Friday, April 4, 2014

Namaste Outta My Way!

So a month back I woke up to 12 comments waiting to be published on my blog. I did not approve them to be published because quite frankly it was a rant. I did not see the point in encouraging someone’s bad mood or false perceptions. I did however take some time to think about what he had to say. I am almost sure this person is a ‘he’. I wanted to go over my blog posts to make sure that my intentions were understood and that I had not actually offended someone. After speaking to a few people including friends and fellow teachers, I was advised that it would be in my best interest to not respond to this commentator. I decided to let it go. Last week, I woke up to 3 more comments where this person accused me of being unfair for not publishing his comments and not addressing his accusations. And so here is my response. It will be my only response. Everything in blue and quotes are his exact words.

1."Ms Fari, If there is any a bit of honesty in yourself, the right thing to do is to publish my comments for all the visitors of your blog to see and judge for themselves. I understand that this is your blog , and I am not "forced" to visit and read your articles nor that you are obliged to answer to my allegations. The way I see it, some people like you simply do not have the courage and honesty when confronted with questions. Instead of answering my questions and charges, you've chosen the easy way out by not even publishing even a single comment by one. This is not new to me, I have seen many blogger doing the same kind of damage control."
“And I took my time and wrote a lengthy post in your blog rebutting your points, only to see it not published. Well done on damage control, Ms Fari.”

You have clearly not understood the concept of ‘personal blogging’. This is MY personal blog. It’s a monopoly. I rule my page. I get to put what I want on it. You brought nothing constructive to this attack. Yes attack; I cannot call this an argument or discussion. I did not publish your comments because, you sir, are a jerk with the maturity of a lollipop. Your tone was extremely disrespectful and condescending. I did not see the need to subject anyone else to your nastiness, though you obviously have done this on other blogs. If you look back to the blog, you will see I have published a few comments from people who did disagree with me, because they were not disrespectful. And quite frankly, I may have been doing you a favor by not publishing your comments. I saved you from showing the world what an unapologetic rude bigot you really are. But you pushed me and so here we are.

2. "The thing is nowadays, there a lot of yoga instructors out there who are completely ignorant of the Yoga philosophy. Certified to teach asanas, and soon they start to call themselves as Yogis and Yoginis! The goal of Yoga philosophy is to achieve mukti, liberation through the means of self – realization. Are you aware of this, Ms Farida Hamza? "
"Unfortunately, most of the Yoga studios are runned only to give out certs and making money. The supreme goal of the Yoga practices is completely ignored for the sake fame and materialistic gain."

You are right! Which is precisely why right after reading your comments, I went and did some asanas. While doing them, I asked Allah to give me strength to put up with uncouth jerks like you. I then called myself a yogin and then decided that the way to achieve mukti or liberation was to let you stew in your hate while I carried on with my day, because you see, you don’t affect me. Is that self-realized enough for you?
And your accusation of me bastardizing yoga for material gain is a joke. Seriously I sit here laughing, if only you knew how little I make from yoga compared to what I could from a 'regular' job. And despite that, I do it, and you know why? Cos I love it. Try and stop me.

3.“You boastfully call yourself a Yogi with little or poor understanding of Yogic philosophy and you even have the courage to call me " irate yogi" ? : ) Thank you for that... : )”
(The ‘irate yogi’ is in reference to a comment I made to another post)

You obviously have a poor grasp on the concept of bravery. Being brave is following your heart even when the whole world tells you that you are wrong. Being brave is standing up for the truth no matter what. Being brave is also having the courage to acknowledge that maybe, just maybe, you don’t know everything. Being brave is being humble enough to have honest conversations with other people. So you give me too much credit calling me brave for calling you an "irate yogi". I could have called you that while I sat farting on my couch. Though you may have a point, I should have simply called you an ‘irate jerk’. You sir, are no student of yoga. Your welcome!! :))

4. You sent me 15 emails ranting about my lack of understanding of yogic philosophy, how, if I have trouble with the Hindu aspects I am better off not practicing yoga, criticism regarding my feelings of being in temples blah blah. Here is my blanket answer to all of that. I am putting down one or two things that are particularly ignorant.

