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Monday, November 24, 2008

Ban on Yoga for Muslims in Malaysia

Over the weekend, the National Fatwa Council, Malaysia's top Islamic body, banned the country's Muslims from practicing yoga, saying that it seeks unity with a god of Hinduism and contains elements of that religion, including worshipping and chanting, which could "destroy the faith of a Muslim," says Abdul Shukor Husin, the council's chairman.
Decisions made by the council are not legally binding until they're enshrined in national laws or Shariah laws of the states, but many Muslims abide by its rulings out of deference. In 2004, Egypt's top theological body also banned yoga for Muslims, even though many practitioners say the exercise doesn't need to have any religious elements.
The decision caused mixed reactions, divisions, and confusion—especially among cancer survivors who practice yoga because it helps promote positive thinking and unity, says Zuraidah Atan, the National Cancer Society of Malaysia’s adviser. "An overreaching fatwa like this is not good for them as unnecessary worry can have a negative effect on them psychologically and physically. Some are already feeling guilty for practicing it," she told The Star, Malaysia's leading English-language newspaper. "There is a need for the Fatwa Council to explain their edict properly so that Muslims who practice yoga, including cancer survivors, are not made to feel guilty.” —Heather Wax