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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Note On The Fatwa On Yoga In Malaysia

The door of Yoga is always open for everybody. It welcomes anybody and receives everybody with equality, compassion and wisdom.

But sadly, due to the Fatwa on Yoga in Malaysia, there is much confusion, fear and worry created among many Malaysians who are directly or indirectly involved in yoga, whether as a yoga teacher, a yoga student, a yoga center owner, or even the officers who work in the business licensing department of the Malaysian government. They need to consult the Religion Department and to get their approval whether they can issue a business license to a yoga center which solely owned by non-Muslim and is not having any Muslim clients.

Everyone is confused about whether Yoga is banned in Malaysia or not. Will there be no more yoga practice or yoga classes or yoga centers in Malaysia in the future? People are confused about whether this Fatwa on Yoga only applies to Malaysian Muslims or does it apply to all Muslims of other nationalities living in, or visiting Malaysia. Will the yoga teacher or the yoga center get into trouble with the authorities if there are any Muslims in the yoga class?

Many yoga teachers and yoga center owners are in doubt as to whether they can receive or accept any Muslims who want to come for yoga classes just as a physical exercise for health and fitness, even if the classes do not include philosophy, chanting, prayers or any aspects related to Hinduism. And if we, non-Muslims, want to follow the traditional yoga practices with all the philosophy, chanting and prayers, but without any Muslims in the class, will this be okay for the Religion Department? Because we had just being questioned by the business licensing department about whether we do chanting and prayers in our yoga classes or not, even though we told them that we are NOT Muslims and we DON'T have any Muslims in our classes.

We know that Malaysian Muslims are not allowed to read any other non-Islamic books or practice anything that contains any religious aspects other than Islamic. We want to respect this issue and respect the fact that different religions have different points of view and teachings. But isn't it true that all religions are supposed to promote respect, love, peace, compassion and wisdom? Some of us might want to clarify that Yoga is not a religion. It is like Buddhism, it has been misundertood as a religion. In fact it's a life philosophy and practice that can guide us to peace and harmony.

We would like to be very open minded and receive anyone who are sincerely want to learn and practice Yoga with us in Malaysia, but we also want to respect the local religious teachings and their authorities, even though sometimes we find it a bit difficult to accept that some religions are having very restrictive rules and regulations for the well-being of their followers. And Malaysia is supposed to be a free country with the constitution of rights, that allows everyone (non-Muslims) to be free to have their own beliefs and religion practices, of course except for the Malays, who are borned to be Muslims. We need to respect this Muslim law too even though some of us might not be happy or not agree with this issue. So please forgive us if any Muslims come to us in Malaysia for yoga classes, but we have to tell them that we are not allowed to receive them. Or else, we might lose our business license and can't even teach and share authentic Yoga practices with many others who are non-Muslim in Malaysia, but we can have a business license if we only teach something which is not yoga's "yoga".

All these times, for all Malaysian who are non-malays, we are free to practice Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Taoism, and some other traditional cultural beliefs and non-religious practices in Malaysia. And everyone are respecting each other and live in harmony with everybody. How come Yoga (originates from India and is no doubt a part of Indian culture) has now become a big religious problem in Malaysia just because some nice people (Malays Muslims) are amazed with this ancient Indian wisdom and are interested in doing some exercises using yoga poses without the need of respecting or applying the original teachings and practices of yoga, like the philosophy, chanting and prayers?

Yoga practice and its teaching is to promote respect, loving kindness and peaceful harmony in everyday lives among all people who have different believes and cultures.

And this Fatwa on Yoga issue had pushed the pure authentic traditional yoga practice into something "not so good" to be mentioned or to be taught in a yoga class, that people try to avoid many important yoga practices into their so called "yoga" practice due to the sensitive issue about Fatwa on Yoga in Malaysia.

