Monday, January 26, 2009

Say No to Yoga

Months back, there were reports in the papers on the "yoga controversy" in Malaysia. Muslims, it argued, were in danger of being corrupted by elements of Hinduism: the chantings of "Om". While it is to be appreciated that Islam is a strictly monotheist religion and Hinduism is not, and Muslims, by their faith, are required to steer clear of the very spirit of polytheism or atheism in their activities, this is utterly absurd. In 7th century Arabia, Muslims were asked to get rid of curtains bearing images in their homes, because polytheism was rampant in the society, and even though while offering their obligatory prayer, they were not bowing in front of these images, it was advised that they needed to leave no doubts about their belief. This obviously meant that in times when they weren't issues of concern, pictures, images and statues were taken for what they were - pieces of art - but certain kinds of Muslims a.k.a mullahs, have insisted otherwise. Hence, the declarations that pictures are haram (forbidden) in Islam; hence, the firing to dust of Buddha excavations in Afghanistan; hence, the menace of the Taliban.

Likewise, it makes no sense that Yoga should be forbidden to Muslims, but our clergy, border after border, is now beginning to wake up to these unending rays of enlightenment. The latest buzz is a ban on Indonesian Muslims. I say "these" because previous trendsetter rays have set high precedents. Much earlier, though I can't say when exactly, a decree by the authorities-that-be, declared that a Muslim woman couldn't practise - yes - yoga, because that would require her to wear pants in the company of other women, which could "lead her to have lesbian sex".

Muslim men and women are also recommended not to spend time together needlessly and without a third presence, except in the case of spouses or unmarriageable kin. Flirtations are looked down upon in Islam. But an Al-Azhar cleric has, like his "cell-mates", without effort given fodder to the mischievous to humiliate his religion. He has found an ingenious way to allow marriageable men and women to sit together, alone, in private, without guilt, and - wait for it - without chances of promiscuity. The woman can breast-feed her male friend, which would make her unmarriageable to him, having achieved an instant certificate of motherhood.

On a very serious note, I am not surprised that the average person feels disgusted at the thought of religiosity, or believes only in humanism for religious ritualism does not make anybody a better person. True, it doesn't, because it has been hijacked by feeble-minded fools who alone are responsible for giving Islam a bad name. And these kinds exist in all religions. I'm only quoting from the Muslim world lest somebody else feels insulted or doubts my intentions. I have only one thing to say to the disgruntled man of faith: Religion encourages reason!

Photo credits:

Copyright (c) 2008 Saadia Malik


Abdul Sami said...

bloody hell...

so weird :(

R. Ramesh said...

God is one..loving humanity is loving god, people who do not believe in this..well, why waste our time yaar?

R. Ramesh said...

i studied in a muslim college, i work in a muslim country..i love everybody? any problem?

Madiha W Q said...

"I am not surprised that the average person feels disgusted at the thought of religiosity, or believes only in humanism for religious ritualism does not make anybody a better person."

I heartily agree with you. Thanks to the hyper-ritualistic religious, it's becoming harder and harder to argue for religion in these complicated times.

Chet said...

Religion is being used by all to start wars. It is giving all a bad name. Islam is the one that is taking the brunt of it. Yet no matter what one you look at they all our guilty including Judiasm and Christianity in causing the problems of today rather than being the one to find the answers to what is going on around the world. Being a revert to Islam, I am finding that my move is away from any form of organized religion and just being more spirtual in nature.

Komal said...

It's disturbing.

...Love said...

I love yoga it helps me center my chakra. Plus, it gives me an excuse to use the word chakra.

Mumble Bee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mumble Bee said...

Sanatana Dharma is a monotheist in every interpretation ..
But practitioners use different symbolic-gods to reach the "Absolute". These millions of sub-gods are the path rather than the destination..
and "Hinduism" is not a religion(although officially it is)..its more a geographic-demographic term..
Interestingly temple/idol worship was brought very lately in "Hinduism"..Temple worship was brought in
(by Adi Shankara?) when culture began to decay and stop it from meltdown. Previously, "Hindus" were nature sun,cows,trees,rain gods, mountains, rivers etc..from where direct benefit-benefactor relationship can be more clearly established. Well, everyone were Nature worshipers before advent of Abrahamic Romans(sun god),Pagans,Gipsies,Egyptians etc..

Onkar said...

I have been doing yoga for years and have seen its benefits. It has nothing to do with religion.

Saadia said...

