Teachings of Islam and yoga philosophy are similar. Islam is not what we usually see around us today or interpret. In fact, Islam has lost its charm and luster in the current scenario. Islam is the religion of peace and harmony. It literally means submission to God. Yoga teaches the same with illustrations and techniques. A pious Muslim, throughout his life, has to follow the tenets of Islam i.e. observe the five pillars of Islam in a disciplined manner.
One of the important pillars of Islam is observing fast during the month of Ramadan. Just like yoga is a process of self-purification, self-actualization and self-realization, so is the month of Ramadan. The faithful whole-heartedly works towards self-purification by not only fasting from dawn to dusk but also exercising Salat (Namaz) five times a day with all devotion and dedication.
Ramadan also involves reading and reciting the Quran, reciting a special prayer Tarawih after dinner, being compassionate and offering charity to the poor in the form of Sadqah (voluntary charity), Fitra and Zakat (religious tax).
Ashtanga yoga of Patanjali (eight fold path of yoga) lays down the discipline of yama (self-restraint) and niyama (self-observance or discipline) as the first two limbs. Yama comprises of ahimsa (non- violence), satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing), bhramhacharya (sense control) and aparigraha (non-accumulation). These values are also observed during the month of Ramadan and one promises to maintain them throughout the life.
The faithful consciously avoid hurting anyone by any means, avoids speaking lies and doesn’t claim anything falsely. He tries to control his or her sensual urges during fasting and realizes the importance of maintaining close proximity to God. He avoids the unnecessary accumulation or possession of unwanted things and does charity for the poor.
Niyamas are sauchha (cleanliness, purity), santosha (contentment), tapa (austerity), swadhyaya (self-study or study of scriptures) and ishwara pranidhana (surrender to God). These self-observances of yoga discipline are also observed during the month of Ramadan with more energy. Taking care of one’s health, positive self-contended attitude, lots of penance by fasting, self-study – knowing the self by reading and understanding Quran, offering Namaz and ultimately surrendering to the Almighty are part of Ramadan.
Namaz or Salaat involve repeating a combination of yogic postures – Asana. Namaz is an ultimate spiritual exercise for every Muslim. He is not only strengthening his body and mind but submitting himself to the Almighty. Reciting verses from Quran during Namaz is like doing Japa Sadhana (mantra japa) to keep the mind calm and more focused. Namaz teaches an individual to be more humble and makes him a more compassionate seeker of spirituality.
If one practices yoga asanas during late afternoon or early evening between 5.30 to 6.30 pm, he feels more energetic. It helps one’s body to warm up and be ready for nourishment.
Every human being has a physical, psychological, biological and spiritual set-up in his body and mind. A balanced state of these can lead to excellence. Fasting during Ramadan cultivates the art of equanimity within with respect to above faculties. Fasting helps curb the base tendencies usually arising out of stomach. It is an effective remedial action to sober the mind and ignite the spiritual flame within.
Yoga advocates moderation in diet, efforts or actions, talk, rules and regulations, contact with people and mental activities. Ramadan fasting helps in preventing overeating, the root cause of many diseases. In fact it leads to harmonious functioning of all the vital organs and the systems. Every faithful, who observes fast, loses unwanted weight and at the same time, feels light and healthier. By following Yoga and Ramadan, the body and mind are detoxified.
The heart of Islam is all about intention. There is an Islamic principle of Karma. Though Muslims don’t believe in rebirth, they believe in a Day of Judgment, when you will be rewarded or punished for your deeds in the afterlife. One should do what is right and everything will be alright. You submit to the universe or to Allah and have faith that all will be well. If your intentions are true, you will be blessed. Practicing yoga and observing Ramadan go hand in hand with pure intentions meant for the wellbeing of the humanity.
I believe yoga has brought me closer to Allah than ever before. It has taught me to believe in my instincts and listen to my heart. It keeps me grounded and humble.