficial exercise if shorn of religious elements.
  • Flexibility is warranted for new or ambiguous practices not addressed directly in Islamic scripture.
  • Factors like intention and context determine the lawfulness of actions.
  • An absolutist ban on yoga is unnecessarily rigid and deprives Muslims of physical/mental health benefits.

Key Islamic Rulings and Principles

Scholars analyze yoga according to certain fundamental Islamic legal and ethical principles:

  • Tawhid: The Oneness and Uniqueness of God. Associating divinity with anything else, like worshiping the sun, violates this.
  • Imitation of other religions: Muslims should avoid resembling polytheists in customs, rituals or appearance.
  • Physical health: Taking care of one’s physical well-being is encouraged in Islam. But not if it contradicts other laws.
  • Spiritual purity: Any practice with potential to distort Islamic beliefs should be avoided.
  • Intention: The purpose behind actions determines their lawfulness.

Analyzed through this framework, scholars try to balance yoga’s benefits and risks for Muslims.

Fatwas and Guidelines on Yoga

Some councils of scholars in Muslim countries have issued fatawa and guidelines evaluating yoga’s permissibility in Islam:

  • Malaysia: Allows yoga as exercise, but without chanting mantras, worshipping the sun, or incorporating Hindu ritual elements. Emphasizes knowing the original purpose behind yoga postures.
  • Egypt: A ban in the past, but currently permits yoga as sport if it does not promote Hindu religious beliefs.
  • UAE: Allows yoga as physical fitness, provided it is taught in a spiritually clean environment. Recommends avoiding chanting.
  • Indonesia: Ulema Council discouraged Muslims from practicing yoga, but unofficial bans were lifted in 2015.

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Yoga in Quran and Hadith

The Quran and Hadith do not explicitly mention yoga. But scholars point to verses prohibiting polytheism and idolatrous customs to argue against practices like yoga rooted in other religions:

“And do not invoke besides Allah that which neither benefits you nor harms you, for if you did, then indeed you would be of the wrongdoers.” (Quran 10:106)

“Whoever recommends and helps a good cause becomes a partner therein; and whoever recommends and helps an evil cause shares in its burdens.” (Hadith)

Permissible Forms of Exercise for Muslims

Muslims are encouraged to stay fit and active. Some forms of exercise compatible with Islamic teachings include:

  • Walking, running, swimming: Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) raced with his wife Aisha.
  • Horse-riding, archery: These were practiced by Sahaba.
  • Strength training: Stimulates muscles. Should avoid music/immodesty.
  • Sports like soccer, basketball: Foster team spirit and health.
  • Martial arts like karate: Promote self-defense and discipline.
  • Aerobics and Zumba: Set to Islamic music and clothing.
  • Pilates, stretching: Simple, low-impact flexibility exercises.
  • Modified yoga: Without Hindu rituals, sun worship or mantras.

Muslims should choose exercise that benefits the body and spirit without compromising religious beliefs.

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Is yoga permissible in Islam?

There are diverging opinions on yoga’s permissibility in Islam. Most scholars prohibit it outright due to its Hindu roots. Some permit it conditionally only as exercise without any spiritual elements. Others distinguish between different yoga schools and permit those devoid of polytheistic aspects.

What is the origin of yoga?

Yoga originated in pre-Vedic India as a Hindu spiritual practice. The Yoga Sutras text compiled around 400 CE outlines yoga philosophy of uniting mind, body and soul. Yoga incorporated Hindu ideas and became part of Hinduism. Its religious roots are in Hindu theology.

Why do some Islamic scholars completely forbid yoga?

Some scholars forbid yoga because of its theological roots in Hinduism, use of mantras invoking polytheism, resemblance to idol-worship postures, potential physical harm, and ability to distort Islamic beliefs.

What are the conditions for yoga to be permissible in Islam?

Some scholars say yoga can be permissible if it is treated purely as exercise without any Hindu religious customs, chanting, sun worship or mantras. The purpose must be physical fitness and relaxation, not spiritual awakening.

Does the Quran mention yoga?

No, yoga is not directly mentioned in the Quran. But scholars cite Quranic verses prohibiting polytheism and idolatrous practices as reasons to forbid yoga due to its origins and purpose rooted in Hindu religion.

What are some alternative forms of exercise for Muslims?

Permissible exercise for Muslims includes walking, archery, swimming, martial arts, soccer, basketball, aerobics to Islamic music, Pilates, stretching, and yoga with all polytheistic elements removed.

Is chanting mantras during yoga permissible for Muslims?

No, chanting Hindu religious mantras during yoga that invoke polytheistic concepts or worship is strictly prohibited in Islam for Muslims.

Can Muslims practice yoga if they avoid sun salutations?

Some scholars may allow practicing yoga without the Surya Namaskar (sun salutation) pose, since it most clearly replicates Hindu sun worship. But other scholars prohibit yoga altogether due to broader concerns.

Is it OK for Muslims to do yoga if they have a physical condition?

Most scholars do not make exceptions for yoga due to medical needs. But some may permit it selectively if no spirituality is involved and it is prescribed by a doctor.

Can Muslims participate in yoga retreats?

No, Muslims should avoid yoga retreats that incorporate Hindu-based mantra chanting, meditation focused on Hindu theology, lectures on yoga philosophy, or similar spiritual activities.

Does intention matter in determining if yoga is haram?

Some scholars focus on whether yoga is practiced with spiritual and religious intent or just for fitness. But others forbid it absolutely regardless of personal intentions due to its intrinsic nature.

Is Surya Namaskar allowed in Islam?

‘Surya Namaskar’ is a form of worship of the Sun. Islam and other minorities in India do not believe that Sun is a deity and do not approve of its worship

Is yoga allowed in Islam Shia?

Shia cleric Maulana Yasoob Abbas asserted on Sunday that Islam did not oppose yoga and its practice should not be associated with any religion