It is a norm today for the majority of Muslim scholars and Muslims generally to view Islam as an exclusive way of life. The need to differentiate Islam and Muslims from people from the other faiths is getting more and more pronounced. This has led to the need to draw the line clearly on what is Islamic and what is not.
The Yoga controversy is one more from a long list of matters that stems from this exclusive framework. Earlier this year, it was about the monopoly of the term Allah, ie. That it cannot be used in the Bahasa Malaysia version of the Bible to refer to God (refer my earlier blog post for a detail explanation - http://letusaddvalue.blogspot.com/2008/06/can-we-use-term-allah-to-represent-gods.html )
How did the Muslims become exclusive about Islam?
The root of the problem is the general understanding and how Muslims today view the history of religions and Islam.
Contrary to Quranic hidayah (guidance), Muslims today seems to not see Islam as a long lineage of religion starting from Adam and concluding with Prophet Muhammad. Muslims today equate Islamic history with the advent of Prophet Muhammad thus making Islamic history almost synonymous with the history of the Arab people – negating all other spiritual traditions like Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, etc as emanating from the same Creator.
The Quran on the other hand suggest an all inclusive approach stressing that all religions came from Allah as He has sent messengers everywhere in the course of history; a few are named in the Quran, mainly those from the Abrahamic line while the rest are not mentioned at all. But definitely there were other messengers sent to other geographical areas like India, China, The Americas etc although the Quran strategically remain silent of any geographical areas so as to be all inclusive (Quran 4 : 164, 40 : 78, 21:25, 17:77, 43:6).
In fact, the Quran is so stern of this all inclusive approach that it decreed that any Muslim, who does not accept even one of the messengers, named or unnamed, ceased being a believer! Muslims also cannot make any distinction between any of them. (Quran 4 : 150-153, 2 : 136, 3 : 84).
Thus, to the Quran, Islam’s history is world history, not the history of the Arabs. The Quran’s version of the history of mankind started with Adam the first civilized homo-sapient (one who is endowed with the power of conceptual thoughts and language Quran 2:31) (Quran 7:70, also refer Quran 7:31, 17:70, 2:33, 2:37, 7:27 and 7: 35).
To stress this all inclusive approach further, the Quran made it very clear that Islamic and Muslim history must not be seen as starting from Prophet Muhammad as the Prophet himself was made to declare that he follows the religion of Abraham (Quran 16:123, also refer Quran 16:20, 2:135, 3:95, 4:125, and 6:61).
To make it final, the Quran points out that it is Allah not Prophet Muhammad who named Muslims, Muslim; long before the birth of the Prophet (Quran 22:78).
Almost all of the history books on Islam whether written by Muslims or Non- Muslims that usually record Islam with the coming of Prophet Muhammad and making the Prophet as the founder of Islam run contrary to the Quran. At best they are relating the history of the Arab people and how the Arabs impacted the world and built an empire base on their new faith, Islam. (Here is where the historian Albert Habib Hourani got it right by calling his book “A History of the Arab Peoples”).
It is this myopic view and basic assumption of Islam’s history that over the years has steered Muslims to deviate from having a universal all inclusive approach towards Islam and hence grew to be more and more exclusive rather than inclusive of all the other communities and spiritual traditions. This in turn makes Muslim society monopolistic towards God and the Heavens negating anything with a trace of other traditions and seeing them as being opposed to Islam. Consequently, since Yoga could be traced to Hinduism, it is deem as wrongful.
The Quran however ruled that all who worship in the monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques are in essence venerating Allah (Quran 22:40) and anyone who “believe, and those who follow the Jewish, and the Christians and the Sabians,- any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve” (Quran 2 : 62, also refer to 5 : 69). The Quran declared and confirmed all previous scriptures and dictate itself as a ‘watcher’ over them ( Quran 5:48).
Early Arab Muslims and those earlier converts since the advent of Prophet Muhammad understood this all inclusive Islam. They saw Islamic history as world history and connected their generation with all the earlier generations of Adam’s descendents, absorbing human history as theirs.
Viewing history and Islam as all inclusive, they became God’s children in true sense. They developed into universal beings. With that framework, they became free of myopic, bigoted and narrow mindedness; free to learn, borrow, modify, rejuvenate, innovate and built upon knowledge, technology and life skills from all over the world be they from the east, the west the north or the south and made them their own. Creating a civilization of excellence at a time when Europe was still slumbering in the Dark Ages.
A simple example is in many Muslim’s hands: the prayer beads. Widely used long before the advent of Prophet Muhammad but modified to suit the Muslim worship. Muslims most likely learn to use beads from the Hindus and the Buddhist as they moved eastwards. You may want to do the same with Yoga :)