Monday, March 9, 2009

Yoga: Is it really 'haram'?

You may keep this issue fresh in your mind - an Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) issued fatwa (edict) after its Malaysian counterpart banned yoga. It's pointless even attempting to make sense of it.

Well, as Wisnu described (2009) in his article titled "Yoga in-sync with Islam, experts say" in the Jakarta Post that 'Islam and yoga share more similarities'. Indeed. In what ways? In some ways while praying or shalat, the moves are quite similar to the moves practiced in yoga - for instance, the way we stand as a start, the ruku (bending over with the hands over the kneecaps), the sujud (kneeling with the face down on the floor) and the way we sit after the sujud - we can see all of the moves in yoga.

Salman Harun, a professor at Jakarta's Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University and a noted Koranic scholar, said the moves in shalat prove beneficial to people's health. Indeed - because the moves in shalat are very good for our circulatory system. Regarding health, many forms of yoga incorporate breathing exercises that are also good for our respiratory system. So, yoga has little to do with any incantations or any context of worship instead of healthcare. This has been emphasised by Salman who argued that most forms of yoga practiced today are not Hindu by nature, but it's an age-old method to connect to a cosmic force.

Yet still, it isn't clear why the MUI suddenly issued the edict which seemed more motivated by political and economic factors to me. A similar thing also happened when the MUI issued fatwa (edict) on the ban on smoking. Why 'just now'? Why not many years ago? I totally agree with the ban concerning people's health - but it would be an exaggeration to say smoking is 'haram'. In a way, smoking is still deemed makruh (blameworthy) for Muslims, not haram. The MUI might have had an exaggerated sense of their own ambitions, I think. If they'd intended to discourage smoking, they shouldn't have implicated smoking as a sin or an estrangement from God.

So, it's currently up to us. We're mature enough to know right from wrong, aren't we?