Malaysia’s Yoga Ban Faces Opposition from Royals

KUALA LUMPUR ~ A ban on yoga by Malaysia’s highest Islamic body is facing opposition from royal state rulers, who are considered the guardians of Islam in the country, reports said this week.

Two states in Malaysia – Perak and Selangor – are delaying gazetting the fatwa, which would make it state law, saying that their royal rulers should first give their consent.

Devotees of yoga and moderate Muslim groups have criticized the weekend ruling by the government-backed National Fatwa Council, which said that the ancient practice could erode Muslims’ faith.

In an unusual intervention, Selangor’s Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah reportedly said the yoga ban could not be implemented before his state’s fatwa committee had a chance to consider the matter.

Sharafuddin said the issue had to be investigated “in greater detail so that a decision is not made hastily,” according to the Star newspaper on Tuesday.

The Islamic religious department in northern Perak state has also revoked an earlier decision to adopt the ruling, saying that the Perak sultan’s consent was not sought.

Norhayati Kaprawi from prominent civil society group Sisters of Islam said the sultans were exercising their right to be heard in such cases.

“The danger is when a fatwa is elevated as if it was something divine and cannot be challenged, when in fact all it means literally is just an opinion,” she said.

Sharafuddin also said that future religious decrees should be approved by the council of state rulers before being announced, to avoid “any confusion or controversy.”

A vociferous Islamic religious leader from the northern state of Perlis, Asri Zainul Abidin, also spoke out against the yoga decision and said Muslims could follow a non-religious version of the popular exercise.

“The fatwa council should not be so rigid and should instead consider allowing Muslims to practise it solely for health benefits instead of issuing a blanket ban on the practice,” he said.

Sisters in Islam’s Norhayati said that the edict also rang “warning bells” about a “regressive trend” in Malaysia, where the population is dominated by Muslim Malays, who live alongside ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities.

“It has been escalating lately and this reflects a larger issue of growing conservatism,” she said.

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