The first International Day of Yoga has sparked a race row in India, with some Muslims accusing the government of pushing a Hindu agenda. They have also claimed that practising yoga flies in the face of Islamic teaching.
The day is being celebrated around the world: in New York’s Times Square, 30,000 people are set to take part in a mass yoga session, while in Paris, thousands of French yoga fans dressed in white and sat on yellow mats under the Eiffel Tower.
In New Delhi, the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had lobbied the UN to make the day an international event, joined his cabinet ministers, foreign diplomats, and thousands of fellow Indians in attempting to set a new record for the largest single yoga class.
But Kamal Farooqui, a member of the Muslim Personal Law Board in India has accused Mr Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of pushing a Hindu agenda. “Yoga is not the only form of exercise, there are other forms of exercise too,” he added.
According to the BBC, some Muslims hold that yoga is a religious practice, and that by chanting “Om” or performing the Sun Salutation, practitioners are essentially transgressing the monotheism that Islam preaches.
In response, a member of Parliament belonging to the BJP has said “those opposing yoga should either leave the country or drown themselves in the ocean.”
The historian Dilip Simeon has lambasted Hindu politicians for what he calls a “manufactured controversy,” which he says is “yet another example of deceitful polemic.” Writing for the Indian Express, he accused them of promoting Hindu culture as the dominant belief system, saying: “So now yoga is essential not only to Hinduism but to national pride. Refusal to submit to this rule is treachery.
“Perhaps some energetic policemen will lodge a case of sedition against anyone refusing to perform suryanamaskar.”
He was also dismissive of the Muslim’s claims that yoga defied Islam, writing: “To treat it as a Hindu religious ritual is equivalent to believing that aerobics are a step towards Christianity or that acupuncture is an insignia of Chinese imperialism.”
Indian census figures indicate that 80 percent of India’s population are Hindu, whilst 13.4 percent describe themselves as Muslim.