Monday, November 24, 2008

Regional Muslim intellectuals regret decision to declare yoga as haram

Regional Muslim intellectuals regret decision to declare yoga as haram
by Himanshu Bhatt

GEORGE TOWN (Aug 23, 2008) : Muslim intellectuals from around South-east Asia have expressed reservations and regret on the Fatwa Council of Malaysia decision declaring yoga as haram.

Members of leading Islamic think-tanks and research groups who have converged in Penang said that the decision seems to have infringed on the freedom of Muslim citizens while being based on a narrow viewpoint of yoga.

Liberal Islam Network chairman Luthfi Assyaukanie of Indonesia described the fatwa as “a part of the conservative belief system that we are trying to deal with in the region”.

“Yoga is practised for physical health, not necessarily for religion,” he said when commenting on the National Fatwa Council’s announcement on Saturday of its decision to prohibit Muslims from practising yoga, citing that it is rooted in Hindu elements.

“But the clerics have tried to compress the understanding of yoga to a single perspective. When you live in a plural society you must respect the existence of various disciplines. If you believe in freedom, let them practise their freedom,” he said.

Malaysian Institute for Policy Research executive director Khalid Jaafar questioned the process in which the fatwa was decided, asking whether experts on yoga or Muslims who practised the exercise were consulted.

“To my knowledge there is no preaching of Hindu faith being done. There are no mantras or rituals that are invoked in the practice.”

“The yoga that they practise deal with things like exercises, internal muscles, breathing and control of mind,” he said, adding that the council should allow discourse and discussion on such a matter before making a decision.

Mindanao-based Amina Rasul, a convenor for the Philippines Council for Islam and Democracy, said although Muslims in south Philippines are not used to yoga, they would find such a ruling peculiar.

“To people in Philippines, yoga is about the practice of good health and clearness of thinking. It is hardly equated with religion.”

Jakarta-based Maarif Institute executive director Raja Juli Antoni said one should not generalise what the discipline is about.

He characterised the fatwa as not healthy in contributing to Islamic intellectual practice in the region.

The members were in Penang over the weekend to attend a workshop organised by the Southeast Asian Muslims for Freedom and Enlightenment.

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