On June 17 this year, the Ministry of AYUSH released a book titled “Yoga and Islam”. The official press release explicitly stated, “The book clearly indicates that yoga has nothing to do with religion and is universally accepted.”
However, what happened in New Delhi and most of the other places in India and around the world were contradictory. The occasion started with a prayer with your hands folded in the form of ‘Namaste’. While in the West, the folding hands and sun-salutation are adopted quite unobjectionably without any feelings of threat, in India, the minorities refused to bend down in front of any power except Allah.
The imageries used by various Indian government authorities too suggested the contrary. The masthead of the Twitter handle of the Ministry of External Affairs, @IndianDiplomacy, for example, on June 18, had three famous personalities— Swami Vivekananda , Baba Ramdev, founder of Patanjali and proponent of yoga in the 20th century, B K S Iyengar. Even though their association with yoga and meditation is well-known, Indian authorities skipped highlighting luminaries from other religions, even religions that were born out of Hinduism.
Members of India’s minority groups say the move to promote yoga is a ploy to whip up Hindu pride and marginalize the country’s 175 million Muslims.
Even as we know 47 Muslim countries are to participate in the yoga, the feeling of subtle saffronization cannot be overlooked. The other day I came across an Tarot reader on YouTube, who picked a card called ‘Sarasvati’ with the painting of Hindu Goddess Saraswati on it, and saying that that particular month will be beneficial for that particular zodiac sign in promoting his/her talents.
Now Hinduism is being embraced in the West without a feeling of a religious threat is purely the absoluteness of the religion (or way of life, as history speaks about it) itself. But, surely, a definite whiff of saffron is in the air.
India’s main opposition Congress party had also attacked the yoga event as a political gimmick. Muslim cleric and member of the influential All India Muslim Personal Law Board, Khalid Rasheed, said the community is against the chanting of Hindu hymns on the International Day of Yoga.
“So what we have objected [to] is that the government must not associate any kind of religious ritual or any kind of Surya Namaskar (sun salutations), and basically the politics that is being played and the type of comments and the type of statements that is being given by certain BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] MPs that are targeted against the Muslim community,” Rasheed said.
Yogi Adityanath, a Hindu priest who is now a prominent BJP legislator, said earlier this month that minority groups that oppose yoga should either leave the country or drown themselves in the sea. The RSS last year passed a resolution calling for yoga to be made compulsory in schools and universities.
Maulana Akram Nadvi, a Muslim cleric, said the hype and comments from Hindu bodies ahead of the event had given the yoga day a distinct religious color.
“We have not opposed yoga, that is a misconception. But yes, if yoga is associated with certain religious beliefs or with some religion, then we find it wrong. Yoga is an exercise and exercise should be left as such and nobody has objections to that,” Nadvi said.
Some proponents of yoga argue that it is an exercise regimen that transcends religion, and so Muslims are wrong to oppose the government for encouraging it. Sadhguru said yoga is a means of keeping the mind and body healthy, without any religious connotation. “The first step of yoga is the user’s manual: how to sit, how to breathe, how to manage this body, how to get the maximum out of this system. How to keep it an optimal level of function and experience every moment of your life. This is the science of yoga. Is it against any religion? It does not matter what you believe, what you don’t believe, every human being has a right to be well. If he has a right to be well, yoga is a powerful tool,” Sadhguru said.
So all in all, the success of India’s International Yoga Day, which was announced by the UN last year, is one more milestone in placing Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India and the architect of this motion, as one of the world’s strongest leaders and project India as a soft superpower.
Read more on http://www.citrusmag.com/ June 2015 issue