Ahmedabad Muslims find way around aum for yoga

Written by Javed Raja | Javed Raja | Gopal Kateshiya | Gopal Kateshiya | Ahmedabad | Updated: Nov 3 2011, 15:00pm hrs
Every day at 7.30 am in Sardar Baug, a public garden in the Walled City area of Lal Darwaja in Ahmedabad, Muslim women in burqas and men in kurta pyjamas practise yoga. As their instructor, Chandrika Kansara, begins the session with the chanting of aum, her trainees, almost all of them Muslims, follow her with the sound of all...aah...ou.

It is an improvisation of the sound that accompanies pranayam the breathing exercise that starts and ends a yoga session disassociating it from religious symbolism and opening it to all.

It all began in 2004 when Naresh Patel, then additional commissioner of police (Traffic), started yoga sessions for his personnel in the Childrens Park in Sardar Baug. Around eight to 10 Muslim women would come for morning walk. One day, they asked if they could join, Patel, who retired in 2008, said.

Soon the number went up to 40, with Muslim men also joining the yoga classes. When they decided to say all...aah..ou instead of aum as the exhaling sound in the yogic breathing exercise, Patel saw nothing wrong.

Haji Fakiramma, a Mirzapur resident who has been attending the sessions from the beginning, says religion does not come in her way. I see no difference between the two dhwanis as both start with a. I am a diabetic and practising yoga helps me keep my sugar level and blood pressure under control, says the 70-year-old.

This is above religion. I produce sound of all...aah...ou because it is like invoking Allah. It gives me more strength, says Mehrun Patel of Shahpur.

Yoga and Islam have had a complex relationship. In 2008, top Muslim clerics in Indonesia and Malaysia decreed it un-Islamic.

But in India, with the recent rise in Yoga gurus, it is packaged as part of a non-allopathic cure for diseases. With Swami Ramdev and other gurus holding out Yoga for Muslims and Christians as an Indian way of addressing and even claiming to cure certain lifestyle ailments, Yoga has seen a huge rise in popularity.

In 2008, Swami Ramdev even addressed imams at an all-India conference organised by Jamiat Ulema e-Hind. Then, a fatwa issued by Dar-ul-Uloom clearly stated that there was no harm in adoption of Yoga by Muslims, especially if words like Aum were substituted by Allah.

Not saying aum does not hinder the breathing practice, instructor Chandrika Kansara says. It is an exercise to inhale more oxygen. If sound of all...aah...ou does that, so be it! says the 54-year-old.