Question # 110: Is Yoga permissible in Islam?
bismi-llahi r-raḥmani r-raḥīm,
Assalamu ‘laikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh,
All praise and thanks are due to Allah (سبحانه و تعالى), and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger (صلى الله عليه و سلم).
First of all, we implore Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) to help us serve His cause and render our work for His sake.
Shorter Answer: The major Hindu texts of India, namely, Rig-Veda, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, Yoga Sutra of Patanjali and Hatha-Yoga-Pradipika, directly mention yoga. Different types of yoga emphasize different practices but have the same goal: ‘Moksha’ (salvation), liberation from worldly suffering and the cycle of birth and death through reincarnation with the ultimate aim of union with the Brahman. Along with the five abstentions: nonviolence, not lying, not stealing, not lusting, and not being greedy and the five observances: purity, contentment, self-discipline, self-study, and devotion, Yoga also involves body control (asanas), breath control, detachment, concentration, and meditation in the eight limbs of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. Also of concern in yogic thought, are the seven energy centers (chakras) that store energy, or the life force in human body.
From Islamic perspective, Muslims have had the blessing of Salah that has since fourteen hundred years become an integral part of their daily activities with physical, psychological, social and spiritual benefits. In yoga, activation of all the seven chakras, energy levels at least once in a day is advocated to realize the true potential of the practice; while salah, procedurally less complex than yoga, is practiced ritually five times in a day without requiring any formal training or age restriction is a boon to the Muslims that they get to tune the energy chakras effortlessly integrating the practice with their daily routine. Going through the motions five times daily and apparently not understanding its essence has been the problem with most Muslims; perhaps there is a profound meaning in each physical posture (including the recitation and timing of offering) of the salah – a meaning intimately related to the very fundamental notion of being Muslim (the one who submits their very purpose to the Creator).
(Note: I genuinely request the readers to go through the longer version of the answer to have a better perspective of both, the yoga as well as salah)
ORIGIN OF YOGA
[The following are] …few of the major sacred texts of India (since that’s where yoga really blossomed, and many of these texts directly mention yoga or its concepts):
- The Rig-Veda, considered the most ancient of sacred texts. Meaning “Knowledge of Praise,” it’s been orally passed down via sages who memorized it. Consisting of 1,028 hymns, the Rig-Veda is now believed to be over 4,000 years old.
- The Upanishads, the scriptures of ancient Hindu philosophy, describe the path of Jnana Yoga, the discipline of wisdom as a path to self-realization.
- The Bhagavad Gita, perhaps the most famous Hindu text and the epic story of Arjuna, a warrior-prince, who confronts moral dilemmas and is led to a better understanding of reality through the intercession of the god Krishna.
- The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, the source of Patanjali’s Eightfold Path. Many call Patanjali the father of yoga because of this significant and influential text, but yoga was around long before Patanjali, who only made it more accessible.
- The Hatha-Yoga-Pradipika, a fourteenth-century guide to Hatha Yoga.
(‘The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Yoga’ by Joan Budilovsky and Eve Adamson)
CRASH COURSE ON YOGA
Hatha Yoga works under the assumption that supreme control over the body, or the physical self, is one path to enlightenment.
Raja Yoga, The Royal Path, emphasizes control of the intellect to attain enlightenment. Meditation, concentration, and breath control are paramount in this yoga of mind.
Kriya Yoga means “spiritual action,” and involves the practice of quieting the mind through scriptural self-study, breathing techniques, mantras, and meditation.
Karma Yoga encourages that all beings on this earth be served with the respect deserving of a divine presence.
Bhakti Yoga places sincere, heartfelt devotion to the divine ahead of all else and involves reverence, devotion, and perpetual remembrance of divine presence.
Jnana Yoga is the path of knowledge and wisdom. All knowledge is hidden within us and the goal is to inquire deeply into ourselves through questioning, meditation, and contemplation.
Tantra Yoga involves the study of sacred writings and rituals.
Mantra Yoga is the study of sacred sounds. Om is the most commonly known mantra syllable. Chanting a mantra puts in touch with the vibrational patterns of the world and the universe’s ocean of vibration, helps ascending to a state of oneness with the universe. Japa is the process of repeating mantras for the purpose of clearing the mind. Here are a few mantras:
- OM NAMAH SHIVAYA “To divinity my salutations again and again” [(one of the several names of the Hindu god, Shiva is Yogeshwara, meaning Lord of Yoga)]
- HARI-OM (HAH-ree OHM) “Preserving goodness in all”
- OM NAMO BHAGAVATE VASUDEVAYA “I turn to the divinity within the heart of all beings.”
