Debate rages in Malaysia over possible yoga ban

October 31st, 2008 - 12:59 pm ICT by IANS  

Kuala Lumpur, Oct 31 (IANS) The possibility of a fatwa against yoga in Malaysia has triggered a debate among the clergy and scholars of different religions, besides doctors and yoga practitioners. The country’s National Fatwa Council is, meanwhile, still to announce its stand on Muslims practising yoga.Othman Mustapha, deputy director-general of operations at the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (JAKIM), said that an announcement on the decision would be made by the council soon, The New Straits Times said Friday.

Zakaria Stapa, a lecturer of University of Kebangsaan’s Islamic Studies Centre, had stated that yoga’s origins could be traced back to Hinduism and its practice could cause Muslims to deviate from the teachings of Islam.

Hindus say it is for the instructors and practitioners to keep religion out in this purely personal pursuit, while doctors and practitioners too see no religion in it and said the youth were exploring yoga for their physical and mental well-being.

The Malaysian Muslim Solidarity Movement also said there was nothing wrong with Muslims practising yoga as an exercise.

“It is just an exercise for health and brings peace of mind. Nothing more than that. It has never been averse to the Islamic faith,” said its president Zulkifli Mohamad.

“This new fatwa is not healthy and yoga is a very subjective and debatable issue,” he added.

A Muslim woman, who has been a long-time yoga instructor, expressed shock and dismay over Stapa’s statement.

Suleiha Merican, 56, who has been practising yoga for 40 years, said the meditation technique is a science of health and had nothing to do with religion.

“When we are strong in our faith, why would we want to deviate? The professor’s statement is totally uncalled for,” she was quoted as saying in The New Straits Times.

“There is no conflict at all as yoga is not religion-based … I would definitely encourage Muslims to practise yoga,” she added.

Merican noted that hospitals in Britain and the US offered yoga as alternative therapy.

“Every part of the world I have gone to there are Muslims who practise yoga, for instance in Iran,” she said.

Merican, who runs the Maya Yoga Studio in Damansara Perdana here, said yoga ran in the family as her father and grandfather were also yoga instructors.

According to The Star newspaper, there were “mixed feelings on yoga” as apart from some Muslims, a few Christian groups also had reservations about it due to its ties to Hinduism.

Herman Shastri, general secretary of The Malaysian Council of Churches, said different churches hold different opinions on the practice of yoga.

“In modern society, many young people are interested in health and well-being of the mind and body.

“Some churches said it belonged to a different religion so Christians should not do it,” he said, adding that many churches held spiritual retreats that were opened to non-believers, featuring meditation to alleviate stress and help people seek spiritual comfort.

Malaysia Hindu Sangam president A. Vaithilingam said yoga had long been an accepted form of exercise in many countries regardless of religion and culture.

“Yoga practitioners can just leave out the religion and do the exercise. It’s entirely up to the individual,” he said, adding that there were no restrictions that yoga practitioners had to be Hindus.

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