Q: Is yoga permissible for Muslims?
A: Yoga is a Sanskrit word (an ancient Indian language) meaning to join, or union. This was the name given to an art which originated in the Hindu religion, wherein special spiritual exercises were done to give enlightenment to the soul and to ‘join’ the spiritual self with God.
Yoga as a means to enlightenment is central to Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and has had some influence on other religious and spiritual practices. Ancient Hindu texts establishing the basis for yoga include the Upanishads (old Hindu scriptures), Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the Bhagavad Gita (the famous Hindu Bible), the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and many others, which specify the criteria of having successfully mastered a particular yoga technique. The spiritual goals of yoga are regarded as inseparable from the religions of which yoga forms a part. In other words, Yoga originated as an inseparable part of the Hindu religion to derive spiritual fulfillment.
All records and writings are unanimous that Yoga is based in, and originates from the Hindu religion. The postures adopted in Yoga such as the lotus position for example, were positions Hindus adopted when meditating in front of their deities and idols. In fact, the Hindu Bible, The Bhagavad Gita teaches the basics of Yoga and the philosophy behind it.
A system or discipline that originates from an idolatrous religion, and comprises postures that resemble the idol worshippers is not permissible in Islam. The Messenger of Allah (alayhis salaam) abolished the ways and practices of ignorant times. (Bukhari). He also forbade the imitation of idol-worshippers, even in acts not related to worship. It appears in an authentic hadith of Imam Tirmizhi (RA) that once the Sahaaba were out in jihad with Rasoolullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), when they came across a tree on which the Pagan Arabs used to hang their weapons as a symbolic act. The Sahaaba thought it a good idea to do the same, so they mentioned this to the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam). The Messenger of Allah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) expressed his amazement at this request, stating that this is tantamount to following in the footsteps of the Pagans. He forbade them from doing so. This hadith proves that imitation the ways of other religions in symbolic acts is not permissible. What was wrong in hanging weapons on a particular tree if the Sahaaba wanted to rest somewhere? The fact this practice was symbolic to an un-Islamic culture or faith made it unacceptable. We, therefore, can apply the same principle to the art of Yoga. In fact Yoga is deeply rooted in the Hindu religion, and today Hindus still practice this art as part of their religious ritual and worship. On these grounds Yoga would not be permissible in Islam.
The Religion of Islam has its own form of spiritual discipline and meditation, and that is zikr of Allah and Salah. The Auliyaa of Allah (in Tasawwuf) also describe forms of meditation using the concepts in the Quran and Hadith. Muslims should resort to these types of meditation to seek closeness to Allah and purification of the soul.
Mufti Siraj Desai