- AHAM BRAHMASMI “I am the absolute”
- OM MANI PADME HUM “Enlightened body, enlightened speech, enlightened mind, active compassion”
Kundalini Yoga involves techniques meant to awaken the energy, symbolized as a snake that “sleeps” at the base of the spine. When released correctly, results in enlightenment.
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra
Under it, the eight limbs are enumerated, which provide structure for yoga and daily life.
- Yoga Don’ts: Yamas: The abstinences, or yamas, are not rules meant to limit. They are suggestions meant to help purify body and mind and practice self-discipline:
- Ahimsa involves nonviolent actions, nonviolent words, and nonviolent thoughts. For some, nonviolent action also means vegetarianism, because meat was once an animal, bird, or fish that was killed.
- Satya is telling no lies.
- Asteya is no more stealing.
- Brahmacharya – Brahmacharya essentially means “to control the movement of truth.” Lust and desire, in their many forms, obscure truth, therefore, developing the inner strength to control our lusts and desires helps us to see truth more clearly.
- Aparigraha means non-greediness – living simply, possessing only what is necessary, and recognizing that possessions are merely tools to use in life. Accumulations, material things or unnecessary thoughts, tie one down to this world.
- Yoga Do’s: Niyamas:
- Shauca means be pure. Purity is achieved through the practice of the five previous yamas mentioned above. Keeping oneself clean by bathing; dressing in fresh, clean clothes; and keeping your surroundings clean are all part of pure actions. Fresh, natural, and healthy foods are best. Foods obtained through nonviolent means are ideal because they can be eaten with full, unadulterated joy; this is why yogis traditionally practice a vegetarian diet.
- Santosha means to be content and finding happiness with what one possesses.
- Tapas is to be disciplined.
- Svadhyaya is to be studious. It means studying oneself through introspection. Also, studious words and thoughts involve the study of various sacred texts.
- Ishvara-Pranidhana means to be devoted. This niyama reminds to relinquish ego and center on highest ideal. Positive energy will flow from the divine into all areas of life.
- Asanas (Body Control): This is just one path of many that yoga offers. Asana literally translates as “posture” and is derived from the Sanskrit root “as”, which means “to stay.” Patanjali describes an asana as having sthira and sukha, or steadiness and the ability to remain comfortable.
- Pranayama (Breath Control): Prana refers to the life force or energy that exists everywhere and is manifested in each of human through the breath. Ayama means “to stretch or extend.” Prana flows out from the body, and pranayama teaches us to maneuver and direct prana for optimal physical and mental benefit. One famous exercise of breath control is Kapalabhati or skull shining, which involves a slow inhalation and a strong exhalation, and with a pause after each exhalation.
- Pratyahara (Detachment): It is the practice of withdrawing the senses from everything that stimulates them. It cuts off the connection between the senses and the brain. This can happen during breathing exercises, meditation, the practice of yoga postures, or any activity requiring concentration. This is required because senses can become so pleasurable that they control us instead of us controlling them. Pratyahara wipes the sensual slate clean.
- Dharana (Concentration): This is all about learning to concentrate. Concentration involves teaching the mind to focus on one thing instead of many, as is our usual state of mind.
- Dhyana (Meditation): It is the exercise that leads to the state of meditation, and meditation techniques are, in essence, purity techniques. Meditation occurs when one has actually become linked to the object of concentration so that nothing else exists. Many methods exist to bring to this state, but oneness with the object of meditation, and subsequently, oneness with the entire universe, is the objective.
- Samadhi (Pure Consciousness): All the limbs of yoga lead to samadhi, the final limb of the Eightfold Path. Samadhi means “to merge,” and this state of pure consciousness means just that: a complete and total merging with the object of your meditation.
(‘The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Yoga’ by Joan Budilovsky and Eve Adamson)
ULTIMATE GOAL OF YOGA
The Sanskrit word ‘yoga’ has the literal meaning of “yoke,” from a root ‘yuj’ meaning to join, to unite, or to attach. (‘Yoga Therapy: Theory and Practice’ by Ellen G. Horovitz and Staffan Elgelid)
The ultimate goal [of yoga]… is called: moksha (salvation). Moksha is the liberation from worldly suffering and samsara (the cycle of birth and death through reincarnation). This release from sequential lives on earth leads to an enlightened relationship with a creator. Different schools of yoga have differing beliefs about this enlightened relationship. (yoga.com)
YOGA EXERCISES from (‘The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Yoga’ by Joan Budilovsky and Eve Adamson)
[There are many asanas (body control movements); just a few ones concerning our discussion that are overtly religious than others, are covered hereunder]:
Tadasana (Mountain Pose): Tada means “mountain,” and sana means “straight,” so tadasana means standing straight like a mountain. The mountain pose helps to maintain balance and posture, which leads to internal balance, which leads to good health.
