Monday, November 24, 2008

Mixed reactions to yoga ban

PETALING JAYA: Sisters in Islam (SIS) and several yoga practitioners have expressed disappointment with the National Fatwa Council’s edict yesterday prohibiting Muslims from practising yoga.

They maintained that yoga was just a form of exercise.

Other individuals, however, said they would adhere to the edict.

Sisters in Islam (SIS) programme manager Norhayati Kaprawi said many Muslims in Malaysia practised it as a form of exercise to stay healthy.

“I don’t think it has caused any Muslim to convert to Hinduism, neither has it weakened their faith. It’s just an exercise like qigong or taichi which has its roots in Buddhism.

Norhayati said that by issuing the edict, the council had acted as if yoga was a widespread threat to Islam.

“I hope they can focus their attention on bigger and more pressing issues, such as money politics and corruption. Isn’t that more serious?” she asked.

She noted that SIS had been holding weekly yoga classes for their staff for the past year, adding that it had no problems continuing with it.

The council declared that yoga, which involves elements of physical movements, worshipping and chanting as haram in Islam and Muslims are banned from practising it.

Yoga teacher Datin Siti Suheila Merican agreed that while yoga practice should not involve worshipping and chanting, the physical movements were good for improving health.

Siti Suheila, who has been teaching yoga for the past 30 years, said the issue should not be blown out of proportion as many Muslims in the Middle East were doing it without any fuss.

“Worldwide it has been accepted as an exercise for health benefits.

“It is a science of health that is time-tested and proven scientifically to be extremely effective. Many doctors in the West recommend yoga as an alternative therapy to medication,” she said.

M. Revathi, 40, who has been teaching yoga part-time for about 10 years, said some people mistook the names of the asanas (postures) as religious verses as they were in Sanskrit “but there’s nothing religious about the names.”

“As for the meditation part, it’s not religious either. I tell my students to relax and free their minds, and they can meditate in whatever language they like,” she said.

A doctor, who only wanted to be identified as Rafidah, said she had been attending yoga lessons once or twice a week for the past six months but would quit her classes now to adhere to the edict.

“I still don’t feel that it has changed my faith in Islam at all. My faith as a Muslim is the same as before,” the disappointed 27-year-old said.

However, she believed that the council had conducted the necessary research and knew more about Islam than she did.

Another yoga practitioner, who only identified herself as Siti, said she would stop doing yoga.

“I think it’s fine for beginners but as I went for more advanced classes, I did not feel comfortable. I think I’ll take up pilates now instead as it is purely exercise,” she said.

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