Fatwa against Yoga! (Is Yoga a Religion? Muslims think so, apparently—they just made it ‘illegal’)

Via Waylon Lewis
on Nov 24, 2008
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yoga bad.

With thanks for the tip to Benjamin Frolichstein.

Yoga Fatwa! Muslims in Malaysia just made yoga illegal:

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 fatwas.
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…for more, click here.

Before you go agreeing with your Republican friends, all y’all liberal yuppie hippies out there, and thinking Muslims have gone crazy—not just extreme Muslims, but their mainstream, at least in Malaysia—remember that the teaching of yoga’s been banned from some schools in the US for precisely the same reason.

Funny thing is, Muslims and US yoga-banners ain’t wrong—yoga is more than a great exercise + a little New Agey good vibes—it’s an ancient path intended, much like Buddhism, to help ‘still the waves of the mind.’ But, again like Buddhism, is it a religion or can it, stripped of its esoteric rituals and roots, still be presented in schools in the Middle America or the Middle East in a helpful, non-religious manner?

Think alla this is a spiritual tempest in a tea cup? Click here, or here for the good news on folks working to teach yoga, minus the esoteric yin yang but with the fundamental integrity of the tradition intact. Or, watch this early elephant journal ‘elevision’ talk show video with Debbie Huttner.


About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now elephantjournal.com & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat." Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword's Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by "Greatist", Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: "the mindful life" beyond the choir & to all those who didn't know they gave a care. elephantjournal.com | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, is now available.


6 Responses to “Fatwa against Yoga! (Is Yoga a Religion? Muslims think so, apparently—they just made it ‘illegal’)”

  1. […] may be watered down in its modern, Western approach—but the spirituality can’t be completely extracted and sold because…truth is inviolable, […]

  2. Keith Ryan Riggs at 8:59am February 3

    Don't they realize every bow to the earth is yoga.

    Jerome Rifkin at 10:24am February 3

    Well, since they don't understand that monotheism means that everyone who worships a God is worshiping the same God… Well, I guess fundamentalists of any stripe just kinda seem like spoons in the knife drawer to me.

    Bill Kopper at 1:15pm February 3

    My hamstrings have declared a fatwa against forward folds.

    Jason T Hewitt at 2:27pm February 3

    Well, there are actually some very sophisticated theological reasons why this has been declared that can't be dismissed as simple "fundamentalism." The Pope is not a fundamentalist and has issued similar declarations arguing against meditation. Yoga is empty just like everything else. It is not inherently good. The Pope's argument against meditation, in an extreme oversimplification is: 1) Meditation reveals our basic nature. 2) Our basic nature is fallen and sinful. 3) Our basic nature should not be uncovered and expressed, because to do so is to allow an avenue for our sinful nature to gain control of our souls. 4) Therefore, don't meditate. Similar kinds of internally necessary arguments and complex politics go into the yoga decision, as well.

    Also, Keith, they bow _on_ the earth, not to it. VERY important distinction.

    Waylon Hart Lewis at 4:02pm February 3

    My mind has declared a fatwa against getting off my ass.

  3. CPinWA says:

    I think the language in the headline and other places of the article should be used more carefully. Try a little precision. “Muslims” quickly becomes “the Muslims,” which quickly becomes a ground for “us vs. them.” “Officials in Malaysia” or “Muslim Ethics Council” wouldn’t be criminal.

  4. Amen, CPinWA. That said, I don’t think anyone in the right mind could think this was all Muslims simultaneously saying, yoga is bad! I certainly didn’t take the news that way. I’ve never met a Muslim who wasn’t an individual, and as with all people of all faiths and colors and heritage, that’s precisely the light in which I consider them.

  5. CPinWA says:

    Thanks, Waylon. I still don’t understand the intentional choice to keep the generalized language the same (in the headline), but I’m glad we agree on this and suspected we did.

  6. Kelly says:

    I am a Muslim and I practice yoga. Despite what an "Islamic government" might say, Islam and yoga actually have very much in common. Any religion as (including Islam) in its government-promoted form gets tangled up with other agendas. It become a tool of the State.

    Islam means peace and it is about submission to God. The Prophet Muhammad said that "All actions come from/are judged by intentions." I think many people practice yoga to improve themselves and gain a sense of peace. These are both Islamic and godly principles. As a Muslim woman, I try to remain modest by practicing yoga in my home or going to all-female classes. I would also like to point out the similarities between salat (the Muslim ritual/physical prayer performed 5 times a day) and the yoga poses. They are so similar! I am declaring a fatwa that more Muslims should do yoga. 🙂

    By the way — all a fatwa means is an opinion. Muslims are free to take or leave opinions, although many lay Muslims tend to respect fatwas made by scholars as a way of honoring their knowledge. A Fatwa made by the state sounds just like a law with a political reason to me.

    Please change the title of your article. Thank you.