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24 Nov 2008

Fatwa Council under fire for banning yoga

Nov 23, 08 12:23pm
One of country's highest Islamic bodies was under fire today after its chairperson said yoga was forbidden for Muslims because the practice would weaken religious faith.

Devotees of yoga and moderate Muslim groups criticised the ruling by Abdul Shukor Husin, head of the government-backed National Fatwa Council. Yoga is hugely popular in mostly-Muslim Malaysia.

"I don't think it had caused any Muslim to convert to Hinduism, neither has it weakened their faith," said Norhayati Kaprawi, an official with Sisters of Islam, an organisation which champions the rights of Muslim women.

"It is just an exercise like tai chi, which has its roots in Buddism," she told the Sunday Star newspaper. She said her group's staff had been holding yoga classes for the past year and that they would continue.

Rulings by the Fatwa Council are not legally binding on the country's Muslims, and there are no laws to punish those who ignore Council decisions - but it is an enormously influential body.

Abdul Shukor decreed that yoga was forbidden because it involves the recitation of mantras and that it encourages a union with god that is considered blasphemy in Islam.

"The practice will erode their faith in the religion," he said on Saturday. "It does not conform with Islam."

Most unfortunate message

A veteran opposition lawmaker, Lim Kit Siang, said that the edict showed that Malaysia was heading towards a conservative type of Islam which could divide the multiracial country.

"It is sending a most unfortunate message that Malaysia, instead of moving towards a moderate and universal Islam, is moving towards an opposite direction which will create divisions," he told AFP.

Islam is the official religion of Malaysia, where more than 60 percent of the population of 27 million are Muslim Malays who practice a conservative brand of the faith.

About 25 percent of the population is ethnic Chinese and eight percent is ethnic Indian, most of whom are Hindus.

Yoga, an ancient Indian aid to meditation dating back thousands of years, is a popular stress-buster in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur.

Muslim yoga teacher Siti Suheila Merican said that while yoga practice should not involve worshipping, the physical movements were good for improving health.

"Worldwide it has been accepted as an excercise for health benefits," she was quoted as saying by the Star newspaper.

Hindu Sangam: Council being insensitive

Meanwhile, Malaysia Hindu Sangam president A Vaithilingam told Malaysiakini that the council's decision was an insult to all Malaysians.

"The Fatwa Council has every right to decide on what is right for the Muslims in Malaysia.

"But, it has no right to insult fellow Malaysians and declare a 5,000 year practice as ‘haram', even though it is for themselves," he said in a text message.

He also added that the council's stand that the Hinduism context in yoga ‘corrupts' Islam was another sensitive public statement.

"The Fatwa Council has not been sensitive to the feelings of the Hindus," he said.

Later in a statement, Vaithilingam said that the Hindu Sangam respected the right of the Fatwa Council to give guidance for persons professing Islam on the tenets and practices of Islam.

"However, in doing so, they must respect the sensitivities and feelings of the other religions in Malaysia. Many Hindus have been deeply disturbed by the Fatwa Council's announcement," he said.

To call the ancient practice of yoga as ‘haram' and saying that it can ‘corrupt' a person was very hurtful and demeaning, he added.

He regretted that the council had not consulted the Hindu Sangam first so that "the religious and non religious aspects of yoga could have been explained to them".

sumber - Malaysiakini

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