Yoga – Conflicts With Religion
November 3, 2008 by Ray Baskerville
Malaysia’s Muslims, nearly 2/3 of the 27 million population, may soon be banned from practicing yoga by the National Fatwa Council. The council is expected to issue a ruling soon.
The controversial debate began after Zakaria Stapa, a lecturer of University of Kebangsaan’s Islamic Studies Centre, had stated that yoga’s origins could be traced back to Hinduism and its practice could cause Muslims to deviate from the teachings of Islam.
Department of Islamic Development Malaysia Director-General Wan Mohamad Sheikh Abdul Aziz weighed into the debate saying his department had carried out an in-depth study on the issue over six months and regretted the attitude of Malaysian Muslims who were ‘easily influenced by foreign cultures to the point of affecting their faith.’
“When those involved take them as trends, such cultures can lead to a serious crime according to Islamic law and this can destroy the family institution,” he said.
The Fatwa Council’s decisions are not legally binding on Muslims, unless they are enshrined in national or Shariah laws. However, many Muslims abide by the edicts out of deference.
Many, both Muslim and Hindu argue that the accusations are invalid, the yoga is not religion based. They say yoga has been accepted as a science for physical and mental wellbeing in many countries across the world. The Malaysian Muslim Solidarity Movement also said there was nothing wrong with Muslims practising yoga as an exercise.
“It is just an exercise for health and brings peace of mind. Nothing more than that. It has never been averse to the
Islamic faith,” said its president Zulkifli Mohamad.
Datin Suleiha Merican, 56, who has been practising yoga for the past 40 years, said the meditation technique is a science of health and had nothing to do with religion. Suleiha said that science had proven that yoga was the answer to health problems such as headaches, sinuses, migraines and also alleviates back pain. She noted that hospitals in the United Kingdom and United States were offering yoga as an alternative therapy.
"People are clamouring to take up yoga. Every part of the world that I have gone to, including Iran, there are many Muslims who are yoga practitioners."
On a smaller scale similar issues arise in American schools. At Massena High School NY, two teachers began using yoga last year to help students relieve stress before exams. Special education teacher Martha Duchscherer and Spanish teacher Kerry Perretta also were developing a districtwide program.Some parents objected to this voluntary yoga program.
Those who opposed it said the exercise class would promote Hinduism in a public school. So, the name of the program was changed to Raider Relaxation after the school’s Red Raiders athletic teams.
While the name is different, the now non-yoga program teaches the same yoga exercises.The compromise was reached during a meeting between Superintendent Roger Clough and several parents. Clough said parents agreed to change the name of the in-class program and set up an after-school club to give interested students a deeper understanding of yoga.
"We are not opposed to the benefits. We can understand the benefits. We are opposed to the philosophy behind it and that has its ties in Hinduism and the way they were presenting it," said the Rev. Colin Lucid of Calvary Baptist Church in Massena. The program does not have ulterior motives, Julie Reagan, Massena Board of Education president, said.
Such program is not new, one hundred schools in 26 states use yoga in the classroom to relieve stress. At Massena High it seems all the fuss has generated more interest among students. The debate around Massena’s yoga program is not unprecedented. In 2002, a group of Baptists in Aspen, Colo., objected to a proposed yoga program in the public school district, citing separation of church and state as well. Those plans were halted after parents and others in the community complained students were being indoctrinated in Hindu rites. In Alabama, religious leaders pushed for a 1993 law prohibiting the teaching of yoga in schools, citing connections between yoga and Hindu religious training.“Living Liberation - Meditation Training, and so much more" "It changed my life"Find out more