In a move that drew widespread protests, Malaysia’s National Fatwa Council of prominent Islamic scholars advised Muslims at the weekend to avoid yoga because it involves Hindu prayers that could compromise the faith of Muslims.
The ban raised the concerns of many over Malaysia’s growing Islamic fundamentalism.
However, the nation’s Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi reversed the ban on Wednesday, saying that Muslims should still participate in the practice.
Badawi told the national news agency Bernama that Muslims could continue yoga without the chanting.
“I wish to state that a physical regime with no elements of worship can continue, meaning, it is not banned. I believe that Muslims are not easily swayed into polytheism,” Badawi said.
Badawi’s move was sharply rebuked by many Muslims, including Malaysia’s sultans, or hereditary rulers, who said they should be consulted on all matters relating to Islam.
Prior to Abdullah’s remarks, the eldest son of the ruler of the central Negeri Sembilan state challenged the yoga ruling.
“Islam is a progressive religion and the ulama (scholars) should be confident of the followers’ faith rather than micro-managing their way of life,” the Star newspaper quoted Tunku Naquiyuddin as saying.
“If I go to a church or a Buddhist temple, is there any fear of me converting? … Where do we draw the line?”
The yoga fatwa ruling came shortly after another edict against young Muslim women wearing trousers. The fatwa council said that girls risked becoming sexually active “tomboys” by wearing trousers. Gay sex is also against the law in Malaysia.
Although fatwas are not legally binding in Malaysia, they are highly influential in a nation where more than half the population of 27 million is Muslim. The nation’s sizeable minorities include ethnic Indians and Chinese who practice either Christianity, Buddhism or Hinduism.