Some excerpts:
On my personal belief that everyone gets to go to Heaven, Muslim or otherwise, you said,

“This is one fine example of hypocritical statements by Muslims. You believe that everyone has a chance to go to heaven..? Really? On what basis is this “belief” of yours is laid upon? Your own assumption? The religious book of yours? Mantra chanting are part and parcel of Yoga philosophy, only insecure stupid people will fell offended by mantra chanting.”
If you cant or feel offended to chant the Sanskrit Mantras, then the best thing to do is drop the intention of learning Yoga all together.”
“Have you ever wondered why practicing and teaching Yoga is considered blasphemous by Muslims in the first place?”
“This is article is full of misleading statement and completely naive.”

You accuse me of being all preachy. But where have I said that I am perfect? If anything I am the complete anti thesis of perfection. I have my own demons just like anyone else. You are upset I focus on asana. Well, maybe that’s the stage I am at in my journey to finding peace. I have never said that only asana is yoga.  You don’t know how I feel when I am practicing an asana, you don’t know my history and what peace yoga brings me. When I am ready to move on to the next step, asana may fall into the background but right now this is where I am. How dare you tell me how I should be practicing yoga, my idea of yoga, my way of yoga? I never claimed to be an expert or to have all the answers. I’m still figuring things out.
You then go on to tell me that if you walk to your local masjid/mosque, the priest/mullah/ustad will call your faith demonic. What have I or this article got to do with them??  And more importantly what makes you think that I believe what they believe? Again, you do not know me or my history. You have no idea how I feel about other religions and so your compartmentalizing all Muslims shows me that the only thing you are well versed in, is the Art of Bigotry. But not to worry, you have company. Most Ustads and Mullahs disapprove of me just like you do.  Do you think you, these mullahs or anyone else will stop me or anyone else from chanting 'Allah', 'Jesus' or 'Yoda' when I sit in Padmasana? Go on, try me.

You ask, "does this make them 'true Muslims’ or not?”
I wouldn’t know. It is not for me to judge them. You go on and on about Muslim parents that disapprove of their kids practicing yoga. Again, what have I got to do with them? No one appointed me spokesperson for Muslims the world over. Just like I am sure, no one appointed you Defender of Yoga or Hinduism.

Do I believe Gandhi will go to hell because he is Hindu? Or that Mandela will go to hell because he is Christian? Or that some of my best friends who I love and adore and who stood by me through everything will go to hell simply because they are not Muslim? And that Osama Bin Laden who killed thousands will go to Heaven because he is Muslim?
No. I do not believe any of that. Just like I don’t believe anyone deserves to go to hell for being who they were born to be.  I believe that our intentions and actions will decide these things. And the truth of the matter is in the end, it does not matter what I think. This is my opinion. If we should get all Islamic, then I say to you, that Allah decides who goes to heaven and hell. It is not for me to judge or decide. Just like it is not for you to judge and decide.

5. On my view about how Zakat and Seva are similar:
"Total ignorance here. Zakat and Seva are totally different . It is dumb to equate both of these. Seva is selfless service expecting nothing in return, no promise of heaven & paradise or happy hour in utopian land. Nobody is going to be damned here or at the afterlife if she or he fails to perform seva. Qoute from Wikipedia: One must give zakat for the sake of one's salvation. Non Muslims are not required to pay zakat, but give a tax by a different name called Jizyah tax. While those who give zakat can expect reward from God in the afterlife, neglecting to give zakat can result in damnation. The giving of the zakat is considered a means of purifying one's wealth and soul"

I gave this comment a spot all by itself because it is astonishingly idiotic. Actually I should not call you that because you put idiots everywhere to shame. Your basis for this argument is Wikipedia?? Where anyone can go and put anything? Did you turn around and ask a Muslim who may have been int he same room? or those Ustads and Mullahs who live down your street??
You are right in that Zakat is monetary but what is the point of Zakat? To remind you that you have a civic responsibility to society. You 'serve' the less fortunate, if you are able to 'serve' you do it. Last I checked, seva or service meant the same thing. I was attempting to bridge two concepts, Islam constantly talks about serving others. It is a person like you who will always draw the  line between people and not find ways to embrace everyone. Whether you like it or not, we are all one.
To lightly touch on your point about greedy yoga teachers, I earn so little that I am exempt from giving zakat.

And the Jizyah tax you talk about is probably the most idiotic of all your comments. The jizyah was something imposed by tribes during the time of the Prophet, around 622 A.D. And the last time it was imposed may have been during the time of the Mughals, the 11th Century. But today, who imposes Jizyah? What does that tell you about being all inclusive and progressive? Do you think it was very wise to use such an outdated idea as a basis for your argument? Your anger obviously clouds your judgment.

