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“Nothing specifically Hindu about yoga”

Yoga practitioner on the top of Ancient Greek’s town of Mycenae (source:

PETALING JAYA, 11 Dec 2008: There is nothing specifically Hindu about yoga, instructors said, with one adding that it was possible to become a better Muslim because of yoga practice.

Yoga instructor Azmi Samdjaga explained that Patanjali, the compiler of the Yoga Sutras or one of the foundational texts of yoga, used the Sanskrit word “Ishvara” which means God or Supreme Being.

“(The texts) do not name any deity of any particular religion,” Azmi said in an e-mail interview, adding that this universality freed the exercise from conflict with any religious principle.

“Yoga aims to concentrate and to still the mind,” said Azmi, a Muslim who has been practising yoga for the past 11 years.

Yoga practitioners doing sun salutations (© mountaindiamond /

“When this is concentrated and directed upon one’s God, the practitioner is focused in reaching towards the very heart of his (or her) religion. Therefore it is possible to adapt the practice of yoga to worship Allah better, and be a better Muslim.”

Azmi, who teaches yoga in Damansara Perdana, was responding to the National Fatwa Council’s ban on yoga on 22 Nov 2008.

About 30% of Azmi’s students are Muslim. “Many were shocked by the (fatwa on yoga),” he said, noting that these individuals did not see how their faith could be adversely affected.

“On the contrary, they felt that after taking up yoga classes, they could get up fresher and feel healthier in the morning for their first prayers,” Azmi, 37, said. Also, he said, his students could now sit longer in their zikir (meditation) and be more focused about their faith.

Yoga practitioners doing sun salutations (© mountaindiamond /

Malaysian Yoga Society deputy president Tay Siew Leng confirmed that ancient yogic texts make no reference to any particular religion, let alone Hinduism.

“Yoga techniques are just universal tools that practitioners can apply according to their own requirements,” Tay told The Nut Graph.

There are five schools of yoga: Hatha, Karma, Raja, Jnana and Bhakti. Tay said typically, yoga practised in Malaysia was of the Hatha variety which comprises physical postures, breathing techniques and relaxation to bring about balance and wellbeing.

She explained that only Bhakti Yoga, a devotional form of the exercise practised in temples and ashrams, included elements of chanting.

Yoga practitioners doing sun salutations (© mountaindiamond /

Tay said even though the consensus in archaeological findings placed yoga’s origin in the Indus Valley, where modern-day India and Pakistan are, there was not enough evidence to ascertain whether the Indus-Sarasvati civilisation was linked to Hinduism.

Business unaffected

Azmi said he was initially worried about his business after the fatwa against yoga.

However, he was confident about his fellow Muslims following subsequent developments.

“We are stronger in our minds than what the Council thought, and can rise above such ignorance,” Azmi said.

He added, however, that he was grateful for the Council’s efforts in researching the Quran, the Hadith and the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad. But he expressed disappointment that the Council failed to seek the truth on the modern practice of yoga.

Kundalini yoga practitioner
Kundalini yoga

“It simply issued the ban without any consultation with any yoga specialists or organisations,” Azmi said.

National Fatwa Council chairperson Datuk Dr Abdul Shukor Husin declined requests by The Nut Graph for an interview to clarify the issue. TNG

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8 Responses to ““Nothing specifically Hindu about yoga””

  1. Non-Macha says:

    Ya, it is not just for the macha!

    Yoda is for all!

  2. Singam says:

    I would like to comment on two statements from the article…

    “Yoga instructor Azmi Samdjaga explained that Patanjali, the compiler of the Yoga Sutras or one of the foundational texts of yoga, used the Sanskrit word “Ishvara” which means God or Supreme Being.”

    The trouble is that many followers of the religions emerging from the Torah/Bible/Quran believe that their name for God refers to a different God, one exclusive to their religion, the only True God. Therefore they cannot accept a God referred to by another name or in another language as the same Supreme Being.

    “(Tay Siew Leng) explained that only Bhakti Yoga, a devotional form of the exercise practised in temples and ashrams, included elements of chanting.”

    In fact, every form of worship is really bhakti yoga. One could pray to Allah and recite Quranic verses or pray to Jesus and chant Christian prayers or whatever… it’s still bhakti yoga – the yoga of devotion.

  3. yati says:

    Where to begin? There is no “God” (noun, single male creator found in the three monotheistic religions), in Hinduism. In Hinduism there is creative “force”/being (verb) and there are are Maha Devas (great spirit beings, noun) evolving from that.

    Isvara is first found in the Veda, 7.102.1 (sacred Hindu text). Isvara is most often refered to as Siva (Hindu Maha Deva) and generally used by Saivite (one of four sects) Hindus. Patanjali, a Saivite Hind Guru, does not have to refer to Isvara/Siva or Sutra content as Hindu because he is teaching his Sishyas (Hindu Saivite students). Sacred texts of any religion do not necessarily need to refer to its readers/students as Muslims, Jews, Christians etc…the presenter and listener are aware. At the mosque, the Imam does not tell the congregation he is teaching Islam, does he?

    As to “Yoga techniques are just universal tools that practitioners can apply according to their own requirements,” one is confusing specific religious practices from a specific religion with generalities…just as syariah are Islamic laws, and one country’s statutes are different from another, although both deal with “law”.

