Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi who has recently persuaded the United Nations to declare June 21 International Day of Yoga, has worried Muslims along with other minority groups after his efforts to rebrand yoga as India’s cultural export. He frequently urges Indians to take up yoga and openly promotes the practice. He stated previously that yoga is an “invaluable gift of India’s ancient tradition.”
Members of India’s minority groups say the move to promote yoga is a ploy to boost Hindu pride and marginalise the 175 million Muslims living in the country. The Congress Party, India’s main opposition, has also criticised the yoga event and claimed it to be a political gimmick.
Secretary of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, Abdul Rahim Qureshi said the campaign is just a strategy to “enforce Hindu rituals on all non-Hindus.”
Modi, who led his Bharatiya Janata Party to a landslide election victory last year, and is a committed vegetarian and avid yogi has been criticised for promoting a view of Indian culture that has supposedly marginalised minorities.
Last year, Modi set up a new ministry for yoga and will celebrate International Day of Yoga in his country this weekend on June 21 which will be composed of a 35-minute public demonstration of poses by more than 35,000 government employees, students and public.
Some ambassadors for yoga argue that Muslims are wrong to oppose yoga as it transcends religion and is more of an exercise regimen rather than act of Hindu worship. Suneel Singh, guru in South Delhi, argues that yoga is not exclusive to Hindu Indians; “Is t’ai chi just Chinese? Is soccer just English? Same is with yoga. It is a complete package for everybody’s body and the cheap way to keeping you hale and hearty.”
But Hindu chants during the practice continue to persuade Muslims otherwise. Muslim activist groups say they refuse to chant “Om” which is a sacred Hindu chant. The “sun salutation” move also causes concern for Muslims as they argue it violates the monotheistic nature of Islam.
To add to the worries, last week Hindu priest and Member of Parliament, Yogi Adityanath suggested that minority groups who oppose yoga should leave the country or drown themselves.
Contrary to Muslims who firmly believe yoga violates Islamic principles, 350 Muslim students have been reportedly taking yoga classes as their curriculum at a Muslim secondary school in Delhi. Administrator of the Fatehpuri Muslim School, Rafiq Ali, said; “We teach yoga but have excluded the Hindu chants,” and added that, if yoga truly belongs to India, the government should end the yoga celebration with the national anthem instead of Hindu prayer.