CONSERVATIVE ISLAM AND MUSLIM RESTRICTIONS IN MALAYSIA

CONSERVATIVE ISLAM IN MALAYSIA

While most Malaysians are Muslim, Malaysia is a secular state. Even so, the word "pig" can not be used one television and scenes with pigs in them are censored from films; polygamy is still allowed in Malaysia; all higher education students are required to take courses in Islamic civilization even if they aren't Muslim.

In the 1990s, the government came very close to banning rap music but ended up banning music with obscene lyric after Anwar's 17-year-old daughter gave her father crash course in popular music after he was outraged by the proposed ban.

According to the Carter Center, The problem of socially repressive Islamic revisionism is not new in Malaysia. Although the West has only recently discovered the trend, political Islamism first began in the 1970s and 1980s partly as a reaction to changing social structures associated with modernization. More women were starting to receive higher education and becoming economically independent, and this liberalization sparked a reactionary backlash from religious leaders who saw their authority waning. [Source: The Carter Center, August 2007]

History of Extreme Islam in Southeast Asia

According to The Economist: Muslims in Southeast Asia “are as varied in their behaviour and ideas as Christians in America or Hindus in India. But insofar as it is possible to generalise, the popular practice of Islam is becoming stricter and less syncretic. The change stems in part from increasing urbanisation, education and contact with the outside world, which has prompted a decline of rural folk religion. Foreign funding and preaching also play a part. But hamfisted political intervention in matters of the faith has hastened the trend and fuelled extremism. Given an open debate about the role of religion in society, South-East Asian Muslims would have little cause to abandon their moderate traditions. But, until recently, an open debate of that kind is something that most South-East Asian governments have strenuously avoided. [Source: The Economist , May 29, 2003 \*/]

“Efforts to purify South-East Asian Islam also have a long pedigree. The Muhammadiyah organisation was founded, in 1912, in order to spread a more conventional interpretation of the faith. Since then, the divide between santri, or orthodox Muslims, and abangan, the followers of folk religion, has dominated Muslim politics in Indonesia—which alone contains almost 90 percent of South-East Asia's Muslims. The Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the biggest group sympathetic to the abangan, still claims more members than Muhammadiyah (40m, compared with 30m). But the numbers of the santri have swelled as Indonesians move to the cities and lose contact with their rural traditions. \*/

“The Iranian revolution in 1979, and the worldwide Muslim revival that accompanied it, accelerated the trend. Attendance at mosques rose; many Muslim women began wearing headscarves, a relative rarity until then; and the numbers of pilgrims to Mecca soared (see chart). When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, several thousand South-East Asian Muslims went to fight for the mujahideen. \*/

“There is nothing inherently alarming in a religious revival, of course. America went through one in the 1980s without any catastrophic fallout. In fact, many observers dismiss South-East Asia's new-found piety precisely because it seems to have more to do with fashion than conviction. As one well-to-do resident of Jakarta says of her cousin's decision to start wearing a headscarf, “I think she just did it because it's trendy. All her friends are doing it.”

Extreme Islam , Politics and Fashion in Southeast Asia

According to The Economist: “A clear majority of Indonesian Muslims still vote for secular parties, just as their Malaysian brethren still prefer the mild Muslim nationalism of the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) to the more doctrinaire Pan-Malaysia Islamic Party (PAS). When a motion seeking to enshrine Islamic law in the constitution came before Indonesia's parliament last year, even most of the religious parties voted against it. Around the same time, the minister of religion, Aqil al-Munawar, publicly revealed that he consulted soothsayers—an abangan practice. Over Christmas and New Year, Islamic groups organised patrols to defend churchgoers and revellers against extremist attacks. [Source: The Economist , May 29, 2003 \*/]

“Salahuddin Wahid, a senior member of NU, tends to play down the region's religious revival as a natural reaction to breakneck social and economic change. In times of flux, he argues, people crave the reassurance of religion. Since South-East Asia was the world's fastest-growing region throughout much of the 1980s and 1990s, it was particularly susceptible to an Islamic renaissance. By the same logic, the Asian crash of 1997 caused further tumult and an even more widespread resort to the comforting certainties of Islam. Should Indonesia ever regain stability, Mr Wahid predicts, the religious fad will fade. \*/