Virabhadrasana (Warrior Pose): It takes tremendous strength of a warrior to “conquer” inner peace. This pose fills the body with nobility and strength, calling upon the power and nourishment of the sun while firmly planting the feet upon the earth. Vira means “hero” and bhadra means “auspicious,” so virabhadrasana means “heroic auspicious posture.”
Garudasana (Eagle): The eagle is a god in Indian mythology, and so is considered sacred and important. Symbolically, the eagle represents the life force/prana.
Vashishthasana (Arm Balance): Named after the Indian sage Vashishtha, this pose develops concentration, nonattachment to either achievement or failure, and an undisturbed, steady mind.
Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose): Bhujanga means “serpent,” and the cobra is a sacred and revered serpent in India. This pose concentrates on allowing the strength of your spine to move you.
Urdhvamukha Shvanasana (Upward Facing Dog): This pose looks like a dog stretching upward.
Surya Namaskara (Bowing to Sun): The sun is the center of solar system, and without its energy and warmth, the living beings would not have existed on this planet. This dynamic form is devotion, offering thanks and greetings to the sun, and although it can be performed any time, it is particularly appropriate and wonderful when performed at sunrise, out-of-doors, facing east. Chandra Namaskara (Bowing to Moon) greets and honors the moon.
Gomukhasana (Cow Face): In Hinduism, the cow is the most sacred of animals, worshipped for its giving nature—cream, butter, and dung, which is used as fuel for fire. Appropriately, the cow pose is meant to lead to a feeling of openness and giving.
Vajrasana (Kneeling Pose): It is also called the Zen pose, as this is the meditation pose used by Zen Buddhist monks. Vajra means “thunderbolt” or “diamond.”
Mudhasana (Child’s Pose): This pose makes you feel safe and nurtured, as if you were still in the womb.
Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend Pose): It comes from the Sanskrit words ‘ut’ means intense and ‘tan’ means stretch. This Standing Forward Bend pose allows fresh oxygen-rich blood to flow to your brain. (http://www.sarvyoga.com/uttanasana-standing-forward-bend-pose-steps-and-benefits/)
Chakras (Energy Centers): In yogic thought, the body contains seven energy centers, called chakras (literally “wheels”) that store energy, or the life force, prana. While the body contains many energy centers and subenergy centers, there are seven primary chakras along the midline of the body at the base of the spine and continue along the spinal cord, ending in the seventh chakra at the crown of the head. These are as follows:
- Muladhara (root support) chakra: Located just above the anus at the base of the spine, this involves elimination and the sense of smell. When awakened through yoga, this energy travels up the spine through all the chakras.
- Svadhishthana (sacral) chakra: Located on the spine near the genitals, this involves water, sexuality, passion, the creation of life, and taste.
- Manipura (jewel city/ solar plexus/ navel) chakra: Located on the spine behind the navel, this is associated with digestion or “gastric fire,” your sense of self, and your actions.
- Anahata (unstruck / heart) chakra: Located behind the heart, this is the center of your compassion and emotions.
- Vishuddha (especially pure / throat) chakra: Located in the throat, this is the center for communication.
- Ajna (third-eye) chakra: Located in the middle of the brow, or center of unclouded perception.
- Sahasrara (thousand-petaled / crown) chakra: Located at the crown of the skull, this is the center of self-realization, perspective, unity, and enlightenment.
Mudra (seal): Mudras refer to a variety of yoga practices that aren’t poses exactly, but techniques for sealing life-force energy inside the body. Some of these are: Namaste Mudra (Bowing to you), Om Mudra (Simply Divine), and Buddhi Mudra (enlightenment gesture).
Mantra is a sound or sounds that resonate in the body and evoke certain energies. Mantras help stimulate the energy centers in the body by soothing your mind and awakening your senses. Om is a common mantra because it’s designed to invoke a universal perspective.
