The Malaysian National Fatwa Council stuck to their word and announced the ruling – Yoga is banned for Muslims in the country, roughly 60 percent of the 27 million population.
The National Fatwa Council, which has the authority to rule on how Muslims must conduct their faith, issued a fatwa, or edict, saying yoga involves not just physical exercise but also includes Hindu spiritual elements, chanting and worship.
“It is inappropriate. It can destroy the faith of a Muslim,” Council chairman Abdul Shukor Husin told reporters, noting that clerics in Egypt also issued a similar edict in 2004 that called the practice of yoga “an aberration.”
Decisions by the Fatwa Council in Malaysia are not legally binding on Muslims, who comprise nearly two-thirds of the country’s 27 million people, unless they are enshrined in national or Shariah laws.
However, many Muslims abide by the edicts out of deference, and the council does have the authority to ostracize an offending Muslim from society.
Abdul Shukor said many Muslims who practice the globally popular yoga failed to understand that its ultimate aim was to be one with a god of a different religion.
“We are of the view that yoga, which originates from Hinduism, combines physical exercise, religious elements, chanting and worshipping for the purpose of achieving inner peace and ultimately to be one with god,” he said.
But yoga instructor Suleiha Merican, who is a Muslim and has been practicing yoga for 40 years, denied there was a Hindu spiritual element to it.
“We don’t do chanting and meditation,” said Merican, whose father and grandfather were also yoga teachers. “It’s a great health science that is scientifically proven and many countries have accepted it” as alternative therapy.
We can’t say this isn’t a big blow, we’re rightly bummed to hear the news this morning and await the response from the rest of the yoga world. Is this something more? Or just simply precautionary steps to preserve religious traditions? Are more countries to follow? Will they try the old name-change trick?
It almost makes us thankful for our own country’s, albeit mutated, but at least tolerated and integrated versions of yoga. (See Christian Yoga Confounds, Yoga and Religion Discussion Turns to Church and State, Yoga in School OK if Not Called Yoga)