However you choose to live your life, there are rules that to follow, whether simply the laws of the land, house rules governing meal times or more complex religious ones. If you change directions anywhere along the way, those rules can act as stepping stones to keep you on course while you figure out the new order and sometimes this, inevitably, causes simple actions to become laden down with analysis.
A good friend posted a question on a message board recently asking whether or not yoga is a permissible form of exercise for Muslims, given the Sanskrit meaning of the word. Replies came in a flurry. All, bar mine, unequivocally stating that the practice of yoga is unquestionably haram: mainly for the simple reason that in Sanskrit, “yoga” means “prostration to the sun”. Once again, I find myself outside the status quo…unable to jump the fence and agree with the arguments why an innocent action could be seen as unlawful according to the Islamic rules for life.
The conscious act of settling to a yoga session mostly eludes me nowadays post-baby, haram or not, so for me the debate was superfluous, but the thought processes that go into the debate are very much relative- not so much to the form of exercise I do, but the atmosphere I create when I do it.
Stopping drinking, I lost weight – loosing a bottle of wine a night instantly lowers calorie intake – but I also lost some of my muscle tone. A huge part of my exercise regime had been the 3+ hours I’d spend dancing in clubs ’til 3am. Without the wine, while the music still held the appeal, a lot of the company didn’t and so my ‘exercise’ dwindled off. Just as for my friend, yoga is the only exercise which can strengthen and lengthen her body to the shape she loves to be, I liked the way dancing a la discotheque shaped my figure. I liked the definition of my calves from the constant wearing of stilettos, the arch to my back from the bend-and-flex of rhythmic dance. running can’t give me that definition, won’t give me that shape; unlike yoga, no Shakira beats are going to be compatible with the way I live my life, and so alas, I say goodbye to those killer calves and gymnastesque butt.
But this still leaves me outside the accepted grounds of convert life, and perhaps, means I still have a way to go. Allah knows. Maybe in 5 years I’ll look back on this post in horror I ever thought yoga was permissible, or maybe that dance was not ok. What I do know, is that being a convert to any path means you’ve made a decision to hold yourself accountable for your actions, and should make a conscious effort not to judge others for theirs. I only wish I’d gotten that sense from the message boards, the responses upon which left my friend feeling not enlightened or armed with sources to study, but feeling that the only way was to fail as a Muslim or follow the crowd.
For every action we make, there’s a thought process behind it and in much of what we do, it’s not so much the action but the intent behind it. When I wear hijab as I leave the house or answer the door to a man, I say “Bismillah” – “In the name of Allah.” Without that sentence, that hijab is no more than a scarf. And it’s the same with yoga: if the intent is not to prostrate before the sun or to meditate on life but is to become in tune with your body through the stretch and the pull no other form of exercise provides, I see no problem with that.