Malaysian edict against yoga kicks up controversy

November 25th, 2008 - 2:57 pm ICT by IANS  

Kuala Lumpur, Nov 25 (IANS) A fatwa (edict) banning the practise of yoga by Malaysian Muslims has kicked up a controversy in the country, with some saying that it had nothing to do with religion and was practised because of its “known health benefits”. Two states have put on hold implementation of the fatwa.The National Fatwa Council last week issued the edict, deeming as ‘haram’ (prohibited) the practice of the ancient Indian fitness regime that aims at mental and physical well-being. The Council said that yoga contained chanting and worshipping also.

However, several people have objected to it, adding to the ongoing debate whether Muslims should be asked to eschew yoga on the ground that it diluted Islamic values.

The Sultan of Selangor state said the fatwa could not be implemented in his state as it had not been presented to the state Fatwa Committee.

Perak state’s Islamic Religious Department director Jamry Sury withdrew his earlier statement that Perak would adopt the fatwa, saying that several procedures including seeking the consent of the Sultan, had to be carried out first, The Star newspaper said Tuesday.

In Perlis state, Mufti Asri Zainal Abidin spoke out against the edict. He said that a form of yoga with the non-Muslim elements removed should be allowed.

“These sports did not have anything to do with Islam but have been practised because of their known health benefits,” he said in a telephone interview with Mstar Monday.

“Yoga practitioners who are Muslims should be given an alternative by practising a version of yoga that does not resemble the version practised by other religions,” he said, adding that chanting while practising the exercise should also be stripped.

He maintained that yoga was a good exercise to maintain a healthy lifestyle if done minus the extra bits that are against Islamic teachings.

“The fatwa (edict) announced in this day and age should not be too rigid. The human movement does not necessarily have a connection with religion,” he said.

Most other states said they would take the necessary steps to enable the edict to be implemented.

However, Sisters in Islam, a body of Muslim women, said the fact that the states had differing views on the matter seemed to suggest that there was no consensus on the ban.

The Sultan of Selangor, Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah, who is the constitutional head, said in a press statement that the Selangor Fatwa Committee would meet to deliberate the matter “in greater detail so that a decision is not made hastily”.

The Sultan said that once the state committee had made a decision, it would then be forwarded to him for approval in line with state laws regarding the administration of Islamic affairs.

The Sultan said he hoped that in future any fatwa that touched on an issue which affected the general public would be referred to the Rulers Conference prior to being announced.

“This is to ensure that the method of channelling a fatwa is implemented in a wise manner to avoid any confusion or controversy,” he said.

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