This weekend was the celebration of the end of Ramadan. In the past month Muslims all over the world fasted everyday from sunrise to sunset.
Fasting for a considerably shorter duration is also part of our Healing Yoga Course. And this is not the only similarity between yoga and Islam.
The subject of religion came up again, when the use of the word God in the Sutras met with some resistance. Even though yoga goes beyond all religions and some Muslims say yoga is forbidden [haram] in Islam, it got me thinking…
There are some apparent similarities between yogic philosophy and traditions and those of the world’s largest religions.
Now would be the perfect time for us to share the parallels we found between yoga and Islam.
1. Astrology Plays a Silent Role in Both Teachings
Not many people know that the yoga postures [Asanas] are designed to help us align our bodies with the different planets. Hatha Yoga ~ the physical form of yoga ~ actually means Sun (Ha) and Moon (Tha) in Sanskrit.
The philosophy behind Hatha Yoga is that we can connect deeply with the Universe and all of creation. The poses embody the qualities of the important planets and zodiac signs, like the Warriors (Mars), Fish Pose (Pisces), the Sun Salutations (Sun) and Scorpion Pose (Scorpio).
Most Muslims discourage the use of Astrology and horoscopes, even though the movements of the Sun and Moon play an important role in Islamic traditions. Ramadan, the prescribed prayers and other religious duties of Islam are all observed at certain times, that depend on the position of the Moon and the Sun.
The Quran points out the purpose of Astrology as means of physical guidance, navigation and determining the time.
“And landmarks. And by the stars, they guide themselves.”[Al-Qur’an 16:16]
It is even said that both Astronomy and Astrology arose during the Islamic Golden Age [8-14th Century], when Muslims studied the movement of celestial bodies way before the telescope was even invented.
Astrologers made accurate predictions of the direction that Muslims must face while praying [Kaaba] and when the month of Ramadan would begin.
2. Yogis as well as Muslims Attach Great Value to Prayer and Meditation
The second of the five Islamic pillars is prayer [Salat]. Muslims have to pray five times throughout each day in a prescribed manner at given times. There are additional prayers for Fridays, nighttime and during Ramadan.
The purpose of Islamic prayer is complete focus on and surrender to the connection with Allah. Islam is also about deep contemplation and increased charity and generosity to the poor and needy.
All Islamic duties and customs come from the prophet Muhammad, who lived a mindful life and was well-known for his meditation practice. It was during this practice in the cave in Mount Hira that he first received Quranic revelations.
These traditions do not differ much from the Eight Limbs of Yoga. The practices of yogic restraint [Yama] and observance [Niyama] are also about deepening one’s spiritual life and dedication to the Lord. These practices include meditation, contemplation, self-discipline, self-reflection and truthfulness.
Yogic philosophy says that prayer should be followed by meditation and not the other way around. One prays to express gratitude and meditates to experience oneness with God [Sri Chinmoy].
3. Islam and Yoga Both Hold Instructions for Proper Diet
Islamic dietary rules define which foods are halal and may be eaten. The criteria include the source, cause of death, method of slaughter and processing of the food.
Pork is the most common example of non-halal food, but there are more foods and beverages that should not be eaten.
Intoxicants, such as alcoholic drinks, are also not allowed. The word alcohol is actually derived from the Arabic word Al-Kuhl, which means ‘Body-Eating Spirit’. It is common belief that the consumption of alcohol extracts our soul essence out of the body.
Following a pure [sattvic] diet is similarly important to most yogis, because of the accumulation of karma. The yogic practice of non-violence [ahimsa] means not causing harm to other living beings, which is why yogis often eat vegetarian.
Sattvic diets are based on the principle of Ayurveda and yogic literature. This system provides guidelines for the best foods to eat based on someone’s body type. It mostly includes food that is pure, natural, honest and clean.
4. Cleansing Rituals Are of Most Importance for each of the Traditions
Cleanliness is a very important part of Islam. Before the five time prayer Muslims need to perform purification every time by washing the face, hands, head and feet [Wudu]. In general Muslims ought to be ritually clean through prayer, washing the body, keeping the environment clean, dietary rules and toilet etiquette. Besides there needs to be silent approval of the prophet Muhammad through words, actions and habits [the Hadith].
Yoga philosophy also speaks of purification before the physical practice of yoga and sitting in meditation. The Niyamas of the Yoga Sutras speak of saucha, which means purity, cleanliness and clearness. It refers to purity of mind, body and speech. Along with daily rituals to cleanse the body, the concept of saucha also suggests clean surroundings and the consumption of clean food [Ayurveda].
5. Both Yoga and Islam Mention Sexual Abstinence
One of the five Yama practices of the Yoga Sutras is sexual restraint. This is one of the most discussed and misunderstood topics in yoga.
Celibacy is only part of the picture and generally meant for harnessing and transmuting life force energy. Sexual abstinence can be a choice when a yogi is working on self-discipline and self-realization.
Modern times ask for a more liberal explanation of the principle, namely that sexual expression should be mindful and not harmful to others. Some traditions, like tantra, see sex as something sacred and a way to directly connect to the Divine.
Islamic attitude towards celibacy is also complex. It condemns premarital and extramarital sex, but emphasizes that marriage enables one to attain the highest form of righteousness within a sacred spiritual bond.
So it seems that both Islam and yoga promote mindful sexual expression and a more relative form of sexual restraint, like remaining moderate and honoring the sacred bond between two people.