Is Abhay Mudra Prevalent in Islam and Christianity?

Rahul Gandhi, the leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha, recently stirred controversy by discussing the “Abhay Mudra” during his speech. The Abhay Mudra, a hand gesture symbolizing fearlessness and protection in Hinduism, Buddhism, and other Indian religions, became a focal point of his address.

Gandhi drew parallels between the Abhay Mudra and the Congress party’s election symbol, the open palm. He claimed that the Abhay Mudra can be found in various religious figures, including Lord Shiva, Guru Nanak, Jesus Christ, Lord Buddha, and Lord Mahavir. He even went as far as stating that the Abhay Mudra is present in Islamic prayer, which raised eyebrows and drew criticism from Muslim scholars who pointed out that Islam does not endorse idol worship or the use of mudras.

Critics argue that this statement is factually incorrect and misrepresents Islamic teachings. Islam, unlike Hinduism and Buddhism, does not emphasize iconography or symbolic gestures to convey spiritual messages. By attributing a specific Hindu-Buddhist concept to Islam, critics believe Gandhi has either displayed a lack of understanding of Islamic traditions or has engaged in an attempt to blur distinct religious identities for political gain.

While the intention to draw parallels and promote unity among different religious traditions is commendable, it requires a nuanced and accurate understanding of each religion’s unique beliefs and practices. Missteps in this area can lead to misunderstandings, hurt sentiments, and political controversies, as demonstrated by the reaction to Gandhi’s speech.

Is Abhay Mudra Prevalent in Islam and Christianity?

While everyone argues about the big controversy, we uncover the crucial context and historical facts to provide a better perspective on the issue.

Table of Contents

What are Mudras?

Shiva as the divine cosmic dancer, Nataraja - posing various mudras. Modern statue gifted by India at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland.

Imagine if the way you held your hands and move your body could unlock ancient secrets and connect you to spiritual energies across the world. That’s the essence of Mudras—symbolic hand gestures or pose found in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. Originally rooted in Sanskrit, Mudras aren’t just ritualistic movements; they’re powerful tools used to convey emotions, invoke protection, and deepen spiritual practices. From dispelling fear to fostering meditation, these hand positions have transcended cultures and religions, shaping how humanity connects with the divine for millennia.

It is commonly believed that the term “Mudra” is only associated with Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism and has no relevance beyond the Indian subcontinent. However, Munira Shahid Rajput’s research on the origin of the word “Mudra‟ and its trans religious use around the globe, published in the International Journal of Interdisciplinary Research in Arts and Humanities (IJIRAH), shows that hand gestures similar to Mudras appear in nearly all religions worldwide, including Islam. It’s important to note though, that these gestures go by different names in various religious and cultural settings and aren’t called Mudras universally.

Origin of Mudras

Mudras, ancient gestures with deep roots, began as silent communication when words were not yet spoken. Over time, they evolved into symbolic scripts like early Egyptian and Indus scripts, mysteries still unsolved today.

One of the oldest gestures known is the bow of respect, shown to powerful humans or uncontrollable forces like the sun or thunderstorms. Fear and uncertainty led early societies to create deities, seeking their favor for a safe existence. The worship of female figurines in the Neolithic era hinted at early goddess worship, fostering human growth and prosperity.

12th-century Japanese scroll showing different mudra gestures.

From ancient Rome to South Asia’s Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, diverse cultures assigned specific traits and symbols to gods and goddesses. In Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain religions, mudras became key in distinguishing deities and their various manifestations.

Mudras transcend boundaries of time and belief, practiced worldwide for millennia. Hindu scriptures, like the Mantra Shastra and Nritya Shastra, reveal early insights into these gestures. Even the Bhagavad Gita mentions Lord Krishna using the gyan mudra while imparting knowledge.

The origins of mudras remain a mystery, their universal presence as natural as the body’s daily needs. Across continents and ages, they endure, silently speaking a language of their own.

Harnessing Energy through Mudras

Mudras rely on the fingers of both hands, each connected to specific meanings and energies. Using these fingers correctly is believed to channel healing energy. Fingers are said to embody the five elements of the body: air, water, fire, earth, and sky. If these elements fall out of balance, it can lead to serious problems.

Balancing these elements isn’t easy, but practicing Mudras helps harmonize them within the body. Each finger symbolizes different elements and emotions. For example, the thumb represents earth and worry, affecting the stomach. The index finger is linked to mental elements and emotions like sadness, influencing the large intestine and lungs. The middle finger represents fire and emotions like impatience, connected to the heart and circulatory system. The ring finger is associated with wood and anger, affecting the liver and nervous system. The little finger symbolizes water and fear, linked to the kidneys.

Hand Reflexology Chart. Courtesy: chantfull

Mudras are integral to Hindu and Buddhist art and are described in ancient scriptures like the Natyasastra. These hand gestures, used both statically in meditation and dynamically in dance, have specific effects on practitioners. Similar gestures are found globally, hinting at a shared human tradition of symbolic communication.

