Exercised over yoga in Malaysia

November 26, 2008

Of all the things to get exercised about, yoga would seem to be an unlikely candidate for controversy. But such has been the case in Malaysia this week.

Malaysia’s prime minister declared on Wednesday that Muslims can after all practice the Indian exercise regime, so long as they avoid the meditation and chantings that reflect Hindu philosophy. This came after Malaysia’s National Fatwa Council told Muslims to roll up their exercise mats and stop contorting their limbs because yoga could destroy the faith of Muslims.

It has been a tough month for the fatwa council chairman, Abdul Shukor Husin, who in late October issued an edict against young women wearing trousers, saying that was a slippery path to
lesbianism. Gay sex is outlawed in Malaysia.

The council’s rulings, and other religious controversies, might at first blush seem to indicate a growing strain of conservative Islam in mostly Muslim Malaysia. But it could also
reflect the growing unease of Islamic authorities in defending the faith in a rapidly modernising Malaysia where non-Muslims constitute 40 percent of the population and are increasingly
asserting their rights.

The yoga fatwa stirred up a hornet’s next, not only in the blogosphere where that could be expected, but in another deeply conservative Malaysian institution — the sultans.  Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah, who presides ceremonially over the central state of Selangor, said Abdul’s fatwa council should have consulted the nine hereditary Malay rulers who take turns being Malaysia’s king before announcing the ruling.  The highly unusual comment from one of the sultans on a
policy matter suggests some discord about who speaks for Malaysia’s Muslims on matters of faith. Islam is the official religion in multi-religious Malaysia and the constitution designates the nine sultans as guardians of the faith. The (rotating) king is the head of Islam in Malaysia.

The sultans, for their part, have seen what remains of their secular powers eroded over the years, particularly under the two-decade administration of former prime minister Mahathir
Mohamad. They could be defending a last bastion of royal prerogoative in the religious arena.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badaw, who has been preaching a moderate brand of Islam called Islam Hadhari, moved to contain the damage saying Muslims can do exercises like the “sun
salutation” so long as they don’t start chanting.

The fatwa council’s rulings, in any case, are not legally binding until they are adopted as national laws or sharia (Islamic) laws in individual states. There seems to be little appetite for that. No laws have been made against young women wearing trousers. The government in May dropped a proposal to restrict women from travelling abroad by themselves after a storm of derision from women activist groups.

But even as the flap over yoga is relaxing, the government is crossing swords with Christian groups.

A Christian federation  claimed Bibles were seized at entry points earlier this year. Malaysian Catholics are having an ontological argument with the authorities about the word “Allah”.
The government banned the Malay-language section of a Catholic weekly newspaper from using the word, saying it creates confusion among Muslims. Catholics say Allah is simply the Arabic word for
“God”, and has long been used in Malay-language Bibles. (A Dutch bishop has stirred debate in Europe with a similar argument)

Non-muslims, who constitute 40 percent of Malaysia’s population, sometimes worry that things such as the fuss over fatwas and words for God, may augur a mini-clash of civilisations in Malaysia, which last year saw a harsh crackdown on Indian rights protesters. It was one year ago that 10,000 ethnic Indians defied tear gas and waterr cannon to voice complaints of racial and religious discrimination in its biggest ever anti-government street protest.

7 comments

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Islam is a universal religion.If a group of people decide on an issue it cannot be accepted in Islam.Just because a few countries had decided that Yoga might influence a Muslim thought,Malaysia should not follow suit.The Muslims of the world had not come to an unanimous decision yet and so Yoga can be practised minus its religious connotation.The controversy should be taken in the positive outlook to prove to the world that the Quran is unique by itself.It never even discusses bisexuality or hermaphroditism and thus this is an area religious scholars should look into.Creating problems to the Muslims will only see empty mosques like what Christianity is suffering: selling churches.Malaysia is a model Muslim country where all great religions are thriving.We should not break that way of life.

Posted by isahbiazhar | Report as abusive

I think the muslim authorities in Malaysia must have more confident with themselves, their people as well as Islam religion itself. Muslims will not easily influenced to change the religion just by learning Yoga.
They should concern more on serious problems such as gambling, drug abuse, teenages problem (poor understanding in Islam and moral as well) which will brings more problem to Muslim as well as the public and country.

aren’t these ruling direct opression of the right of freedom?Are the people mullahs and rulers of islam so much afraid of yoga?Do they think meditation chanting etc is much more powerful to wipe out everything that is islam or does this expose the truth that Islam has no methodology to offer and hence out of frustation and inferiority complex is baning people from their right.

Posted by GMuhamad | Report as abusive

Malaysian muslims have always been a tolerant and understanding lot. Crazy rules by ‘a few’ not only creates misunderstanding, creates rifts between the people and paints the wrong picture about the rest of the muslim guys who are very good people.

I am proud to be Malaysian. I have many friends who are muslim and some who do practice yoga. What is the incidence of people converting out of Islam by practising yoga. Perhaps the’fatwa’ organisation should consider studying this, and make up better rules, like being good, doing good etc…..think!

Posted by Ramesh K | Report as abusive

So whats on the menu for tne cabinet today, poverty no, education no, health, are you joking. You see somehow yoka has got to be the top business of the day. The world is facing a major financial crises, what do they do, ban yoka. Prior to ban, yoga was going nowhere, now secret societys of yoga fanatics are spreading like wild fire. The golden rule if you want to make it popular, ban it. We all know that what you cannot have, you want more, even if you did not want it in first place.Now what are the accident figures for chanting? There you are driving along the road, and one of those signs is flashing, ” you have been chanting for two miles, cut it out mate”. How do they know you are chanting? The same way they know when you are speeding, the guilty look on your face. So I know you want to know the answer, it is easy. Saterllite Navication, you will receive an alert when you enter a non yoka/chanting area and if you pay the extra charge you will also find diverted routes to avoid the pirates.

Posted by john fogel | Report as abusive

stunned to hear that yoga can destroy the faith in Islam… isn’t there other major issues in the country to concentrate…

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