Sufism and Yoga according to Muhammad Ghawth (by Professor Carl W. Ernst)

Sufism and Yoga according to Muhammad Ghawth
 by Professor Carl W. Ernst

Carl W. Ernst is a specialist in Islamic studies, with a focus on West and South Asia. His published research, based on the study of Arabic, Persian, and Urdu, has been mainly devoted to the study of Islam and Sufism. His most recent book, Following Muhammad: Rethinking Islam in the Contemporary World (UNC Press, 2003), has received several international awards, including the 2004 Bashrahil Prize for Outstanding Cultural Achievement [pictured left].

“Sufism and Yoga according to Muhammad Ghawth”

Carl W. Ernst Sufi 29 (Spring 1996), pp. 9-13.

Copyright © Carl W. Ernst; not to be reproduced without permission.

I'd like to thank Professor Carl W.Ernst for responding to my email request, and granting me permission to publish his outstanding Sufi related articles.

What has been the relationship between Sufism and yoga? The question of yogic “influence” on Sufism has been raised from the first Orientalist studies of Islamic mysticism, because of the well-known millenial presence of Muslims in the Indian subcontinent. Partly because of ingrained Orientalist assumptions that Islam was legalistic and intolerant, it was assumed that the mystical tendencies in the Islamic tradition must have come from elsewhere. Thus began the quest for the “origins” of Sufism, which were variously—and fruitlessly—sought in the doctrines of Christian monasticism, Buddhism, shamanism, or yoga. The consensus of scholarship now, I think, accepts Sufism as a religious phenomenon oriented by the Qur’an and the Prophet Muhammad. Yet one commonly finds the assertion that Sufi practices of breathing control and meditation somehow derive from Hindu or Buddhist yogic exercises; little proof is ever offered for this thesis. I have spent a considerable amount of time researching the Sufi texts that make passing reference to yoga, and it is undeniable that certain Sufis in India were aware of yogic practices. On a textual level, however, extended discussions of yoga are rare. Only one work on yoga, described below, had a wide circulation in the Muslim world, in Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and Urdu translation. Even in this most obvious example of Muslim interest in yogic practice, however, it seems clear that yoga was integrated into the spectrum of existing Sufi practice, rather than somehow acting as a “source” for the entire Sufi tradition.
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