“Other analysts attribute the region's religious revival—or at least the most extreme form of it—to the increasing influence of foreign Muslims. For decades, rich Gulf Arabs have paid for South-East Asian students to study Islam in its Arab heartland. They have also funded the construction of mosques and the operations of Islamic schools and charities. Some of these are clearly involved in the dissemination of radical ideas. Filipino police say Muhammad Khalifa, a relative of Mr bin Laden, used an Islamic charity as cover for his funding of Muslim separatists and terrorists when he lived in the country in the early 1990s. In a report issued early in January, Singapore blamed the spread of radicalism among its Muslims on militant Arab foundations that run schools and mosques in the city-state.\*/

“Not even Cambodia's obscure Muslim community has escaped the zealots' attention. The Cambodian Islamic Development Council, a Muslim NGO, estimates that at least 10 percent of local Muslims now follow the puritanical Wahhabi sect, thanks to aggressive Saudi Arabian proselytising. On May 28th, Cambodian authorities charged an Egyptian and two Thais with plotting terrorist attacks in Phnom Penh for Jemaah Islamiah. \*/

“Almost all of Indonesia's best-known Muslim militants studied overseas at some point, including Mr Basyir, and many of them fought in Afghanistan. Most of the latter, it turns out, were persuaded to join the jihad only after they had arrived at Islamic boarding schools in Pakistan or the Middle East. When they returned to South-East Asia, they set up schools of their own with similar agendas. Several of the suspects in the Bali bombing attended such a school run by Mr Basyir in Malaysia, where they acquired their radical ideas—and, perhaps, their terrorist directives. \*/

“But authorities in the region cannot prevent their citizens coming into contact with radical ideas from abroad. The only sure way to counter such ideas is to foster an open debate about Islam, in the hope that most people will eschew its more militant forms. Until recently, however, the two biggest Muslim countries in South-East Asia have done just the opposite. In both Indonesia and Malaysia, authoritarian rulers tried to outflank Islamist opposition by adopting a policy of “Islamisation” even as they cracked down on its most radical proponents. The result was a double failure: they ended up advancing the religious revival that had nurtured the opposition in the first place, while also stirring resentment at their heavy-handed tactics. “ \*/

“This climate has helped to promote a vigorous debate about the proper role of Islam in both countries. Indonesian newspapers accord theological arguments between clerics the sort of coverage reserved for feuding pop stars in the West. Sisters in Islam, a Muslim women's organisation, is leading a campaign against two Malaysian state governments' plans to adopt full-blown Islamic law. The liberal Mr Abdalla pops up all the time on Indonesian television and radio shows. As long as the moderates keep on getting their fair share of air time, there is every hope that the extremists will fail. \*/

Malaysia Ramadan TV Ads Axed After Racism Complaints

In August 2011, a Malaysian television station axed a series of commercials to mark the Muslim month of Ramadan after angry viewers complained the ads insulted non-Muslim ethnic minorities. Associated Press reported: “The three commercials began airing recently to remind viewers of Ramadan...A 30-second clip depicted an ethnic Chinese girl eating while Muslims watching her, another showed her wearing a sleeveless blouse and in the last one, she was shouting at a stall owner. The scenes were followed by messages urging viewers to show respect for Ramadan by not eating in public, wearing revealing clothing or being loud. [Source: AP, August 3, 2011 ~^~]

“Viewers including Muslims slammed private station 8TV for the ads, which they said stereotyped minority Chinese and imposed Islamic practices on non-Muslims. Some called for a boycott of the station. "8TV, are you trying to tell us, we Chinese don't respect Ramadan month or my Malay friends?" Yee Shan Shan wrote on 8TV's facebook page. Azrul Mohamad Khalib said fasting was about discipline, empathy and solidarity and "not about imposing your will on others." ~^~

“The TV station withdrew the clips and issued an apology. "The message was not meant to offend anyone, race or creed in any way. This is an honest mistake involving a very small amount of humor that was misinterpreted which led to concerns," it said on its Facebook page. In September 2010, another private station TV3 was also forced to scrap a Muslim commercial amid complaints it appeared influenced by Christmas and Santa Claus.” ~^~

Malaysian Shiites

There are no official figures on the number of Shiites in Malaysia, but Shiite leaders estimate that there could be as many as 40,000, many of whom practice their faith secretly. According to to AFP, “Like other Muslims they read the Koran and face Mecca to pray, but the Shiite community in Malaysia is considered a "deviant sect" and faces harassment in this multicultural country.

