The Yoga Fatwa

Posted on November 23, 2008

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The National Fatwa Council recently announced that Muslims are prohibited from practicing yoga. Specifically, what is banned is the combination of physical movements, religious elements, chanting and worshipping which forms the foundations of yoga as practiced in Hinduism. The ‘yoga’ in its modern sense, which usually involves only the physical movement, is not actually banned but nonetheless discouraged as it is seen as aping an un-Islamic practice.

We at kampunghouse agree with the prohibition, in principal. Performing chants of another belief clearly goes against the norms of a practising Muslim, and so the ban on yoga practised in its authentic form is no different from the ban against similar pre-Islamic practices such as menurun, menilik and the like. However, we wonder whether the fatwa is directed at the right target. The ‘yoga’ that is being practised at gym classes is far removed from the original form, and instead focuses only on the physical movements, with emphasis on stretching, breathing and slowing down the frenetic pace of life. Most people at the yoga class have no interest in the religious aspect; some may not even be aware of its religious roots. For these people, a fatwa against yoga is like news that came out of nowhere.

It would be a foolish Muslim who chants Hindu prayers without realising that such action is out of step with his or her religious beliefs. For the majority of rational, clear-headed Muslims out there, yoga is no different than an hour of Body Pump, Body Step or Pilates classes – a secular, physical exercise. While we commend the National Fatwa Council in its thoroughness in defining what is and isn’t deviant behaviour, we would strongly condemn any punitive actions taken against Muslims who attend yoga classes that are clearly devoid of any religious elements. The fatwa should serve as an advice and guideline, that can be discussed and debated as is the norm in a healthy, intellectually-rigorous society. It should not act as a law to be enforced without question.

Posted in: Society