Mumble Bee, thank you for shedding light on Hinduism, in its pristine form. I must admit that I haven't looked deeply into Hindu texts/books, but I have had the knowledge that the idols are worshipped in the capacity of sub-Gods. In Abrahamic religions, neither is that allowed nor is nature worship. But that debate was besides the point. My argument was the way our mullahs have hijacked all sense out of Islamic history and rituals.

What Adi Shankara has done to Sanatana Dharma - as you suggest - is what many a 'saints' have done to Islam. And frankly, as far as my own convictions go, nobody has the right to add to the basics of a religion, if indeed, they believe that it comes from a Divine source, even if they say they're doing it out of goodwill. One is free to interpret but not to intervene in such affairs.

Tazeen said...

oh God,

just when you think that you have you seen it all, people come up with something to shock the living daylights out of you.

R. Ramesh said...

saa, i had posted a comment reg newspapers that u had asked..wonder whether it got posted or got lost..take care..

R. Ramesh said...

what te heck is the prob? anywy. i am comp illiterate and that is 2 blame. u asked abt newspapers. TOI has ceased to be a newspaper. Its owners call it a product. so it can turn right, left and centre based on the marketability..Hindustan times, centrist. The Hindu is a leftist paper with the editor being a redcard holder.

Munna said...

Dear Saadia

This is coming from an agnostic and an atheist (depends on the time of the day) so don't read too much into it. But I don't agree with your argument (though you’re fully entitled to it) “ …nobody has the right to add to the basics of a religion, if indeed, they believe that it comes from a Divine source, even if they say they're doing it out of goodwill. One is free to interpret but not to intervene in such affairs.”
Nothing is permanent except change. A religion has to evolve with the changing times and human development, else it is likely to atrophy and die. Even Islam has evolved from the other “Abrahamic religions” (the commonality is immense – the difference being in ‘procedural guidelines’), which would not have been possible if a different thought was not allowed to flourish. Just as water finds its own level so do human experiments with just about everything in the world.

Id it is said...

A very interesting post, though a trifle shocking.
Saadia, you and I had an interesting discussion on religion a while ago on one of your postings which connects up really well with what's being said here:

Saadia said...

Munna, you've raised a very interesting point. While I wouldn't say that a religion has to evolve over time, I definitely believe that it allows people to evolve over time. My argument was for the basics of religion: if Islam tells me that there is One God, and He is to be worshipped in a particular way, then those are the rituals that I must not contaminate with my own enlightened thoughts.

However, in matters of social and legal concern, I am more for maintaining the spirit of the message. I'll share an example.

In the Qur'an, Islam requires a widow to observe a waiting period (i.e. not marry elsewhere) for three periods after the demise of her husband. The spirit of this directive was to ascertain the fatherhood of the child. In these days, when the same can be done through medical means, then I believe it allows us to change with time, with the pace of life, and accept the paternity tests, even if those are conducted on the following day.

Saadia said...

Id, I hope I won't have to tend to two very powerful discussions now! Haha...

Saadia said...

* the Qur'an, Islam requires a widow to observe a waiting period (i.e. not marry elsewhere) for three periods after the demise of her husband. The spirit of this directive was to ascertain whether the widow was pregnant or not, so that there would remain no question on the fatherhood of any child.

Munna said...

@ Saadia, what you’ve illustrated is basically a change in ‘procedural guidelines’ without tampering with the basic tenet of faith. Now consider the case of Ahmadiyas and their beliefs, some diametrically opposite to ‘finality of Muhammad as the last prophet’, which clashes with one of the founding pillars of Islam. They still consider themselves as Muslims and adherents of Islam while several Islamic nations (including Pakistan) consider them heretics and persecute them. Their faith has evolved from Islam .They are a minority but supposing they had numbers on their side, their version of Islam would have counted as true belief.
So along with people and society, religions also do evolve. It’s basically a question of power of persuasion of ideas, which appeal differently to different people at different times.

Saadia said...

If the tenets of a religion are to evolve over time, then I won't call that 'faith'. Of course, persuasion of ideas is inevitable in terms of the interpretation of a religion - but to add to, or take away from its basics - is not something acceptable to me. Ahmadis argue against Muhammad being the 'seal of the prophets', and I am nobody to judge a single soul, if he/she is truly convinced. That is between them and God. Since you are noncommittal towards Him, I see that you are open to all shapes and sizes of religion. But for the religious, basics are not to be tampered with. If the basics of one religion don't convince them, they are morally bound to be true to their hearts and minds.

Saadia said...

On a different (but relevant) note, religious law-making does not alone harbour absurdities: An army marches on its stomach

Saadia said...

