Islamic ruling bans Malaysia's Muslims from practising yoga
* Ian MacKinnon, south-east Asia correspondent
* guardian.co.uk, Monday November 24 2008
First it was the insidious habit of young women wearing trousers. Now Malaysia's Muslims have been warned off the perils of practising yoga.
The country's leading Islamic council has issued an edict prohibiting people indulging in the exercise, fearing its Hindu roots could corrupt them.
The national fatwa council's latest decision again reflects a tilt toward an increasingly conservative strain of Islam in predominantly Muslim Malaysia. It is causing consternation among the country's other ethnic groups that make up a third of the 27-million population.
The fatwa, or decision, prompted sneering remarks from liberal commentators who urged people not to be cowed by the "robed and the turbaned" who made such rulings.
But Abdul Shukor Husim, the council's chairman, said: "We are of the view that yoga, which originates in Hinduism, combines a physical exercise, religious elements, chanting and worshipping for the purpose of achieving inner peace and ultimately to be at one with god. For us, yoga destroys a Muslim's faith. There are other ways to get exercise. You can go cycling, swimming and eat less fatty food."
The ruling comes after the council said young Muslim women who wore trousers risked becoming sexually active or "turning" to lesbianism. Gay sex is outlawed in Malaysia.
The government recently had to back away from a proposal to restrict women travelling abroad alone, after derision from women's activists across the country.
But it has banned the use of the word Allah by other religions. An influential Christian group claimed Bibles were also being seized at border entry points.
Of Malaysia's non-Muslim population, 25% are ethnic Chinese and 8% are ethnic Indian, mainly Hindu. The council's ruling does not apply to them and is not legally binding. But most of the country's Muslims heed the edicts out of deference.
Marina Mahathir, a prominent columnist and daughter of the former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, wondered where it would all stop.
"What next? Gym? Most gyms have men and women together," she wrote on her blog. "Will that not be allowed any more? What endangers a society more ... corrupt citizens and leaders, or yoga practitioners and females who dress in a masculine fashion?"
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