What I hoped  to show in my piece was that we have become too influenced by rhetoric. All religions in the end ask us to love and respect each other. You do what is fair, what is honest and right, and everything else falls into place. I want us to think for ourselves, to question, to be curious. That is how it used to be. In the olden days, religious scholars visited each other, exchanged ideas, had real meaningful conversations and respected each other’s faith.
And since you are a stickler for facts, look up Abu Rayhan Al Biruni, an extremely well known Muslim scholar and astronomer who traveled through India and translated the Yoga Sutras in the 11th century. It was later found in the 1920’s in Istanbul. Why would he do this?  Could it be, he thought to himself, 'hey this is good stuff and I need to take this to my people so that we can broaden our minds and live more intelligent, meaningful lives’? Lucky you, Wikipedia has an entry on him.

6. “Despite with all your airy-fairy tale with GOD IS LOVE mantra, there simply isn't any place for hypocrites like in you in the Yogic family..
I do not see any point exchanging thoughts where is no satya in someone's heart and conduct.
Good luck in your self proclaimed utopian Yogic world.”

Thank you!! It is not lonely here in my airy-fairy utopian world. So many tolerant loving people here with me. And you are wrong. There is no place for Haters like you in the Yogic family.

Before I conclude, here is an observation and it is not a new one at all. Hurt people hurt people. I firmly believe that emotionally mature people would not spend their time sending angry emails. If you had come to me from an honest place, with respect and genuine curiosity, I would have tried to answer all your questions. We could have had a real conversation. But all you did was taunt, condescend and be a complete jerk.  I was not interested in feeding your anger or hate.

You must know, that after my initial annoyance, what I felt for you was genuine compassion. You sound angry. So angry. Why? Who am I to affect you this way? I am a complete nobody living my life, you have the option to thousands of blogs, yet you keep coming back to mine and commenting.
Why? Why are you punishing yourself by reading a blog that pisses you off? Don’t you think you need to be asking deeper questions? Like, what is it about me that pisses you off so? What is upsetting you so? If you feel I have bastardized yoga why not do something constructive with this emotion? Why not build something useful instead of focusing your anger on tearing me down?

And that Sir, is about as much as I have to say on this matter. I have given you more time than you deserve. Putting my anger aside, you should know, I am still open to a meaningful and respectful conversation. I am not interested in debate and rhetoric. I encourage you to please explore the world outside your prejudiced notions. Read more than Google and Wikipedia. Speak to scholars, ask questions and practice humility. You will find all your answers once you drop this cloak of rage and judgment. There is a life for you without negativity and insecurities, I promise. I am not interested in investing any more of my time in negativity.
But I can’t help but feel for you. A person with peace in his heart would not take the time to sit down and write so many comments. In order to do this, you must have a lot of negativity in your life. Try love for a change and you will be astonished at how much of it will come back to you. Try compassion for a change and witness how your entire being will surge with love and light. I didn’t mind this exchange one bit. We all have something to teach each other and even you, you bitter man, have shown me that what I am doing is exactly what I need to be doing. Reading your comments, there is an even more urgent need to get the word out. The only way to mukti for me is to keep living my authentic life and to spend my energy on the people who believe in me. I bear no animosity towards you because every experience has made me the person I am. Including your 15 messages.

Namaste and Salaam.

Friday, February 17, 2012

A Muslim Yogi's Affirmation

I am a practicing Muslim, I believe in Allah, I believe in the prophet Muhammad (PBUH), and I believe in the Koran. I also believe in Yoga. I believe in my breath and my sighs, in my angles and my curves, in my twists and my turns and the voice in my heart.  I believe that you don't choose your sexuality, that everyone has a chance to go to heaven, that being rich is as much a burden as being poor, and that Islam and Yoga can co-exist. Somewhere along the road, it has been insinuated that I might not be a 'good Muslim' because I do yoga. This post is to address that voice and to quiet it. 

Yoga did come through Hinduism, there is no denying that, but we are grown up enough to understand that you can take your practice where you want it to go. Who says when you meditate, you can't call out to Allah, Jesus, Yoda or even the Candy Man? In the end, you know what is in your heart and no God will deny your truth.