Secularasana - How weird is this piece. I appreciate the author's want for Hindu-Muslim unity; but "Muslims who don’t mind a tipple or two; Indian Army personnel who have a soft spot for romantic movies; proud Indians who, despite their fierce patriotism, can’t resist sports footwear of international brands. The list of Hindus afraid of death despite knowing that all is maya is also reassuringly long"?

So is it better to compromise on one's convictions for the sake of secularism (a.k.a pluralism!)?

theBollywoodFan said...

As Salaam Alaikum Saadia, and "religion encourages reason" is absolutely correct! It's such a shame how the principles of faith are often treated. Intellect is such a wonderful gift, my prayer is always that it be exercised!

What I find interesting is that many people in general choose to use the term 'spiritual' instead of 'religious', as if to suggest there's something inherently wrong with the latter. I don't think I can separate the two; if everyone in the world just followed their religion the way their deity intended for it to be followed, I think we'd all be one big happy family!

And dudette, that Secularasana piece is truly weird, no better word to describe it! Gosh, kya hoga is duniya ka?!

Saadia said...

Wa'Alaikum Assalaam! So we agree! I think people who call themselves 'spiritual' and not religious, might be doing so because they do not see propriety of method in rituals or maybe because of disgruntlement for reasons cited in this post. Either way, they are acknowledging a Higher Being. But yes, on a personal note, I couldn't separate the two either.

Mumble Bee said...

To my mind, there is a world of difference between 'spiritual' and 'religious', though there are people that are 'spiritual'(bottom-up) and 'religious'(top-down template). A mere religious person just kow-tows to values, prayer, injunctions, practices, attire and accessories of a religion or cult. A spiritual person start by asking questions like 'who am i and how i relate to the universe','introspects about right and wrong outside textbook injunctions','defines her own values from experience' and constructs a custom-value system. A spiritual person may be agnostic or religious. She may be a religious spiritual person by taking symbolic view of her current religious sect and expand on its meanings which she does not find impedes her spiritual expansion yet. A pure spiritually agnostic person wants to constructs her values bottom-up as she finds values of her current religious sect doesn't add up or inadequate for her spiritual level, so she intents to unlearn and decides to learn things bottom-up by constructing her own custom values that give her peace and helps her maintain her center.

Saadia said...

Religion seems to have a totally different identity to you. For me, it does not confine. It defines the focal point of my life, and does not snub my ability to question who I am or how I relate to the universe. If anything, it encourages that search and in innumerable ways, provides answers. Textbook injunctions are, but a small part of the entire paradigm of religion and people who define religion as such, malign it. To argue that enlightenment comes only outside of its "shackles" is a false basis for there are no shackles, unless that is the name given to believing in a God, believing in a universal value system, and understanding human nature.

Mumble Bee said...

just wanna clarify..plz dont misconstrued as nit-picking
I never said religion shackles as such..but it definitely could..and have
..and like NRA(national rifles assoc) says
"weapons don't kill people,people kill people" ;-)
I hope u got the analogy..
It was never stated that practice of religion must be a shackling experience and enlightenment should be outside or not..
And I didn't say anything about God or enlightenment..
but I would like to contest any "the" universal value system as there is none(methinks).Value systems differ in objects,time and place eg:..Europeans used to be barbarians in golden age of Vedic civilization..
now they come to India to teach about Human rights,Nature Conservation.. for good reason of course..,New Testment vs Old Testment values.
UN even don't have a common definition for terrorism..
which is bellowing through the there goes values...

theBollywoodFan said...

I guess the principal concern I have with the bottom-up framework that supposedly guides spirituality is that its source implies ignorance (or a false understanding) of the top-down approach as it was prescribed, which, one suggestion is, is what religion advocates for. I agree with the overall assessment of the top-down framework, and it is precisely why I cannot separate spirituality from it, even as far as the tip to the floor of the hierarchy -- my religion (since I can only speak for myself) requires that moment of thought that leads to spirituality, if that makes sense. So to me, they're really quite parallel.

As for the universal values system -- and this is just a thought, not a rebuttal :) -- I think we all agree on there not being just one, which is why spirituality cannot substitute for religiosity! (Not that that was ever said by anyone here, I just hear it all the time and wish people just studied religions more carefully to discover for themselves, and didn't trust the media to make decisions for them.)

Saadia said...

Mumble Bee, don't take it personally. I just got a chance to mull over the various ways that people defile religion (as in the post itself). So I feel the urge to tell my side of the story too!

Are you arguing that there are no value-systems? Because to the examples you have given, I could add the values that Hitler preached in his Mein Kampf. But we won't call all those universal because at the end of the day, everybody or most people, call the same values right and the same values wrong, and that is triumph!