This section contains excerpts from two articles, which address most components of yoga (described above) from Islamic perspective. However, the following two aspects of Yamas and Niyamas not covered therein are dealt with hereunder:
- [Vegetarianism is considered as part of non-voilence acts in the Yamas of Ahimsa and Niyamas of Shauca. However,] Islam maintains that Allah has created the earth and its wondrous flora and fauna for the benefit of mankind. It is upto mankind to use every resource in this world judiciously, as a niyamat (Divine blessing) and amanat (trust) from Allah. Therefore, Qur’an permits Muslims to have non-vegetarian food (Soorah Al-Maidah, 5:1; Soorah an-Nahl, 16:5; Soorah Al-Muminoon 23:21), which is nutritious and rich in complete protein. From the scientific point of view, humans have omnivorous set of teeth, and digestive system of humans can digest both vegetarian and non-vegetarian food. A note to vegetarians – Today it is a universal fact that even plants have life and can feel pain. (‘Answers To Non Muslims Common Questions About Islam’ by Dr. Zakir Naik)
- As for Brahmacharya, some yogis practice celibacy. Islam’s perspective can be understood from the following hadith: Anas ibn Malik (رضي الله عنه) said: Three people came to the houses of the wives of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) asking about the worship of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم). When they were told, it was as if they regarded it as too little. They said: Who are we in comparison to the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم)? Allah has forgiven his past and future sins. One of them said: As for me, I will pray all night forever. Another said: I shall fast all my life and never break my fast. Another said: I shall keep away from women and never get married. The Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) came and said: “Are you the ones who said such and such? By Allah, I am the one who fears Allah the most among you and I am the most pious, but I fast and I break my fast, I pray and I sleep, and I marry women. Whoever turns away from my Sunnah is not of me.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
The following is an excerpt from an article (2013;55, Suppl S2:224-30) appearing in ‘Indian Journal of Psychiatry’ on ‘The Islamic prayer (Salah/Namaaz) and yoga togetherness in mental health’ by Sayeed SA, Prakash A:
Salah is an act of submission to the Supreme Creator Allah and is expressed in a specific and well defined physical act embodying the spirit… While the prescribed five daily prayers are mandatory on all individuals post puberty “Verily, Salah is an obligation on the believers to be observed at its appointed time.” (Soorah An-Nisa’a, 4:103), voluntary prayers in excess of the above are highly encouraged and are recommended as a means of turning to the divine help at times of personal grief and distress. The second form of worship which is called dhikr [Refer to Mantra Yoga: japa], meaning meditation is an individual act of remembering Allah at all times to glorify Him and remain thankful for His mercy and beneficence. Through both these means the Muslim individual seeks closeness to the Creator and attains inner peace and tranquility. Allah knows best His creation and thus says in the Qur’an “Verily, man was created impatient, irritable when evil touches him and niggardly when good touches him. Except for those devoted to prayer those who remain constant in their prayers…” (Soorah Al-Ma’aarij, 70:19-23).
Several reports on the application of salah in psychotherapy illustrate the positive outcome in the individuals exhibiting pathological symptoms such as tension, anxiety, depression and anti-social tendencies. These studies have highlighted the efficacy of salah as a cure to mental distress when followed in the correct form and measure. Since salah is an act of submission to Allah, the believer puts his/her total unconditional faith in the Lord and pleads for acceptance of the prayer and grant him/her remission from the condition of ill health, irrespective of its nature. Studies have proven that non-Muslim participants merely going through the physical movements of Salah also showed appreciable results from the exercise.
Islam is not only a religion but a complete way of life that provides a comprehensive methodology for practice and solutions to problems of mankind in the realms of spiritual, intellectual, and physical challenges. Allah says in the Qur’an” “Verily, the prayer keeps one from the great sins and evil deeds” (Soorah al-Ankaboot, 29:45). All such prescriptions in form and function and the underlying philosophy are firmly rooted in the two authentic texts namely the Qur’an and the Hadith… It is important to note that any attempt to add or delete, modify or even try to interpret the procedure otherwise is considered innovation [bid’ah] and is strongly abhorred, to say the least. It is this divine and pure nature of Islamic worship that lends it the distinction of being unique and a spiritually enriching experience…. In order to realize the far-reaching and deep-seated impact on the attitude, behavior and life of a believer salah must be understood properly and exercised appropriately as given in the authentic texts.[ The Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said “Pray as you have seen me praying…” (Bukhari)]
Wudu’ (Ablution) – The purification and preparation
Any act of worship in Islam requires the devotee to make an intention and perform physical cleansing and ready himself spiritually. The term Wudu’ broadly translates to ablution which Muslims perform before the salah by washing their hands, face and feet in a specific order. This in itself is an act of worship since it preconditions the person to perform a serious and sacred duty. [Refer to Second Yoga Sutra – Niyama: Shauca] The Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said that “A Muslim who purifies (himself) and completes purification as enjoined upon him by Allah and then offers the prayers, that will be expiations (of his sins he committed) between these (prayers).” (Sahih Muslim) …The mind is put to rest from worldly distractions and stress as the act of ablution conditions the psyche to focus singularly on the act of obedience and submission to His will. [Refer to fourth Yoga Sutra – Pratyahara (Detachment)] By commencing the salah with clean body and clear intention the worshiper enters into a state of mind appropriate to communicate with Allah. This is an exclusive act performed at least five times [at dawn before sunrise, noon, afternoon/ midway between noon and sunset, sunset and before the bed time] by the Muslims and has scientifically been noted to relax the mind and reduce stress levels as the spirituality overtakes any worldly concern.
