Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Yoga in the Malaysian context

Focus on bigger issues

The National Fatwa Council’s decision to ban Yoga for Muslims was not surprising nor was it unexpected despite the tremendous public opposition to it from all Malaysians, especially the Muslims themselves. The reason for the ban is on the grounds that it involved chants and acts of worship that were deemed un-Islamic.

The Council has every right to decide on matters affecting Muslims but it should also take into consideration the sensitivities of others as well. In a country with a large non-Muslim population it also has a duty to ensure that the delicate inter-religious relations are not adversely affected by unilateral decisions. It would be wrong to assume that rulings affecting one religious group have no bearing on others living under the same roof. A great deal of tolerance and mutual respect is needed by all when dealing with religious sentiments.

Yoga is an ancient practice, although had its roots in Hinduism, in Malaysia had been practiced by Muslims and non-Muslims alike for years as a means of exercise and nothing more. In fact it has become a popular form of exercise for city dwellers where time, space restraints and safety prevent them from undertaking formal physical exercises.

Banning it outright only denies the Muslims an effective and affordable means to keeping themselves healthy. By declaring it as ‘haram’ and saying that it can ‘corrupt’a person is very hurtful; particularly in a multiracial and multi-religious nation with a significant non-Muslim population.

Malaysian of all faiths have practiced yoga together harmoniously in a non-religious manner for years and this ruling could be counterproductive as it would further segregate the already polarized population.

To say that non-Muslims should not worry about this fatwa is being too myopic and unreasonable. How can we live in peace and harmony under one roof if one community is insensitive to the needs of another in the same environment?

Malaysians despite their diversity have much in common. By emphasizing the differences we would only be polarizing the people further that could lead to suspicion and even hate for members of other faiths. Why go out of the way to look for the few isolated differences among the people of different faiths and divide them? Wouln’t it be better to focus on the many common grounds we have as Malaysians that could unite us?We have numerous national problems to focus on,why choose Yoga now?

Non-Muslim Malaysians respect the right of the Fatwa Council in protecting the interests of Muslims and are in no position to question its decisions as they do not bind them. However they are extremely disappointed that by focusing of trivial differences it is increasingly driving a wedge between the Muslims and the non-Muslims who have been living together harmoniously for so many years.

Yoga has been one of the many unifying factors and it would be unwise to deny that for whatever reasons. All religions preach love for fellow men, which is essential for their peaceful coexistence in a country like ours. Wouldn’t it be noble of us to overlook some minor differences among the people of different faiths for the overall well being of the nation in particular and the humanity in general?

Dr.Chris Anthony

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