Mumble Bee said...

No value systems..hell no..i said value systems are subjective.Nazi atrocities were result of what in psychology called displaced regression. I don't how this fits into the context..but if your implication is everybody(human) will abhor those persecution(and hence a bottom line..universal value) couldn't be more wrong. There are things like cultural conditioning, group dynamics, food we eat that affect our behavior.
I would like to use the same example to rebut it. Plz refer to Ordinary Men - Christopher Browing. Its fascinating..The implication is that there is a Hitler/Pol Pot as well as Jesus/Buddha in our hearts...Just labeling them as good or bad is a worthless exercise.
Plz read the below links and post ur thoughts on ur observations

Mumble Bee said...

In a person's value system that makes our moral make-up..
we give weightages (like in statistics) (importance? priorities?) to different things in our life.So generally,it will be body,my family,my race (human species),my community,my friends,my country etc..
For example, my father proudly bragged (in his teen yrs) about how he killed a rabid dog that villagers chased but were afraid to hammering its head with an iron tipped wooden rod.It blew my fuse and thundered that it was barbaric. He contested that, "there is no other way" was just a rabies-affected dog and it "gotta die..otherwise it will harm other people". He also once mentioned about how he break a neck of rooster for "chicken-curry".Suppose, I got infected with rabies..what will he do?He will take me to the nearest hospital and keep in quarantine with pain-killers/anesthetics until I die.So he don't have a universal value system.One for me and different one for the dog. Non-vegetarians know that how cattles or pigs are killed in slaughterhouses.Cattles are hit with a hammer in head and pig's veins are cut from neck until it bleeds to death(in some parts of india.."water-boarding" ;-) or electrocution is used).
They too have luving families and children, but we reduce their value to "collateral damage" of our lunch.
review of Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101

The heart of Christopher Browning’s argument reflects the fear and constraint of many Germans with little or no ties to the Nazi party. "The social-psychological conditions, the objective and keenly felt pressures of the group, the fear of being held in contempt by one’s comrades: these were what turned these men into killers, in Browning’s view, and kept them at it" (Kern). His argument must be taken into consideration because you cannot assume that every citizen performed the deeds advocated by their country. The mindset and beliefs of people differ as you examine larger and larger populations, with Germany as no exception. "You cannot draw the inference from the literature, the art or the politics of those years that the ‘common sense’ of the people was that the Jews ought to be driven out or killed" (Reilly). "In a sobering conclusion, Browning suggests that these good Germans were acting less out of deference to authority or fear of punishment than from motives as insidious as they are common: careerism and peer pressure" (Browning 1). This position raises a legitimate debate as to the true motives of individuals who appear to have been left with no alternative.

Yet the testimony surrounding the willingness of the average German to participate in the brutal operation is enough to provide reasonable doubt in the mind of even the strongest nonbeliever. It is easy to see how most people can blame such horrible actions on outside influence; still there is the lingering notion that the existing pressure was a result of what each individual believed as being the only choice. If the orders were strictly optional, then why did they obey if no penalty was to be enforced? Why did they continue if they knew in their hearts that it was an unforgivable act? The answers lie in the hatred that built up among those who could not accept Jewish people as a part of their society. "Eventually, Jews were no longer even human beings in the eyes of Germans. Jews became an "anti-race" that required eradication, according to the Nazis"(Weinstein). How they chose to handle these impressions leaves no room for sympathy.

It must further be understood that those who chose to carry out the executions were fully aware of just how horrible their decisions were. Any pressure they may have felt should have washed away with the tears of the helpless victims as they held up their weapons to destroy another person’s future. As Hitler’s movement swore to exclude all non-Jewish German citizens from persecution, those who carried out the executions had no real reason to fear any type of retaliation by Nazi officers if they chose not to cooperate. "Goldhagen provides strong anecdotal evidence that Himmler’s order that no German be coerced into taking part in the extermination campaign was respected. According to testimonies later given by these men, their officers repeatedly gave them the option to abstain from killing in any given operation. Some few exercised the option and served in support roles. Some transferred out. No soldier, it seems, anywhere in the Nazi Empire, was ever punished for failing to kill Jews. Nevertheless, almost every soldier who was asked to kill civilians in this way did so" (Reilly). Many other accounts rely on the theory that there must have been an internal hatred for Jewish people in general. This seems to be the only way to explain the inhumanity of an event such as the Holocaust. No excuses are to be made and there is no need to ponder the idea of a frightened society who was forced to obey unimaginable orders. "They acted as they did because of a widespread, profound, unquestioned, and virulent antisemitism that led them to regard the Jews as a demonic enemy whose extermination was not only necessary but also just" (Goldhagen 1). It is also clear that ordinary Germans displayed the ability to conduct the mass murders despite the threat of future oppression. It is believed that "many prisoners were shot even after it became known the Himmler had ordered the killing of the Jews to cease. All of this happened when the Germans had clearly lost the war, when the guards knew they could soon be held responsible for the mistreatment of prisoners, and when no one was making them do these things" (Reilly). These horrifying accounts suggest that average Germans were motivated by hatred, rather than a suspected fear of punishment.