Anyway there are many yoga centers and yoga teachers in Malaysia that are not really into Traditional Yoga that emphasizes on ancient philosophy and spiritual part of yoga practices, but they are more towards fitness industries that use some of the yoga poses to make it into a fitness exercise routine and they only emphasize on physical fitness level, physical ability, strength and flexibility. There is nothing wrong about it. While Traditional Yoga is not so much about all these physical aspects at all. It is more about the internal cultivation of selflessness, purity, non-attachment, compassion, wisdom, peacefulness and self-realization.

This is maybe because there are many people who are doing "yoga business" in Malaysia want to avoid getting problems with the authorities. Some people even clarified that their "yoga classes" are non-religious and non-spiritual (Yoga might not be a religion but it is definitely spiritual), and it is just a physical exercise and that their "yoga" classes are strictly without chanting of "Om" and "prayers", which is "safe" for any Muslims to join in, because "spiritual" means religious for many people who don't understand the real meaning of "spiritual". In truth, spirituality has got nothing to do with religion. A person who doesn't has any religions can be very spiritual. While a person who has a religion is not necessary spiritual.

I could respect that anyone who wants to use yoga poses and make it into something fitness only and "not really yoga" anymore, but please respect other people who are really practicing yoga genuinely. There is nothing wrong or bad about "not really yoga", at least many people are exposed to yoga exercises which can promote good health and peacefulness. It is something good and beneficial for everybody even though it is not authentic anymore.

All these are just some appearances with names and forms. We should be beyond all these names and forms. But if we try to protect this "not real yoga" in Malaysia and start to attack the authentic pure yoga practices as something "not right", "not allowed" and "illegal", this is really sad and ignorant. May everyone practices yoga in peace and harmony whether it is pure or not pure.

May we all be blessed with wisdom and be free from ignorance.

Om Shanti.

1 comment:

  1. This is an article that I found on the internet from The Star Online.

    PUTRAJAYA: The National Fatwa council has declared that the yoga practice which involves three elements of physical movements, worshipping and chanting as haram (prohibited) in Islam.

    Its chairman Datuk Dr Abdul Shukor Husin said although merely doing the physical movements of yoga minus the worshipping and chanting might not be wrong in the eyes of the religion, it should be avoided as “doing one would lead to another”.

    He said yoga has been practised by the Hindu community for thousands of years and incorporates physical and religious elements and chants and worshipping, with the aim at “being one with God”.

    “Because of this, we believe that it is inappropriate for Muslims to do yoga and the council has declared that practising yoga when it comes all together with the three elements as haram.

    “We discourage Muslims to do yoga as a form of exercise because it will ultimately lead to religious worshipping and chanting which is against Islam.

    “In Islam, one must not do things which can erode one’s aqidah or faith. Doing yoga, even just the physical movements is a step towards an erosion of one’s faith in the religion, hence Muslims should avoid it,” he told a press conference.

    He added that the council had come up with an edict on yoga as the matter was brought up to them following growing concerns whether it would be against the religion if Muslims do the exercise.

    Recently, a lecturer Prof Zakaria Stapa of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Islamic Studies Centre advised Muslims who had taken up yoga to stop practising it for fear that they could deviate from the teachings of Islam.

    Shukor said the declaration of yoga as haram was done after serious and indepth discussions were made by the council members who met last month.

    He added after studying the matter, including the history and purpose of yoga where the ultimate aim was to “be one with God”, the council decided that it was inappropriate for Muslims as it could affect one’s faith.

    Asked if the decision would draw flak within the Malaysian community, including the non-Muslims, he said the ruling was only meant for Muslims and the rest were free to practise yoga.

    “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.

    Shukor said once the edict was gazetted, it would be up to the state governments on how they plan to implement and enforce the ruling as religious affairs come under its purview.

    “Malaysia is not the only country which declare yoga as haram in Islam. Singapore and Egypt have come out with the same edict as well,” he said.

    He said Muslims must be careful as to not do things which could erode their faith, adding the religion strongly advocates “prevention is better than cure”.

    “There are many other forms of exercise that Muslims can partake especially when the religion promotes healthy living and lifestyle. Performing prayers for example is a good form of exercise,” he said.

    Read the original article on http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?sec=nation&file=/2008/11/22/nation/20081122111842

    Om Shanti

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