Niyyah – The intention
Expression of intention called Niyyah in Arabic to perform the salah is an essential precondition and is usually done within one’s heart appropriately for the Salah of the time. With the intention, the worshiper is committed to complete the action as prescribed and obey all the rules therein in order that his prayer is accepted and rewarded.
Salah – The formal prayer
The five mandatory salah are spread over various parts of the day in such a way that the devotee is not only in contact with the Creator frequently and receives peace and blessings as his reward but also experiences physical well-being that has now been scientifically confirmed. …Each prayer has a certain number of repetitive units called raka’h and a [minimum] total of seventeen are prayed during the day. Each of the physical and spiritual movements of salah demonstrated by the Prophet Mohammed (صلى الله عليه و سلم) is accompanied by supplications to be recited in Arabic. The practice of all Muslims following the prayers globally in exactly the same manner and reciting the Qur’an in Arabic is unique to Islam and reaffirms its strong message of equality and universal brotherhood.
…The purpose of congregation is to unite the Muslims in a cohesive community locally and a well-structured society at large. All forms of discriminations, inequalities and prejudices are left behind when a Muslim enters the mosque for a prayer. By meeting several times a day in the mosque and learning to be responsive to each other’s needs and problems, the Muslim neighborhood establishes a good model of social integration and compassion. This serves a bigger purpose of removing psychological complexes, anxiety, stress and apprehensions from their minds and reinforces a sense of security and inclusiveness in the individual.
Salah in practice
It is important to inspect the act of salah in close detail as each of the positions and moves hold significance to the worshiper (musalli) both from physiological and psychological points of view. Typically, a single raka’h has three major movements. Firstly, after the silent expression of intention to perform the prayer the individual raises his hands to the level of his ears and utters [Allahu Akbar] ‘Allah is the Greatest’ and folds his hands above the navel. During this brief standing of a few minutes the opening chapter of the Qur’an followed by any other verses [/ chapter(s)] in Arabic is peacefully recited either silently or aloud depending upon the time of the prayer. Focusing on the recitation and contemplation over the meaning is known to soothe the believer’s senses. In this serene atmosphere, the worshiper standing before Allah is supplicating for his guidance.
The second movement is that of [Ruku’] bowing with hands rested on the knees and the back held straight for a few seconds enough to utter the supplication glorifying Allah [Subhana rabbiyal adhim] for at least three times and the person rises back to erect posture. In these few seconds, the worshiper’s back and head are held flat, perpendicular to the legs.
After more supplications praising Allah, the individual goes down on his knees and rests his hands and forehead on the ground in prostration known as Sajdah [Sujud] for the third and the most cherished position of all in salah. In this uniquely Islamic act that a human performs in front of Allah, the Muslim is nearest to The Almighty… The psychological advantage of realizing that one is in a physical posture best liked by the Lord and that his supplications will be answered; besides the humility attained in the act of stooping to the lowest bodily position is incomparable. Arrogance and egoistic tendencies not only take a severe beating at this moment but also relieve stress and anxiety arising from worldly concerns. [Refer to Second Yoga Sutra – Niyama: Ishvara-Pranidhana]
Health benefits of salah
The physical and physiological benefits of salah are multiple to say the least. Most of the body muscles and joints are exercised during Salah. In the most noteworthy movement of prostration besides the limb muscles, the back and perineum muscles as well are exercised repeatedly. The neck muscles, in particular, are strengthened such that it is uncommon to find a person offering regular salah prostrating at least 34 times a day to suffer from cervical spondylosis or myalgias. Sujud is the only position in which the head is in a position lower than the heart and therefore, receives increased blood supply. This surge in blood supply has a positive effect on memory, concentration, psyche and other cognitive abilities. During sujud dissipation of the electromagnetic energy accumulated from the atmosphere takes place by the grounding effect at regular intervals resulting in a calming feeling. A recent study investigating the alpha brain activity during Muslim prayers has reported increased amplitude in the parietal and occipital regions suggestive of parasympathetic elevation, thus indicating a state of relaxation.
