Hundreds of Indian Muslims are ready to bend it like Beckham and join Prime Minister Narendra Modi to celebrate the International Yoga Day on June 21 in Lucknow, the capital of the largest state of Uttar Pradesh, where yoga is now part of the school curriculum.
On the same day in Ahmedabad in Modi’s home state of Gujarat, countless men, women and children from among the country’s 180 million Muslims will also be present when yoga guru Baba Ramdev leads a 500,000-strong group at a massive 2.8-million square-feet venue in a bid to set a world record for the biggest yoga demonstration.
For the past several years, hypochondriacs in the minority community have been learning this ancient Indian system of physical, mental and spiritual exercises that help one to control and relax both mind and body.
But more and more Muslims have been adopting yoga to stay fit as a fiddle after many clerics and scholars gave their thumbs-up to yogic techniques and asseverated that there was nothing un-Islamic about the ‘asanas’ (postures), ‘pranayams’ (breathing techniques) and ‘shatkarmas’ (cleansing processes).
Says Lucknow’s Shiite cleric Maulana Yasoob Abbas: “Yoga is for everyone. I don’t think yoga is associated with any religion. Islam is not so weak that it should feel threatened by yoga”.
Yoga training centers, including run-of-the-mill classes and high-tech studios, which have mushroomed across Indian cities in the past two years to cash in on the yoga craze, have been welcoming Muslim aspirants of all ages bent on maintaining their muscle tone and flexibility as also getting rid of their common ailments.
After all, the myriad institutes teach different types of yoga like pre-natal yoga, hatha yoga, power yoga, hot yoga, Iyengar yoga, traditional yoga, vinyasa yoga, restorative aerial yoga and astanga yoga, which have mesmerised even Bollywood actresses like Nargis Fakhri, Kareena Kapoor Khan and Malika Arora Khan.
If well-known naturopath and seasoned yoga expert Meena Brahmbhatt is to be believed, Muslims’ awareness about yoga has zoomed from a mere 4 per cent to an incredible 40 percent after June 21 was declared as the International Yoga Day by the United Nations General Assembly on December 11, 2014.
“Muslims are already familiar with namaz-like vajrasana and hence quickly get hooked to yoga. They hate medicines and so are ready to follow the yoga regimen and even shun non-vegetarian food”, says Brahmbhatt who has also trained and treated citizens from Dubai and Abu Dhabi as well as other foreigners.
If Mumbai’s hard-pressed policemen have been mastering yoga to beat stress, students of schools run by Anjuman-e-Islam in the megapolis and elsewhere spend 30 minutes daily to practise yoga which their teachers say is not just another fitness fad but an ancient physical and spiritual discipline and branch of philosophy which originated in India 5,000 years ago.
High-flying businessmen and busy housewives who cannot attend classes, call instructors at home to benefit from yoga, a sure cure for at least 11 maladies like obesity, depression, insomnia, allergy, back pain, blood pressure disorder, etc.
No wonder, with the demand for yoga coaches escalating, ambitious youngsters like Imran Khan Salat wanting to make a career in yoga have been pounding books to pursue a degree course in India’s first government-accredited, full-fledged, self-funded private yoga university on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, the Lakulish Yoga University (LKU), which has now started attracting Muslim students for its degree, diploma and short-term certificate courses.
Poojaba Jadeja Zala, an LKU lecturer and assistant registrar, told this correspondent that yoga increases the power of the immune system, sharpens mind and memory, gives peace, and expands one’s capabilities, adding that even Modi, a dyed-in-the-wool yoga aficionado, does ‘sudarshan kriya’, a rhythmic breathing technique, regularly even when he is travelling abroad.
“The university not only imparts scientific training in age-old yogic techniques but also now and then conducts free camps which are attended by many Muslims,” says Zala, who is herself doing her doctorate and is a dab hand at performing even the most difficult exercises like vrushchik asana and khetri mudra from among the 8.4 million postures.
According to Dr Mehboob Kureshi, an international yoga expert honored with the Dr Abdul Kalam National Award for imparting free lessons in yoga to some 150,000 enthusiasts, including 25,000 Muslims, yoga is a science with physical, mental and spiritual exercises that keep one alert, smart and fit.
“Yoga has nothing to do with religion and can be done even while observing roza during Ramadan,” opines Dr Kureshi who has been doing a yeoman’s service in Ahmedabad’s Juhapura, Asia’s largest Muslim ghetto, by holding workshops to encourage the minority community members to undertake the spiritual journey of yoga for achieving enlightenment.