Monday, November 24, 2008

Sultan questions yoga ban - The Straits Time

Nov 24, 2008

Sultan questions yoga ban
KUALA LUMPUR - BEFORE banning Muslims from performing yoga, Malaysia's top Islamic body should have first consulted the country's nine hereditary sultans who are considered upholders of Islam here, one sultan said on Monday.

The unprecedented comment bordering on rebuke by Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah exposes the deep divisions caused by the Fatwa Council's edict in this Muslim-majority country against yoga, a form of Indian exercise, breathing technique and mind control popular worldwide.

The council said on Saturday that yoga is rooted in Hinduism and its practice could corrupt Muslims. The edict angered many ordinary Muslims who said they have been performing yoga for years without losing their faith.

Sultan Sharafuddin and the other eight sultans of nine Malaysian states form the Conference of Rulers and take turns to be the country's king. The rulers occupy a largely ceremonial and titular position but command great respect among Muslims.

The king is seen as the supreme upholder of Malay tradition and symbolic head of Islam, while the sultans occupy that position in their own respective states.

None of the other sultans - including Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin, the current king - have commented publicly on the yoga ban.

In his statement, Sultan Sharafuddin said he hopes 'that in future, any fatwa decision that touches on issues involving the general public should be referred to the Conference of Rulers to be approved first before it is announced'.

'This is to ensure that the process of channeling the fatwa decision is implemented wisely to avoid any confusion and controversy,' said Sultan Sharafuddin, who rules the central Selangor state.

Decisions by the Fatwa Council are not legally binding on the country's Muslims until they are enshrined in national laws or Shariah laws of individual states.

Sultan Sharafuddin said the fatwa on yoga 'is still not enforced in Selangor because it has not been brought to the Selangor State Fatwa Committee'.

The committee will meet to 'discuss this matter in greater detail regarding yoga activities in Selangor so that a decision is not made hastily,' he said.

It is the first time that a Fatwa Council's decision has been criticised by a state sultan - a sign that the country's Malay Muslims, who are 60 per cent of the 27 million population, have not accepted the fatwa uniformly.

Still, the edict reflects the growing influence of conservative Islam in Malaysia, a multiethnic country where minority ethnic Chinese and mostly Hindu ethnic Indians have been clamoring for more rights.

Recently, the Fatwa Council said girls who act like boys violate Islam's tenets. The government has also occasionally made similar conservative moves, earlier this year banning the use by non-Muslims of the word 'Allah', the Arabic word for God.

Analysts say the fatwa could be the result of insecurity among Malay Muslims after their party - in power since 1957 - saw its parliamentary majority greatly reduced in elections because of gains by opposition parties supported by the minorities. -- AP

Article extracted from The Straits Time dated 24th November 2008

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