Khushu refers to a state of mind in salah when we stand in front of Allah and fully direct our minds and hearts towards Him. Anything less not only diminishes the rewards of our worship but a lost opportunity for our spiritual rejuvenation as well. In psychological terms, we can liken this state of mind to a single-minded immersion of oneself with a deep focus on the activity at hand and one that leads to maximum performance. [Refer to sixth, seventh and eighth Yoga Sutra – Dharana (Concentration), Dhyana (Meditation) and Samadhi (Pure Consciousness)]
Salah and yoga: Complement or contradiction?
…Yoga has been known for its scientific basis as a healthy lifestyle practice for thousands of years. Today, Yoga, regardless of its religious affiliation, has become one of the most popular fitness practices all over the world. In India, it has been consistently applied for centuries for its curative powers of movement. Albeit, several ‘asanas’ (physical postures) of Yoga may not be possible to follow in healthcare practices in the absence of the professional supervision for desirable advantage, Muslims have had the blessing of Salah that has since fourteen hundred years become an integral part of their daily activities with physical, psychological, social and spiritual benefits.
The following article “The ‘Yoga’ of Islamic Prayer” by Karima Burns, MH, ND is worth a read:
Called “one of the oldest systems of personal development encompassing body, mind and spirit” by the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, yoga has become one of the fastest growing health trends today. It has been renowned for centuries for its curative powers of movement.
Yoga consists of a number of “asnas,” or body positions, which one retains for a desired length of time while either reciting “mantras” or breathing in a rhythmic manner. Its benefits have been researched by many doctors who now recommend it to their patients, by many medical schools such as Harvard, and by many foundations such as the Menninger Foundation.
Interestingly, for the millions of people enrolled in yoga classes, the Islamic form of prayer has provided Muslims for fourteen centuries with some of yoga’s same (and even superior) benefits. This simple form of “yoga” offers physical, mental, and spiritual benefits five times a day as Muslims assume certain positions while reciting Qur’an and adhkar (remembrances).
Of course, not all the yoga positions are found in the Islamic prayer. However, hospital researchers have concluded that patients benefit from even a simplified version of yoga, and most hospital yoga programs, such as those at the Spaulding Rehabilitation Center in Massachusetts, consist of only five to seven positions.
The Muslim prayer has five positions, and they all (as well as the recitations we make while performing the prayer) have a corresponding relationship with our spiritual and mental well-being, according to modern scientific research. The benefits of performing specific movements and recitations each day come from the correct rendition of the position or action itself, the length of time the position is held, and from careful and correct recitation techniques.
Each of the five prayer positions has a corresponding yoga position, and the positions together “activate” all seven “chakras” (energy fields) in the body. The idea of activating a chakra may sound linguistically strange, but it is easier to understand once one translates that word into more familiar language.
Eastern healers believe that each of the chakras correlate to major nerve ganglia that branch forth from the spinal column. Thus, the concept of activating these nerve centers is akin to getting a chiropractic adjustment or installing a medical stimulating device on the spine to correct corresponding bodily malfunctions.
In layman’s terms, the idea of chakras can be understood by thinking about how the sense of “feeling” functions. One notices, when touching any part of the body, that that part responds by being more “awake” and aware. Another part of the body that was not touched, but is along the same nerve pathway, may also respond.
When a person is sitting, for instance, they may not be thinking about their legs, which are momentarily at rest; however, if someone touches them, they will again be “aware” of them. Chakras work in much the same way.
Studies have found that varying areas of the body, when activated by touch, movement or thought, evoke specific emotional and physical responses in much the same way that a smile can evoke the feeling of happiness, and actually increase circulation – even if one was feeling sluggish and unhappy before smiling. This is one of the reasons that it is so important to perfectly perform all of the movements of the Islamic prayer, rather than haphazardly rushing through them. [The Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) forbade moving head up and down quickly like crow pecking at seeds on the ground, during salah.]
