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Malaysia outlaws yoga for Muslims
By Robin Brant
BBC News, Kuala Lumpur

Millions of people in Malaysia have been banned from doing yoga because of 
fears it could corrupt Muslims.

The Islamic authorities have issued a ruling, known as a fatwa, instructing the 
country's Muslims to avoid yoga because of its Hindu roots.

To most people yoga is simply a sport - a stress-busting start to the day.

Malaysia's National Fatwa Council said it goes further than that and that 
elements of the Indian religion are inherent in yoga.

Announcing the decision, the council chairman Abdul Shukor Husin said practices 
like chanting and what he called worshipping were inappropriate and they could 
"destroy the faith of a Muslim".

The ruling is not legally binding but many of Malaysia's Muslims abide by 

Yoga classes here are filled with mostly non-Muslim Malaysians of Chinese or 
Indian descent, but in the major cities it is not uncommon to see several 
Muslim women at classes.

Prayers and gym

For Muslims across Malaysia the day starts at 5.30 in the morning, as the call 
to prayer goes out.

A handful of the most devout arrive at a mosque in the western outskirts of 
Kuala Lumpur.

Over the other side of the road, in the shadow of the Mosque's golden dome, a 
few others start arriving to start their day - at the gym.

Each is carrying a yoga mat, slung over their shoulder.

Adam Junid is a Muslim Malaysian who does both - prayers and gym, specifically 

An engineer in his 30s, he goes to a weekly class for about 30 people.

"I don't think it interferes with the religion at all," he says.

"In fact it helps you, makes you healthy and more aligned and it helps you 
become self aware," he adds.

Adam is a rarity because it is mostly women and not many Muslims who do this.

    Islam is able to cater to the needs of Muslims - spiritual needs, 
intellectual needs and other needs, material needs - there is no need to bring 
in elements from outside
Professor Osman Bakar

"The yoga masters repeat that it actually can be quite compatible with 
religion," he said. "It makes you a better person."

Yoga comes in many forms. For some it is a stress-busting sport. For others a 
serious bit of soul searching.

What Adam does once a week is the serious stuff. The class I sat in on was two 
hours long.

Spiritual experience

It included breathing exercises, with the help of the tick-tock of a metronome.

There was meditation, then half an hour of darkness for intense relaxation.

Before that some of the class managed a very stable headstand. Others could 
touch the back of their head with their foot.

"It can go with any religion," instructor Mani Sekaran told me.

"Or it can go with those who don't believe in any religion, because it's purely 
sports," he added.

He is also founder of the Malaysian Yoga Society. A bald and very fit man, he 
once did martial arts.

"If I want to train for an Olympic gold medal... whether I believe in a 
religion or not doesn't matter. I just keep on training."

"Based on that we can use yoga to enhance whatever we are doing, whether it is 
religion or whether it's spirituality... but it [yoga] is stand alone."

During the class I sat in on, yoga's Hindu roots were mentioned, albeit 
briefly. A spiritual experience was on offer for those who wanted it.

This is the point where some Muslims in Malaysia worry about yoga. They think 
it is encroaching on their way of life.

One Muslim student told me that she combined yoga techniques with prayers. That 
concerns some Islamic experts.

"If people want to practice yoga, the physical exercise, I think that is no 
problem," Professor Osman Bakar, from Malaysia's Institute of Advanced Islamic 
Studies, told me.

"Many Muslims would say fine. But they would object to the mixing of the two 

"Islam is a complete way of life. Islam is able to cater to the needs of 
Muslims; spiritual needs, intellectual needs and other needs, material needs. 
So there is no need to bring in elements from outside," he added.

Adam's yoga class ended with a quick discussion about self-awareness, 
concentration and why people do yoga. I was not sure if this was a weekly 
occurrence or for my benefit.

He told me that yoga has made him a better person. He has no plans to stop.

Do you practise yoga in Malaysia? Are you a Muslim in this region? Do you think 
that these restrictions are the right thing to do? Tell us about your situation 
by filling in the form below.

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Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2008/11/22 09:37:48 GMT


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