Showing off your yoga skills has become a bit of a social media cliche (#yogagram) but for religious fundamentalists on Twitter, the sight of an Indian cricketer doing it is apparently sacrilegious.
On Dec. 30, Mohammad Kaif took to the microblogging site to praise the Suryanamaskar as an excellent workout. The Suryanamaskar, or sun salutation, is a popular cardiovascular workout involving 12 asanas, such as the “prayer” and “cobra” positions. Usually performed early in the morning, Suryanamaskar is an essential part of yoga, the ancient Indian science of physical and mental well-being.
Kaif’s Tweet was accompanied by photos of him performing the various asanas.
But that evoked an unexpected flurry of criticism, with several Muslim commentators questioning Kaif’s right to practice yoga, given his religion and the Suryanamaskar’s origins in ancient Hindu scriptures.
This isn’t the first time that yoga has come under fire for its alleged religious connotations. Last year, the approval of a proposal to make Suryanamaskar compulsory in Mumbai’s civic schools was met with widespread criticism from many Muslims who labelled it as an imposition of the ”saffron agenda,” alluding to the Hindutva ideology promoted by right-wing Hindu political outfits such as the Shiv Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party. Muslim critics of Suryanamaskar point out that, according to Islam, a Muslim must not bow before anyone except Allah, while this yogic exercise involves bowing before the sun.
The heavy criticism of Kaif comes just days after another Indian Muslim cricketer, Mohammed Shami, was attacked after he posted pictures of his family on Facebook. In this case, Shami’s critics found the sleeveless dress worn by his wife inappropriate for a Muslim.
A few weeks earlier, Twitter trolls had also come out in full force to lambast Bollywood couple Kareena Kapoor and Saif Ali Khan for naming their newborn son Taimur, a name historically associated with a bloodthirsty Turkic-Mongol invader, also known as Tamerlane, who led a massacre of Indians in the 14th century.
On Dec. 31, however, Kaif took on the trolls, maintaining that exercise is free of religious associations and beneficial to everyone.
Kaif, who played 13 Test and 125 One-Day International matches for the Indian cricket team between 2000 and 2006, also later tweeted the advantages of practicing yoga.