The Takbir and Al Qiyyam together are very similar to the Mountain Pose [Tadasana] in yoga, which has been found to improve posture, balance, and self-awareness. This position also normalizes blood pressure and breathing, thus providing many benefits to asthma and heart patients.
The placement of the hands on the chest during the Qiyyam position are said to activate the “[Manipura (jewel city/navel) /] solar plexus chakra”, or nerve pathway, which directs our awareness of self in the world and controls the health of the muscular system, skin, intestines, liver, pancreas, gallbladder and eyes. When the hands are held open for du’aa, they activate the “[Anahata (unstruck)]/ heart chakra”, said to be the center of the feelings of love, harmony, and peace, and to control love and compassion. It also governs the health of the heart, lungs, thymus, immune system, and circulatory system.
Muslim researchers have shown that when Muslims recite the Qur’an, old thoughts, feelings, fears and guilt are released or healed, and blood pressure and stress levels are reduced. Virtually all of the sounds of the Arabic language are uttered while reciting Qur’an, creating a balance in all affected areas of the body.
Some specific sounds, in fact, correspond to major organs in the body. In his research and creation of eurhythmy, Rudolph Steiner (founder of the Waldorf Schools), , found that vibrations made when pronouncing the long vowels, ‘A’, ‘E’ and ‘U,’ stimulated the heart, lungs, and the thyroid, pineal, pituitary, and adrenal glands during laboratory tests.
The position of Ruku is very similar to the Forward Bend Position [Uttanasana] in yoga. Ruku stretches the muscles of the lower back, thighs, legs and calves, and allows blood to be pumped down into the upper torso. It tones the muscles of the stomach, abdomen, and kidneys. Forming a right angle allows the stomach muscles to develop, and prevents flabbiness in the mid-section.
This position also promotes a greater flow of blood into the upper regions of body – particularly to the head, eyes, ears, nose, brain, and lungs – allowing mental toxins to be released. Over time, this improves brain function and one’s personality, and is an excellent stance to maintain the proper position of the fetus in pregnant women.
The Sujud is said to activate the “[Sahasrara (thousand-petaled) /] crown chakra” which is related to a person’s spiritual connection with the universe around them and their enthusiasm for spiritual pursuits. This nerve pathway is also correlated to the health of the brain, nervous system, and pineal gland. Its healthy function balances ones interior and exterior energies.
In Sujud, we also bend; thus activating the “[Muladhara (root support)/] base chakra,” which controls basic human survival instincts and provides essential grounding. This helps to develop levelheaded and positive thinking along with a highly motivated view of life, and maintains the health of the lymph and skeletal systems, the prostate, bladder, and the adrenal glands. We also bend the “[Svadhishthana] sacral chakra” during Sujud, thus benefiting and toning the reproductive organs.
The position of Al Qaadah (or Julus) is similar to the Thunderbolt Pose [Vajrasana] in yoga, which firms the toes, knees, thighs, and legs. It is said to be good for those prone to excessive sleep, and those who like to keep long hours. Furthermore, this position assists in speedy digestion, aids the detoxification of the liver, and stimulates peristaltic action in the large intestine.
Last, but not least, the “Vishuddha (especially pure) /] throat chakra” is activated by turning the head towards first the right and then the left shoulder in the closing of the prayer. This nerve path is linked to the throat, neck, arms, hands, bronchials, and hearing – effecting individual creativity and communication.
It is believed that a person who activates all seven nerve pathways at least once a day can remain well balanced emotionally, physically and spiritually. Since this is the goal of all sincere Muslims, we all should strive to attain the perfection of stance, recitation, and breathing recommended in the Hadith while performing our prayers – the very same techniques of perfection taught in popular yoga, Tai Chi, and many other exercise classes.
