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    Can Yoga and Islam Learn To Co-Exist In NYC?

    Muhammad Rashid, a prominent Muslim
    community activist in Queens, has stirred
    controversy in Muslim communities
    by publicly
    extolling the benefits of yoga. Many of the immigrants in Jackson
    Heights, Queens are first-generation immigrants who consider yoga to
    be a Hindu (and forbidden) practice. Yet a fatwa issued by a council
    of Malaysian Muslim clerics four years ago which sought to forbid
    yoga on the basis of Islamic law was forced to amend the edict to
    allow “yoga as exercise” and prohibit only the use of Sanskrit
    and chanting, following
    demand by the Sultan of Malaysia and popular outcry.

    Despite this, many Muslims continue to
    perceive yoga as fundamentally conflicting with their faith, given
    its religious and cultural origins. Even Mr. Rashid himself once
    believed that engaging in yoga practice was equivalent to “denouncing
    my religion,” although after immigrating in 1997 from Bahrain, he’s
    come full circle. He now practices daily yoga and courts controversy
    by suggesting that other Muslims do so.
    He’s not alone. Imam Mohd A. Qayyoon,
    who runs the Muhammadi Community Center of Jackson Heights, joined an
    interfaith demonstration of yoga last summer, garnering instant
    disapproval from community members. Yet for Imam Qayyoon, yoga and
    Islam can be compatible–with the use of more conservative attire
    than is typically favored in yoga culture, and the exclusion of
    Sanskrit. With these reformations, he believes yoga’s popularity
    will jump among Muslims. “It will not contradict with Islamic
    religion,” he says.
    Yoga instructor Mimi Borda runs one of
    the only yoga studios in Jackson Heights, and has had to accommodate
    the cultural needs of her students. After finding that chanting
    turned some Muslim students off, she’s tailored certain classes to
    omit the Sanskrit and emphasize instead the physical aspects of the
    practice. She’s also added both “shalom” and “amen” to the
    end of class.
    Yet despite the optimism of Imam
    Qayyoon and Mr. Rashid, obstacles remain to obtaining widespread
    acceptance in Muslim communities. For new immigrants and those living
    in Muslim countries, yoga’s connection to Hinduism render it
    unequivocally sacrilegious, similar to how
    yoga practice is viewed in many fundamentalist Christian circles
    However, when Mr. Rashid eventually
    began practicing yoga, he noticed more similarities with his faith
    than differences. Muslims practice five-times daily prayers,
    entailing a deep meditative concentration and repeated kneeling bows.
    Salat, as these prayers are called, reflect echoes of yoga poses,
    according to Mr. Rashid, who notes “I discovered whatever I’m
    doing in yoga, I’m doing five times a day in prayer.” Following
    the daylong yoga class he helped organize in Jackson Heights last
    summer, he had the realization that in salat, many Muslims practice
    something very similar to yoga postures. Mr. Rashid comments, “Maybe
    they’re getting that same benefit in their prayers. Maybe they
    don’t need to do yoga.”
    What are your thoughts on the
    co-existence of yoga practice with religious systems such as Islam
    and Christianity?

    Author:Tosca Park
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