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Yoga and Mental Exercises

Q:

Salam

I would like to know if yoga is allowed in Islam. Yoga means, the mental exercise with yogic Mantras, end physical exercise. Are we allowed to use various other techniques of mental exercise to achieve mental peace? What are the equivalent of yoga in Islam and where can we find such tutors who can help us achieve the goal.

Please kindly give references in the light of Hadith and Quran for support.

Thanking you.

Wassalam.

A:

 

As with all activities, techniques of mental exercise are allowed in Islam as long as they do not cross the bounds of the divine law (sharīʿah). Those laws may be crossed if the physical exercises involve unlawful looking or touching or if the mantras include calling on partners with Allah or believing in a system of belief contradictory to that of Islam. At the same time as your question suggests yoga is a practice outside of Islamic practice meaning that it was not practiced by any of the Maʿsumīn (as) who had reached the pinnacle of human perfection.

Mental peace in Islam is achieved through a variety of profound methods summarised in the concepts of remembering God (dhikr), patience (ṣabr), reliance (tawakkul), satisfaction (riḍā) and submission (taslīm). These concepts are summarised further in the concept of servitude (ʿubūdiyya). Mental peace is therefore something closely related to the Islamic belief system. Regarding the affect of remembering Allah on calmness and mental balance the Qur’ān states:

 

الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ وَتَطْمَئِنُّ قُلُوبُهُم بِذِكْرِ اللّهِ أَلاَ بِذِكْرِ اللّهِ تَطْمَئِنُّ الْقُلُوبُ

 

Those who believe and whose hearts are set at rest by the remembrance of Allah; now surely by Allah’s remembrance are the hearts set at rest.” (Shakir, 13:28)

 

An outstanding example in Islamic history for some of the other concepts just mentioned is the report of the statement of Sayyada Zaynab (as) when she was asked how she saw the tragedy of Karbala and what had befallen her brother Imam Ḥusayn (as) and his family. She responded by saying:

 

مَا رَأَيْتُ‏ إِلَّا جَمِيلا

 

“I did not see anything except beauty” (Ibn Ṭāwūs, al-Luhūf, 160)

 

Keeping such a balanced state of mind and maintaining strong faith in God at the most difficult of times is the real test of mental calmness and has been exhibited by the Maʿsumīn (as) in numerous instances in the source literature.

 

As for servitude a beautiful explanation of the concept can be found in the ḥadīth of Unwān al-Baṣrī. Unwān was a man who came to Imām al-Ṣādiq at an advanced age. In this ḥadīth the Imām (as) explains the reality of servitude in the following way:

 

قُلْتُ يَا أَبَا عَبْدِ اللَّهِ مَا حَقِيقَةُ الْعُبُودِيَّةِ- قَالَ ثَلَاثَةُ أَشْيَاءَ أَنْ لَا يَرَى الْعَبْدُ لِنَفْسِهِ فِيمَا خَوَّلَهُ اللَّهُ إِلَيْهِ مِلْكاً لِأَنَّ الْعَبِيدَ لَا يَكُونُ لَهُمْ مِلْكٌ يَرَوْنَ الْمَالَ مَالَ اللَّهِ يَضَعُونَهُ حَيْثُ أَمَرَهُمُ اللَّهُ تَعَالَى بِهِ- وَ لَا يُدَبِّرُ الْعَبْدُ لِنَفْسِهِ تَدْبِيراً وَ جُمْلَةُ اشْتِغَالِهِ فِيمَا أَمَرَهُ اللَّهُ تَعَالَى بِهِ وَ نَهَاهُ عَنْهُ فَإِذَا لَمْ يَرَ الْعَبْدُ لِنَفْسِهِ فِيمَا خَوَّلَهُ اللَّهُ تَعَالَى مِلْكاً هَانَ عَلَيْهِ الْإِنْفَاقُ فِيمَا أَمَرَهُ اللَّهُ تَعَالَى أَنْ يُنْفِقَ فِيهِ وَ إِذَا فَوَّضَ الْعَبْدُ تَدْبِيرَ نَفْسِهِ عَلَى مُدَبِّرِهِ هَانَ عَلَيْهِ مَصَائِبُ الدُّنْيَا وَ إِذَا اشْتَغَلَ الْعَبْدُ بِمَا أَمَرَهُ اللَّهُ تَعَالَى وَ نَهَاهُ لَا يَتَفَرَّغُ مِنْهُمَا إِلَى الْمِرَاءِ[1] وَ الْمُبَاهَاةِ[2] مَعَ النَّاسِ فَإِذَا أَكْرَمَ اللَّهُ الْعَبْدَ بِهَذِهِ الثَّلَاثِ هَانَ عَلَيْهِ الدُّنْيَا وَ إِبْلِيسُ وَ الْخَلْقُ وَ لَا يَطْلُبُ الدُّنْيَا تَكَاثُراً وَ تَفَاخُراً وَ لَا يَطْلُبُ عِنْدَ النَّاسِ عِزّاً وَ عُلُوّاً وَ لَا يَدَعُ أَيَّامَهُ بَاطِلًا فَهَذَا أَوَّلُ دَرَجَةِ الْمُتَّقِينَ ‏[3]

 

“I said O Abā ʿAbdillah what is the reality of servitude? He said: Three things; that a servant does not see himself as the owner of what God has entrusted him with, as servants are not owners. They see wealth as Gods wealth and put it where He has ordered them to. He does not organise his affairs for himself. All of his occupation is in what God has ordered towards [and avoiding] what He has forbidden him from. So if a servant does not see ownership for himself in what God has entrusted him, giving in accordance with what God has ordered becomes easy for him; and if the servant entrusts the organisation of his affairs to the real manager of those affairs, the difficulties of the world become easy for him; and if the servant becomes busy in what God has ordered and [avoiding] what He has forbidden, he no longer argues and competes with people. So if Allah honours a servant with these three [characteristics] the world, Iblīs and the creation become insignificant [in his eyes]. He does not seek the world in order to amass it or compete and he does not seek greatness or highness from people. His days are not invalid. This is the first level of the God-conscious (muttaqīn)”

 

As for finding teachers there are two levels of practice that call for different styles of teacher. The first level is a general level where a person educates himself in the teaching of the Maʿsūmīn (as) and endeavours to put those teachings into practice by himself. The second level of practice is a specific level where a person takes a more serious path to perfection in the footsteps of the Maʿsūmīn (as) under the guidance of one who has attained that perfection and leads the seeker back to God. For the first level of practice there are a plethora of teachers and books that a person can refer to. However the second level requires specific guidance and a person is lead to the appropriate teacher by God. It is only attained through the sincerity of the seeker and the grace of God and the Maʿsūmīn (as). At the same time there are many people that claim that they are able to provide the second level of guidance but are in fact detached from God and the Maʿsūmīn (as) and call towards themselves, so much caution is required. Do not lose hope and stick firmly to God and the Maʿsūmīn (as). God provides this specific guidance in the most beautiful way for those who He chooses for Himself.

 

‘Abd Allah Esmail

 


[1] أي الجدال

[2] التفاخر

[3] مشكاة الأنوار في غرر الأخبار، النص، ص: 327