Assalamu Alaikum sheikh
Is doing yoga permissible in Islam. I heard about this that one can’t do it even as body movements. Can you please clarify on this topic. What about doing pilates exercise in Islam. Can we do pilates in Islam as exercise. Kindly requesting your response.
Pilates would be permissible, so long as one is covered and not in the presence of non-mahrams.
As for Yoga, there is some discussion required. In Islam, it is prohibited and unlawful for Muslims to practice or adopt the salient features, actions and symbols of other religious communities. Thus, Muslims are not permitted to wear a Jewish skullcap or a Cross.
Traditionally, the Vedic religious practice of Yoga aimed to unite body, mind, and consciousness in unison through meditation, breathing and often movements. Its historical and religious significance to Vedic religions – like Hinduism and Buddhism – is not to be discounted. Due to this, many contemporary scholars have deemed it as impermissible.
The question is to what degree is it possible to subtract the religious overtones and practise yoga as a mere secular exercise? In principle, mere movements, static holds, and breathing techniques are not reprehensible nor unlawful. Secondly, in the West particularly, Yoga has been commodified and marketed for public consumption. It may be found in commercial gyms, taught by an instructor who is neither religious nor spiritual. If one participates in these techniques in a purely secular environment and no mantras of religious significance are uttered, there could be scope for its permissibility.
However, there are some major issues to contend with. Classically, Yoga is not, nor was it intended to be a mere exercise. By its very nature, it is a spiritual endeavour where one’s body, mind, and consciousness form unity with the ‘ultimate consciousness’, often referred to as the true-self or true-identity. It was devised classically to transcend materiality into a higher sense of consciousness.
Therefore, even when one avoids all words of religious significance and practices it in a pure secular environment, its combination of breathing and static holds induces a meditation-like state upon the mind and body. This is part and parcel of Yoga, be that in a religious or spiritual environment or a mere secular environment. While there is a difference between classical and modern forms of Yoga, the meditation aspect remains increasingly significant for modern practitioners. For example, a Huffington Post article reports that two-thirds of Yoga students and 85% of Yoga teachers begin Yoga for its physical benefits but continue it because of the feelings of spirituality ad self-actualisation it evokes. Thus, it proves difficult to subtract the spirituality and religiosity from Yoga to create a mere secular exercise, even in Modern Postural Yoga.
In Islam, we have various correct Sufi orders which promote dhikr and meditation as a form of connecting the mind and body with the remembrance of Allah. Thus, there is nothing wrong with this intrinsically. The question is whether it is advisable to seek spirituality through the spiritual system of another religion? If one is truly seeking mindfulness and self-actualisation, why would you seek it through Yoga when Islam has firmly established meditative and dhikr practices? Consider the harms this could have on the individual’s belief and own practices. The procurement and domestication of nature in the West has meant that, sadly, we accept the illusory premise that we control our fates. Thus, society as a whole denies God and organised religion as we seek out our destinies. With the advent of globalisation, the entire world has become consumed in materiality and consumerism. Thus the natural void that Allah has created for spirituality and god-consciousness is left dormant for most people, some Muslims included. In such a world, should we seek out meditation, connection, self-actualisation through other means other than the means already present within our own faith? What harms could this have on our own faith going forward?
A second major contention is the poses themselves. Some resources suggest that the poses of Yoga have historical significance – such that they recreate or reimagine stories of Hindu epics. Based on these two contentions, it appears difficult to subtract the religious and spiritual from Yoga and practise it as a mere exercise as by its very nature, it involves Vedic philosophies of engaging the mind, body and consciousness through meditation and breathing, and evokes religious imagery.
In secular contexts where a secular non-religious non-spiritual practitioner teaches one and mantras of religious significance like “Om” are not chanted, there could be an argument for permissibility. If one pursues this as a secular exercise, making a firm intention to banish the meditative aspects of Yoga, this could also be permissible. However, due to the objections raised above, abstaining from Yoga due to these broader considerations is advised.
In India, the renewed popularity of Yoga is symptomatic of the renaissance of Hindu practice across the country. Hindus in India are far more in-tune with their religious history and its practice, and the renewed enthusiasm of Yoga in India is a big part of reclaiming Hindu identity. For example, in recent memory, Hindu-right petitioners campaigned to make Yoga compulsory on all state schools, and this caused a ruckus as state schools in India have a strong commitment to Indian secularism, owing to its religious minorities. This case was taken to the Supreme Court, debating whether Yoga can be classed as a secular or religious excersize. After their investigation and inquiry into this matter, the Supreme Court rejected this petition. This demonstrates the Supreme Court of India’s feelings on the matter. Thus due to Yoga’s strong affiliation with a living and practising religious community, Indian Muslims should not practice Yoga.
«مجمع الأنهر في شرح ملتقى الأبحر» (1/ 698): وَيَكْفُرُ بِوَضْعِ قَلَنْسُوَةِ الْمَجُوسِ عَلَى رَأْسِهِ عَلَى الصَّحِيحِ إلَّا لِتَخْلِيصِ الْأَسِيرِ أَوْ لِضَرُورَةِ دَفْعِ الْحَرِّ وَالْبَرْدِ عِنْدَ الْبَعْضِ وَقِيلَ إنْ قَصَدَ بِهِ التَّشْبِيهَ يَكْفُرُ وَكَذَا شَدُّ الزُّنَّارِ فِي وَسَطِهِ.