The origins of Mudras remain mysterious, but their universality suggests they have transcended cultural boundaries throughout history. Mudras aren’t just limited to Asia; they’re used all over the world. Europeans had their own set of specific gestures during rituals. These gestures were used to emphasize and confirm their thoughts and messages.

Abhaya Mudra

The abhayamudra, or “gesture of fearlessness,” is a powerful hand gesture symbolizing reassurance and safety, believed to provide divine protection and bliss in Hinduism, Buddhism, and other Indian religions. Made by holding the right hand upright with the palm facing outwards, this gesture is one of the oldest, seen in many Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, and Sikh depictions.

The abhayamudra stands for protection, peace, kindness, and the dispelling of fear. The Hindu god Shiva, in his form as Nataraja, uses this gesture to offer protection from evil and ignorance.

This is the stone figure of Dewi Sri Abhaya Mudra, an Indonesian rice goddess of fertility. The sculpture consists of the natural stone Rhyolih and was handcrafted in Java (Indonesia).
This is the stone figure of Dewi Sri Abhaya Mudra, an Indonesian rice goddess of fertility. The sculpture consists of the natural stone Rhyolih and was handcrafted in Java (Indonesia).

Abhay Mudra in Theravāda Buddhism

Theravāda is the name of Buddhism’s oldest surviving school. Followers, known as Theravādins, have kept Gautama Buddha’s teachings, or dhamma, alive in the Pāli Canon for over 2,000 years.

Theravāda is the official religion in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Cambodia, and it is the main form of Buddhism in Laos and Thailand. It is also practiced by smaller groups in countries like India, Bangladesh, China, Nepal, North Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Taiwan.

Abaya Mudra, Leela Attitude, Walking Buddha or Pang Lila

The Leela attitude is a striking pose in Southeast Asian art where the Buddha is shown stepping forward with his right foot, his right hand swinging, and his left hand extended forward. This dynamic stance is often called the Walking Buddha.

Different regions have their own names for this pose. In Myanmar, it’s known as abaya mudra, while in Thailand, it’s called pang lila.

The Buddha in Leela Attitude at Wat Sa Sri in Sukhothai Historical Park, Thailand
The Buddha in Leela Attitude at Wat Sa Sri in Sukhothai Historical Park, Thailand.

Mudras in Islam

Islamic symbols express a connection to Islam and represent certain beliefs and ideas. Some symbols, like the color green, have been associated with Islam for centuries across many regions, while others are more recent or localized. Muslim art and architecture often use these symbols to convey complex concepts, decorating mosques and other religious buildings.

A flag of the hand surrounded by circular stars seen in the center background used by the Ottoman army.

The Quran doesn’t specify any symbols or colors, so these symbols come from the creativity of Muslim artists, leaders, and thinkers. Some gestures in Islam, similar to mudras, include bowing, using the index finger for ‘Toheed,’ and poses like Dua, Raquh, and Azan.

The Hand of Fatima Abhaya Mudra Hamsa
Hand of Fatima, The Learning Gallery
Panjtan, Panja

One common Islamic amulet is the human hand with five fingers, called Hamsa or Khamsa known as the Hand of Fatima after the Prophet Muhammad’s youngest daughter. It symbolizes the ‘Panjtan’ or ‘Five People’: Muhammad, Fatima, her husband Ali, and their sons Hassan and Hussain. This symbol, respected in both Shi’ite and Sunni Islam, is believed to protect against the ‘evil eye’ and is found in prominent places like the hall of justice in the Alhambra.

Mudras in Christianity

In the early Church, symbols were secret and understood only by insiders. However, after Christianity became legal in the 4th century, it started using more recognizable symbols. Christianity adopted many important symbols that were familiar across different times and places around the world.

When the Nordic people were converted to Christianity, many of these gestures, like raising their arms to invoke gods, were initially banned. Over time, some of these gestures were adapted and became part of Christian ceremonies. If you watch a priest performing Mass closely, you might catch glimpses of how these ancient practices still influence modern expressions.

A ceramic hamsa depicting Jesus and his disciples
A ceramic hamsa depicting Jesus and his disciples. Lantuszka - Self-photographed.
Saint Francis of Assisi
Saint Francis of Assisi. Louvre Museum

Indian Influence around the World

Research Paper on Mudras

Research on The Source, Meanings and Use of Mudra across Religions by Munira Shahid Rajput published in the International Journal of Interdisciplinary Research in Arts and Humanities (IJIRAH).

4 Responses

  1. Thanks for the detailed write-up. It was much needed. Everybody is just fighting over it without understanding facts.

  2. Boss Ajmer Sharif darga chief has already said this is nonsense. There is no mudra in Islam.

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