Saadia said...

I am still convinced of there being values that are universal. You can quote a million examples of various people possessing divergent views about one thing, but that won't hamper the belief in and existence of universal values: killing is bad, lying is wrong, humbleness is a virtue, discrimination should be eliminated...

Saadia said...

Dare I say, the example of Nazi Germany you're quoting actually speaks for religion more than against it. It says that humans have weaknesses and can easily be biased. Religion is there to remove those biases and to keep a check on weaknesses. It is how you look at it, really!

Hazel Dream said...

Dear Sadia
yes there are universal set of values and it is known as ethics . it needs no religion to define it .. actually religions makes people biased .. because religion means faith .. and faith is contradictory to reason ..
look at this world and you will realise that .. you want to live is denial is your decision

Saadia said...

Since you're making a jugdement call here, I will not honour your comment with an actual response. I have had other, rude comments from you on this blog, so I'm not surprised.

Mumble Bee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mumble Bee said...

methinks value systems and ethics are synonymous..
but i concur with you that faith is contradictory thing..
(off topic..bear with me)
it's said that atheists and believers are same..atheists "believe"(or have faith/trust) that there is no god. Believers "believe"(or have faith/trust) that there is god(or their god or god given in their religion).Its like you "trust" your servant with the keys of you house when you are out on vacation.The substratum of that trust (or any trust) is feeble and based on conditioning. The non-believers in some sort of way believe in concept of god(which they don't adhere to) when they say they don't believe in god. When they make that statement, they presume they know what is god and they have some way quantified it in their minds.Its same thing with believers.Believers content that faith(generally) is important in life like when you get credit from ur local shopkeeper and without trust life will be chaos..But that is besides the point becoz rational? ppl don't rely on "luck" to make important decisions
(like buying a house..u don't just believe wholesale what real-estate broker says.. though u may marry a guy based on tossing a coin ;-) )
..they rely on trust only when
1)they have no other practical choice(like leaving child with a babysitter),
2)(intellectually in our context)lazy or
3)if they damage is trivial.
Like Zen saying..
Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of(imitate) the Masters; seek what they sought.

Hazel Dream said...

Dear Mumble First we need to define two things
The meaning of God ..
And d reason for belief system ( Mind)

God is a creation of Human Mind .. it is a perception of truth (which we don’t know) it is an epitome of our endeavor .. it is our goal of human intellect .
It has originated from search of purpose from the mundane ness of our own existence and our quest to define our self , as an individual and as a part of society .
So God has to obey humanity . it has to be within the limits Goodness of Human Existence .

Problem comes when we define divinity as super ceding human values , where perception has overtaken humanity as the guiding principle . Abrahamic Religions are a good example of this narrow-mindedness

Humans are mind .. not brain ..
We are Mind not matter .. The physical world is a secondary result of our primary source , Mind .our life is a purpose to serve the intangible dreams . aspiration and emotions. Society is made of this interaction between dreams aspirations and emotions . and hence we need a belief system .. a goal .. a purpose .. this purpose binds us .. and we know it as humanity .. as ethics . and the perfection of this humanity is God ..
The biggest medieval arrogant pagan system is the concept of one god .. which is promoted by all the followers of Abraham ..
Please note that the god is a perception of this Purpose (humanity) .when this perception is taken over by personal hunger for political power and fake arrogance , it proclaims that only “my” god is right and all other gods are wrong ..
There was never one God in this world and will never be .. every individual have right to create its own Perception .. and by self criticism it refines its own perception and its own belief system .. to understand self and the existence of humanity

Hazel Dream said...

Dear Sadia
I expressed my views ..and I expect your comment or criticism on that ..
By calling it Judgement call you are being rude Sadia.

theBollywoodFan said...

On a somewhat related note, Saadia, I must admit I'm getting such a kick out of this question: Isn't complaining of narrow mindedness inherently narrow mindedness too? =)