وَفِي الْبَزَّازِيَّةِ وَيُحْكَى عَنْ بَعْضٍ مِنْ الْأَسَالِفَةِ أَنَّهُ يَقُولُ مَا ذُكِرَ مِنْ الْفَتَاوَى أَنَّهُ يَكْفُرُ بِكَذَا وَكَذَا أَنَّهُ لِلتَّخْوِيفِ وَالتَّهْدِيدِ لَا لِحَقِيقَةِ الْكُفْرِ، وَهَذَا كَلَامٌ بَاطِلٌ وَحَاشَا أَنْ يَلْعَبَ أُمَنَاءُ اللَّهِ تَعَالَى أَعْنِي عُلَمَاءَ الْأَحْكَامِ بِالْحَلَالِ وَالْحَرَامِ وَالْكُفْرِ وَالْإِسْلَامِ بَلْ لَا يَقُولُونَ إلَّا الْحَقَّ الثَّابِتَ عِنْدَ شَرِيعَةِ سَيِّدِنَا مُحَمَّدٍ – عَلَيْهِ الصَّلَاةُ وَالسَّلَامُ – عَصَمَنِي اللَّهُ وَإِيَّاكُمْ عَنْ زَلَلٍ عَنْ اللِّسَانِ وَتَكَلُّمِ كَلِمَةِ الْكُفْرِ بِالْخَطَأِ وَالنِّسْيَانِ آمِينَ بِحُرْمَةِ سَيِّدِ الْمُرْسَلِينَ صَلَاةٌ لِلَّهِ عَلَيْهِ وَعَلَيْهِمْ أَجْمَعِينَ»
«الفتاوى الهندية» (2/ 276): يَكْفُرُ بِوَضْعِ قَلَنْسُوَةِ الْمَجُوسِ عَلَى رَأْسِهِ عَلَى الصَّحِيحِ إلَّا لِضَرُورَةِ دَفْعِ الْحَرِّ وَالْبَرْدِ وَبِشَدِّ الزُّنَّارِ فِي وَسْطِهِ إلَّا إذَا فَعَلَ ذَلِكَ خَدِيعَةً فِي الْحَرْبِ وَطَلِيعَةً لِلْمُسْلِمِينَ وَبِقَوْلِهِ: الْمَجُوسُ خَيْرٌ مِمَّا أَنَا فِيهِ يَعْنِي فِعْلَهُ وَبِقَوْلِهِ النَّصْرَانِيَّةُ خَيْرٌ مِنْ الْمَجُوسِيَّةِ لَا بِقَوْلِهِ الْمَجُوسِيَّةُ شَرٌّ مِنْ النَّصْرَانِيَّةِ وَبِقَوْلِهِ النَّصْرَانِيَّةُ خَيْرٌ مِنْ الْيَهُودِيَّةِ وَبِقَوْلِهِ لِمُعَامِلِهِ الْكُفْرُ خَيْرٌ مِمَّا أَنْتَ تَفْعَلُ عِنْدَ بَعْضِهِمْ مُطْلَقًا، وَقَيَّدَهُ الْفَقِيهُ أَبُو اللَّيْثِ بِأَنْ قَصَدَ تَحْسِينَ الْكُفْرِ لَا تَقْبِيحَ مُعَامَلَتِهِ وَبِخُرُوجِهِ إلَى نَيْرُوزِ الْمَجُوسِ» لِمُوَافَقَتِهِ مَعَهُمْ فِيمَا يَفْعَلُونَ فِي ذَلِكَ الْيَوْمِ وَبِشِرَائِهِ يَوْمَ النَّيْرُوزِ شَيْئًا لَمْ يَكُنْ يَشْتَرِيهِ قَبْلَ ذَلِكَ تَعْظِيمًا لِلنَّيْرُوزِ لَا لِلْأَكْلِ وَالشُّرْبِ وَبِإِهْدَائِهِ ذَلِكَ الْيَوْمِ لِلْمُشْرِكِينَ وَلَوْ بَيْضَةً تَعْظِيمًا لِذَلِكَ لَا بِإِجَابَةِ دَعْوَةِ مَجُوسِيٍّ حَلَقَ رَأْسَ وَلَدِهِ وَبِتَحْسِينِ أَمْرِ الْكُفَّارِ اتِّفَاقًا حَتَّى قَالُوا: لَوْ قَالَ: تَرْكُ الْكَلَامِ عِنْدَ أَكْلِ الطَّعَامِ حَسَنٌ مِنْ الْمَجُوسِ، أَوْ تَرْكُ الْمُضَاجَعَةِ حَالَةَ الْحَيْضِ مِنْهُمْ حَسَنٌ، فَهُوَ كَافِرٌ كَذَا فِي الْبَحْرِ الرَّائِقِ
 See: Ramesh Pattni, “What is Yoga” Oxford Centre of Hindu Studies YouTube Channel https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=weeCJFEaLV8&t=328s (accessed 10th June 2021)
 Marlynn Wei, “Why do People do Yoga” Huffpost.com https://www.huffpost.com/entry/why-people-do-yoga_b_7758984 (accessed 10th June 2021)
Maulana Ikramul Hoque Miah
Checked & Approved by:
Mufti Abdul Rahman Mangera
Mufti Zubair Patel