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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Poll Position: Thou Shall Not Yoga

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Remember the previous poll that Walski put up?

In light of Saturday's proclamation (finally) by the National Fatwa Council, Walski figured that the following best expresses the gist of how many Malaysians feel about the whole thing - Muslim or otherwise.

It also really makes Walski wonder what next will be deemed detrimental to Muslims' faith. No official position made by the National Fatwa Council on things like corruption, abuse of power, racism... Must mean that these things are tolerated and less detrimental than yoga, for some reason. 
(the poll results, and much more, in the full post)

But back to the poll. This time around, it would appear that a minority choice became the eventual result of the actual announcement. Fist time for everything, Walski reckons.

Image hosting by Photobucket30% got it right this time...

Yesterday, the council called a press conference to officially announce the decision, which apparently had already been made sometime back. From reading the various news reports, the gist of the decision is thus (emphasis by myAsylum):

  • the practice of yoga that includes chanting and worshipping is prohibited to Muslims outright
  • while merely doing the physical movements of yoga without the worshipping and chanting might not be against religious beliefs, Muslims should avoid practising it altogether as “doing one part of yoga would lead to another(source: The Star)
  • Malaysia is not isolation in issuing this edict - Singapore and Egypt had done the same
  • the decision is not law until gazetted, and the decision of how to enforce this would be left to the various state governments
  • NO ONE is to question the decision 

Some of the media reports included a bit about the history/background of yoga. The following comes from the Malaysiakini report (others are similarly worded, emphasis by myAsylum).

Yoga, a health-related exercise, has been practiced since 3,000BC and is said to help slow down ageing, reduce the risk of diabetes, asthma and heart-related diseases.
(source: Malaysiakini, subscription required)

Datuk Dr. Abdul Shukor Husin, chairman of the council, who also delivered the decision yesterday, stated that there are other "more Islamic" forms of exercise and attaining spiritual peace. Like the ritual prayers (solat), and zikir

Meanwhile, in somewhat unrelated news, Bernama reported that Johor's Chief Shariah Judge Datuk Ali Ahmad passed away early Friday morning. The news agency reports that the judge died of asthma, at the age of 59.

Walski said somewhat unrelated... go draw the parallels yourself.

But back to the yoga fatwa/edict - particularly where Dr. Abdul Shukor mentions that yoga had also been deemed haram (forbidden) in Egypt and Singapore. 

Well, it seems that this is partly true. In 2004, Egyptian Grand Mufti Ali Goma'a made a similar edict. HOWEVER, in Eqypt, fatwa bear no legality in the eyes of Egyptian law. In Malaysia, a Muslim could face real legal consequences if s/he were to go against gazetted fatwa. On the other hand, in Singapore, a recent news report in The Star indicates that what Shukor stated may not be entirely true.

Also interesting will be how the states react to this, and how exactly enforcement is going to be carried out - a question that Marina M. also asks in her posting on the same subject. Yoga Police? Raids on yoga centers, or worse (as Marina worries), private homes?

In fact, most commercial yoga programmes are about the physical exercise aspects of yoga, and not much more.

One statement Dr. Abdul Shukor made, though, was rather thought-provoking in a disturbing kind of way.

“The fatwa (edict) is meant solely for the Muslims to follow. The non-Muslims need not question or debate about this because they are free to do whatever they wish. It is the Muslims who have to adhere to this,” he added.
(source: The Star)

Apart from fact that once again, as a Muslim in Malaysia, thinking for one's self is severely frowned upon, yet another personal choice in Malaysian Muslims' personal lives is now subject to scrutiny and control by the religious authorities. Another choice taken away, so to speak.

By the way, does anyone happen to know exactly who gazettes fatwas in Malaysia? Is it Parliament, or some other un-elected body, whose decisions transcend democratic voice? Do tell Walski, if you know, because he's really curious about this.

Incidentally, conservative Muslims are not the only ones who put prohibitions on this, that and the other, based on the flimsiest of evidence. Some fundementalist Christians do the exact same thing (emphasis by myAsylum).

“Clearly, yoga impinges on the spiritual life of people in a way which we as Christians don’t believe is the same as our ethos.

“If it was just a group of children singing nursery rhymes, there wouldn’t be a problem but she’s called it yoga and therefore there is a dividing line we’re not prepared to cross.”

The Rev Tim Jones, vicar of St James’s, said: “Any alternative philosophies or beliefs are offering a sham - and at St James’s Church we want people to have the real thing. Yoga has its roots in Hinduism, and attempts to use exercises and relaxation techniques to put a person into a calm frame of mind - in touch with some kind of impersonal spiritual reality.

The philosophy of yoga cannot be separated from the practice of it, and any teacher of yoga, even to toddlers, must subscribe to the philosophy.

“Yoga may appear harmless or even beneficial, but it is encouraging people to think that there is a way to wholeness of body and mind through human techniques - whereas the only true way to wholeness is by faith in God through Jesus Christ.”

(source: Times Online - August 31, 2007)

The similarity of argument, in fact, is no coincidence, and there are many things in common between Christian beliefs and how Islam is practised today. Speaking of, "Things In Common" is also the title of a book Walski is currently reading, and touches on the many unexpected similarities of "belief" amongst religions. But more about that once Walski gets done with the book.

In the meantime, Malaysia, once again gets its place prominently in the world's news headlines. And once again, for all the wrong reasons.

Now, some of you reading this will probably be thinking that Walski is ridiculing Islam, as he has been reprimanded in the past. Well, he begs to differ.

The Malaysian religious authorities are doing a dandy job doing just that, without any help from yours truly...