    The “Council” knows more about yoga than those practising phoney yoga, claiming to be “experts”. Azmi was concerned about his yoga “business”… where in Yoga Sutras is that discussed?

  4. yati says:

    Editor’s note: In the interest of broadening the discussion, The Nut Graph will allow this additional comment by the poster. Please note, however, that discussions should relate to the issues surfaced in the news article.

    Shanon Shah
    Columns and Comments Editor
    The Nut Graph


    To support some of the info in my last comment, here are some facts:
    ~yoga: Skr. “Hinduism” [Webster’s]
    ~yoga: Oneness of Atmana and Brahman [Dict. of Skr. Names]
    ~yogi/yogini: (male/female) Hindu Ascetic [Oxford World Rel.]
    ~Atmana: Skr. Self/Spirit; Hinduism [Webster’s]
    ~Brahman: Skr. Hindu Religion [Webster’s]
    ~yoga: Skr. A Hindu discipline [Oxford Am. Dict.]
    ~ yoga: Skr. A system of Hindu religious philosophy [Thorndike Barnhardt]
    ~yoga: Skr. general term for spiritual disciplines in Hinduism [Columbia Encyclopedia]
    ~Swami: Skr. Title of respect of a (Hindu) Holy man or teacher. [Oxford World Religions]
    ~Guru: Skr. A teacher of worldly skills…more often of religious knowledge…liberation (Moksa). [Oxford World religions]
    ~Moksa: Release/liberation – the fourth and ultimate goal of Hinduism. [Oxf. World Religion]
    ~The first recorded evidence of the Skr. word “yoga” is found in the Vedas.
    ~Veda Skr. The most ancient sacred literature of the Hindus. [Webster’s]

  5. Las says:

    Is the practice of the karma sutra banned also?

  6. Singam says:

    Most people, including the majority of Hindus, mistakenly identify the various names used in the Hindu pantheon as referring to different beings of various statures and powers. This is why they do not realise that Hindu theology also includes a monotheistic Supreme Being, referred to in some texts as Para-Brahman.

    Just as a single person can be, at the same time, son, brother, husband, father, grandfather, boss, subordinate, colleague and a host of other persona, the Supreme Being is recognised as being simultaneously all of the various aspects of power and protection that mankind desires. The Supreme Being is, to each person, what that person needs and seeks.

    An all-pervasive formless power, for the purpose of intervention into the coarse material world, partially coalesces as a nameless mystery and is given various descriptive names – The One, The Supreme, The Eternal, The All-Merciful, and so on. None of these names suggests that each is a separate entity.

    In Hindu theology, the three primary functions of the One are recognised as Creation, Preservation and Re-absorption (mistakenly described as destruction). Each of these aspects has a name – Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.

    Taking it further, each of these aspects is resolved into the duality of potential and dynamic energies. The potential energy is represented by the male form and the dynamic energy by the female form. Shiva and Shakthi are NOT husband and wife. They are representations of that aspect of the Supreme Being that maintains the dynamics of the material universe. The Dance of Shiva is the Big Bang and everything that has followed, including all of our minuscule movements.

    And so on…

    I will not take up more space on this subject unless there is a specific request.


  7. yati says:

    Dear Singam,

    Your understanding and sharing of Hinduism is appreciated. There are some points I feel should be viewed differently and pardon if your comments were misinterpreted. The “different beings of various statures and powers” are just that in the duality, we recognize that and therefore they are not or should not be “mistaken” for anything other than Mahadevas. They are of Para Brahman in the sense of Nirguna/Saguna and on different Lokas. Your “single person…” example just reinforces that – many forms. Also, Para-Brahman is not representative of a “monotheistic Supreme Being” although some fundamentalist Hindus misleadingly insist their Maha Deva is “that” sole Creator/monotheistic being and other Hindu sects are lesser – the dreadful/inevitable trap in monotheism. Para-Brahman is Nirguna, so not “God”/monotheism. Hindus over time began using the “God” word, perhaps to communicate with non-Hindus, but using words incorrectly, like “yoga”, has had negative consequences in Hinduism. The Hindu scriptures really express a monistic-polymorphic understanding. Ideally a Hindu may choose to connect with their Ista Devata, and realizes it may be their “one and only” like a parent or spouse, as you expressed. From there we recognize but know we really can not speak much more of Nirguna.


  8. Singam says:

    Dear Yati

    Thank you for your demonstration of an extraordinary understanding of Hindu thinking. Such understanding is rare even among Hindus. I wish to seek your opinion on the following…

    Given that the human faculties of perception grasp only a minuscule fraction of merely five types of sensory input, our perception of reality is far from what is really out there. No matter how much we extend our rational capacities, our minds are unable to encompass any extended reality, let alone infinity.

    We have discussed two apparent realities about God – the monotheistic view and the more complex Hindu view. I can see 4 models for reconciling these differing views…

    1. One of these is true and the other is false.
    2. Both are true but somehow share the same timespace without conflict.
    3. Both are true but the timespace sharing thing is beyond our grasp.
    4. The two are nothing more than inadequate attempts to describe the same reality.

    Would you choose one of these models or are there other models that I have failed to visualise?



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