In yoga, activation of all the seven chakras, energy levels at least once in a day is advocated to realize the true potential of the practice. Since salah is procedurally less complex than yoga and is practiced ritually five times in a day without requiring any formal training it is a boon to the Muslims that they get to tune the energy chakras effortlessly integrating the practice with their daily routine. (‘The Islamic prayer (Salah/Namaaz) and yoga togetherness in mental health’ by Sayeed SA, Prakash A; ‘Indian Journal of Psychiatry’; 2013;55, Suppl S2:224-30)
Going through the motions five times daily and apparently not understanding its essence has been the problem with most Muslims; perhaps there is a profound meaning in each physical posture of the salah – a meaning intimately related to the very fundamental notion of being Muslim (the one who submits their very purpose to the Creator). The following hadith is worth pondering in this regard: Abu Hurayrah (رضي الله عنه) narrated that the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) entered the mosque and a man came in and prayed, then he came and greeted the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم). The Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) returned the greeting and said: “Go back and pray, for you have not prayed.” The man went back and prayed as he had prayed before, then he came to the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) and greeted him, and the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said, “Wa ‘alayk al-salaam.” Then he said: “Go back and pray, for you have not prayed.” When he had done that three times, the man said: By the One Who sent you with the truth, I cannot do more than that. Teach me. He said: “When you go to pray, say takbeer, then recite whatever you can of the Qur’an. Then bow until you are at ease in bowing, then rise until you are standing up straight. Then prostrate until you are at ease in prostration, then sit up until you are at ease in sitting. Then do that throughout the entire prayer.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
An article dated March 2012 appearing on the website of American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) states “An increasing number of Americans are turning to yoga for exercise and relaxation, as well as relief of bone, joint, and muscle-related pain. Although yoga does offer many health benefits, if it is practiced incorrectly, it may cause muscle strain, torn ligaments, or more serious injuries… According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, there were more than 7,369 yoga-related injuries treated in doctors’ offices, clinics, and emergency rooms in 2010. Common yoga injuries include repetitive strain to and overstretching of the neck, shoulders, spine, legs, and knees…”
There are many more articles available on the internet explaining the benefits and ill-effects of yoga. However, one thing is certain that yoga is not for everyone and if not practiced correctly or under proper supervision, can be injurious.
The following scholars in their books have denounced the practice of yoga for Muslims for they consider it coming from the religious belief of Hinduism and its claim to connect to spirituality, which is against the tenets of Islam and the constitution of Qur’an and Sunnah:
- Dr Faaris ‘Alwaan in ‘al-Yoga fi Mizaan al-Naqd al-‘Ilmi’, (Darussalam, Cairo)
- Muhammad ‘Abd al-Fattaah Faheem in ‘al-Yoga wa’l-Tanaffus (yoga and breathing)’
- Jameel Sulayba in ‘al-Mu‘jam al-Falsafi’
- Dr Ahmad Shalabi in ‘Adyaan al-Hind al-Kubra’
(Video Lecture ‘Yoga – its History & its Mystery’ by Umar Shariff, President, DIET – Discover Islam Education Trust)
[In November 2008,] …the Malaysia’s National Fatwa Council chairman, Abdul Shukor Husin, ruled that the physical and mental discipline, which has been central to Hinduism since 3000 BC, should be considered haram as it involves “worshipping and chanting which is against Islam”…for us, yoga destroys a Muslim’s faith …doing yoga – even just the physical movements – is a step towards an erosion of one’s faith in the religion, hence, Muslims should avoid it”. The news caused outrage overseas, and sparked concern in the UAE that the Malaysian fatwa, which was not legally binding, might influence the local opinion. Malaysia’s prime minister, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, later said Muslims were allowed to do yoga but without chanting, reversing the outright ban.
Contacted through the UAE’s fatwa hotline, a mufti with the General Authority for Islamic Affairs and Endowments agreed with the Malaysian ruling – but only up to a point. He felt the Malaysian fatwa should be generally followed “because they have a better understanding of yoga, and they must have done their research”. However, the UAE authority could “neither permit nor forbid yoga”, as “it depends on the intentions in the heart of the Muslim when he or she are doing yoga”. If their intention is to exercise and not to internalize Hindu traditions, then it is not corruptive to their Islamic faith. The mufti also noted that from afar, some yoga postures may resemble worship, such as a kneeling movement known as child’s pose [Mudhasana], which can resemble ruku in Islamic prayer – when worshippers sit forward on their knees. (Excerpt from Article dated 26 December 2008 by Matt Kwong; http://www.thenational.ae/news/uae-news/yoga-community-reacts-to-fatwa)
Allahu A’lam (Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) knows best) and all Perfections belong to Allah, and all mistakes belong to me alone. May Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) forgive me, Ameen.
 Mentioned in Rigveda, he is one of the seven great inspired poets of Vedic hymns. He is considered to be a manasputra (mind-born son) of Brahma
 Karima Burns, MH, ND has a Doctorate in Naturopathy and a Masters in Herbal Healing. She has studied natural healing for 12 years, published a natural healing newsletter for 4 years, and writes extensively on natural healing and herbs. Sister Karima became interested in natural healing after ending her personal lifelong struggle with asthma, allergies, chronic ear infections, depression, hypoglycemia, fatigue and panic attacks with herbs and natural therapies