I have a feeling my parents don't like to tell people I teach yoga, because they are embarrassed and maybe even ashamed that their daughter went all the way to the United States to get a degree in finance and instead, is teaching yoga. It seems blasphemous, is not glamorous, and I could probably make more money baby sitting. 

A lot of people don't realize this but if you look at the Muslim prayer, the actual routine, it is very similar to yogic poses. It has the mountain pose, hero's pose, forward bend, child's pose and a hand mudra. To someone like me, there are many similarities between these two deeply spiritual practices and I find a natural flow and balance in living as a Muslim yogi. I am NOT saying that Islam came from yoga, or vice versa, I am simply saying that yogis and Muslims are more alike than people realize. In a place like India where Hindus and Muslims live side by side, yoga is a way of life. I once read a story about an Indian Muslim man who woke up at 5am to say his prayers and then did his yoga routine. When asked if he felt yoga was in contradiction to his faith, his response was that from a purely physical point of view yoga helped him perform his prayers better. (You can read this great article here: Can't Yoga and Islam Get Along)

Islam and Yoga teach you to be true (satya), do Seva or Zakat, Ahimsa or Non Violence, Anekantvada or multiplicity of viewpoints and Non Possesiveness (Aparigraha). Allah never forbade me from loving him in a downdog or a shoulderstand. If anything we are taught to take care of our bodies, good health is a gift and we should not be 'defiling' it with bad habits. What about Sufism? Do whirling dervishes experience nirvana differently from a yogi working on his crown chakra?
Every year I fast during Ramadan. When we observe the fast, we are not supposed to eat from dawn to dusk. Yes, nothing, no food, no water. Since we follow the lunar calendar we have years where Ramadan falls during the summer. You are not allowed any food or water from about 5am to close to 8-9pm.  Every year I wonder if I can do it, how will I face myself if I want to give up. But at the same time I am excited about seeing if I can live up to the test. It truly feels like a detox of body and soul, when you can't have a single drop of water, and you have to go about your day, you will feel grateful for everything you have and everyone you love. You will pray for the poor and you pray God shows mercy on the people you're not crazy about. And I don't think Allah has the heart to refuse a starving man's prayer. So far, I have gotten through Ramadan pretty well and I always feel invigorated. I am able to teach yoga just as normal and I feel I have no right to complain when there are construction workers in third world countries who fast.

Zakat or almsgiving is no different from Seva. You give what you can, when you can. And if you don't have much to give, the fact that you had the intention is enough. And I think that's what it comes down to. The heart of Islam is all about intention. There is a principle of karma in Islam. Muslims don't believe in rebirth but you will be rewarded or punished for your deeds in the afterlife.  There is no need to question what happens to you, do what is right and you will be alright. We are constantly given choices, to eat halal or non halal, to believe or not believe, to stand up to an injustice or to be quiet. You 'give in' to the universe or to Allah and trust that all will be well. No prayer or fast is going to save you from an evil thought or a cruel deed. If you read the teachings of the prophet (PBUH) and other Islamic scholars, you are constantly encouraged to work on your intention, you are told that Allah will bless you and yours for being true in what you pray for, and even if you are not able to see your promise through, you will still be blessed because your intention was true. At the same time, you are not punished for having an evil thought, because in the end, you are human and you are not perfect. You are allowed to have bad thoughts as long as you are aware of them and don't act on them. So its fine if you are so mad you want to kill someone, as long as you don't actually go out and do it. This to me is no different from energy or vibes. You send out the right energy and it comes back to you. So why should Islam and Yoga be at odds?

Does this sound like a militant lifestyle to you? Does this sound like an extremist, suicidal, ignorant belief system to you? I hope not, because Islam is my heart and soul. I would be so lost without having Allah to turn to and yoga has brought me closer to Allah than ever before. Yoga taught me to trust my instincts and to listen to my heart. That I should do what I truly love and I will stop to exist and I will start to truly live. Is it a coincidence that Allah planned my life in such a way that I came to yoga, that I got jobs teaching yoga? That opportunities keep coming my way? I feel confident and strong, I am grateful for every toe Allah has given me that keeps me grounded in my tree pose, I am grateful for the joy I felt when my tight hamstrings finally gave in and opened up in standing head to knee, I am grateful for every breath that has freed me, for every sigh that has released me.  I feel like a child born out of Islam and Yoga. A child with no ego, no lies, only strength, courage, conviction, grace and compassion.

Namaste and Salaam.