Muslim practitioners of yoga upset over ban in Malaysia

November 23rd, 2008 - 1:48 pm ICT by IANS  

Kuala Lumpur, Nov 23 (IANS) Yoga as practised in Malaysia has evolved and there is nothing religious about it, several Muslim practitioners and enthusiasts of this ancient Indian fitness regime have said, expressing deep disappointment at the National Fatwa Council’s move to ban yoga among Malays. The Council Saturday declared that yoga is haram (prohibited) in Islam and Muslims are banned from practising it.

Practitioners of yoga maintain that it has not shaken their belief in Islam. They say yoga has become mainstream and no longer had religious elements.

“I believe yoga has not affected or eroded my faith. If anything, yoga is the only exercise which combines stretching, strengthening and balancing movements,” yoga instructor and personality Ninie Ahmad said.

She said her faith in Islam was strong although she had been practising and teaching yoga for eight years.

Her reaction and those of many Muslims who endorse yoga came even as the Council Chairman, Abdul Shukor Husin, asked that none should question the edict.

“Many Muslims in the country fail to understand the ultimate aim of yoga,” Husin was quoted as saying in The New Straits Times Sunday.

The newspaper said the edict was ‘expected’.

A university teacher of theology last month raised objection to yoga, contending that it diluted Islamic beliefs.

Husin said once the fatwa was gazetted, it would be passed on to the 13 states to decide on its enforcement.

Husin said yoga had been practised by the Hindu community for thousands of years and incorporated physical movements, religious elements together with chants and worshipping, with the aim of “being one with God”.

“Because of this, we believe that it is inappropriate for Muslims to do yoga. The council is declaring that practising yoga, when it comes together with the three elements, is haram,” he said.

The edict would affect thousands of individual Muslim practitioners, besides yoga centres and those engaged in its business endorsement.

Muslim Malays form the majority in Malaysia’s 28 million population that also has 33 percent ethnic Chinese and eight percent Indians, a bulk of them Hindus.

Although worried how the fatwa would affect her business, Ninie Ahmed, who is the brand ambassador for Adidas yoga line, said she would go ahead with plans to open a three-studio yoga centre next month.

“The show goes on for me. I have invested half a million on this. Yoga is my bread and butter,” she said, adding that she was unclear how the ruling would affect her Adidas endorsement.

The centre, to be called Be Yoga, is a Bumiputera-owned (Muslim Malay) company and will be run and operated by Muslims.

“To portray yoga as harmful to one’s faith will be a great loss to the country. In Klang Valley alone, there are 30,000 registered yoga practitioners in yoga centres and gyms, and 30 percent of them are Muslims,” Ninie said.

Asked if she was afraid of the repercussions from the authorities, she said her centre promoted yoga purely as an exercise.

“I’m disappointed that the council failed to see the bigger picture of the benefits of yoga.”

A fellow yoga enthusiast, Azzy Soraya, said it was unfair to think that Muslims who practised yoga were a step closer to converting to Hinduism.

“Yoga moved on from its religious roots a long time ago. It’s about well-being and all religions encourage their followers to stay healthy.”

Some Islamic bodies also disapproved of the ban, The Star newspaper said.

M. Revathi, 40, who has been teaching yoga part-time for about 10 years, said some people mistook the names of the asanas (postures) as religious verses as they were in Sanskrit “but there’s nothing religious about the names”.

“As for the meditation part, it’s not religious either. I tell my students to relax and free their minds, and they can meditate in whatever language they like,” she said.

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