Liz Gooch wrote in the New York Times, “Like most Muslims in Malaysia, Mohammad Shah was raised according to the Sunni school of Islam. But when he was about 30, he said, he came to believe that Sunni teachings did not answer all of his questions about Islam. He began reading about the Shiite school of thought, the world’s second largest Islamic sect, and decided that “Sunni was not right for me.” “I consider myself the new generation of Malaysian Shia,” said Mr. Mohammad, 33, using another term to describe Shiites. “My father is Sunni, my mother is Sunni. They are aware that I’m practicing a different school of thought. It’s no problem at all.” [Source: Liz Gooch, New York Times, January 27, 2011 ***]

Harassment of Malaysian Shiites

The Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but when it comes to Islam, the country’s official religion, only the Sunni sect is permitted. Other forms, including Shiite Islam, are considered deviant and are not allowed to be spread. Shiites are one of several Islamic sects under close watch by religious authorities, who crack down hard on so-called deviant Islamic groups. A 1989 Islamic law and a 1996 fatwa by Malaysia's top Islamic clerics banned Shiism, declaring it a deviant ideology. Islamic experts say Malaysia is a rare example of a Muslim-majority country where the Shiite sect is banned. [Source: New York Times, AFP]

"Everyone in the country should have freedom of worship," Reverend Thomas Philips, head of the country's largest inter-religious council, told AFP. "But in the Muslim context in Malaysia, they have a different understanding and so it is a very sensitive issue." Chandra Muzaffar, head of rights group JUST, says that religious officials are abusing their power. "The Shiites are not deviants, they are very much part of the Muslim community and if you deny them, then you are saying that 15 percent of Muslims worldwide are also deviant," he said. "They follow almost all the tenets of the majority Sunni sect and the differences are more political and historical so we should engage them through dialogue rather than carry out raids, arrest and prosecute them." [Source: Romen Bose, AFP, February 7, 2011 \=\]

A statement issued by a spokesman for the federal government said the Constitution guaranteed religious freedom to all Malaysians, and that the National Fatwa Council was responsible for guiding the practice of Islam in Malaysia. “In 1996, the National Fatwa Council issued a ruling that Sunni Islam is the official faith of Muslims in Malaysia. Under this ruling, which is enforced by Islamic affairs departments in each Malaysian state, Shia Muslims are free to practice their faith, but are not permitted to proselytize,” the statement said. “It would be inappropriate for the federal government to comment further on this state-based matter.” [Source: Liz Gooch, New York Times, January 27, 2011 ***]

Romen Bose of AFP wrote: Community elder Muhammad Hassan, 72, said the last waves of arrests of Shiite followers in Malaysia came in 1997 and 2001. He says his grandchildren are discriminated against in school and higher learning institutions, where religious teachers "criticise Shiites openly although they don't even understand or are bothered to even study our teachings." State religious department head Marzuki Hussin told AFP "the bottom line is that Shiism clashes with Islam in Malaysia and so it cannot be allowed to propagate here as it can cause instability." "We are happy to counsel the Shiite community on the practices of Malaysian Sunnis as what they are practising is a violation of our religious laws," he said. Another Malaysian Shiite said: "Our future is very uncertain as we have lived here for centuries but now don't know for how long we can exist like this on the periphery of society. We are treated as outcasts when we actually contribute much to society. We are fellow Muslims -- treat us as such." \=\

Harussani Zakaria, a member of the National Fatwa Council, told the New York Times allowing different sects to practice in Malaysia could lead to disputes. “It already happens in some countries. We don’t want that to come here.” Chandra Muzaffar, president of the International Movement for a Just World, a nongovernment organization based in Malaysia, said while there may be differences among the various sects, Shiites are part of the Muslim community. “It’s just wrong to describe Shia as deviants,” he said. ***

Greg Barton, acting director of the Center for Islam and the Modern World at Monash University in Melbourne, told the New York Times that Malaysia’s religious authorities had adopted a more rigid approach to Islam in recent decades and that space for public discussion of religion had narrowed under the influence of “Saudi Salafism and Egyptian Brotherhood prejudice.” “The group that speaks formally for Malaysian Islam is a very narrow group who have taken a very puritanical approach,” said Mr. Barton. “The religious bureaucracy has become a very meddling bureaucracy. It has a very pernicious impact on religious freedom, not just for non-Muslims but for Muslims as well.” Mr. Barton said while there were no precise figures, there are probably tens of thousands of Shiites in Southeast Asia, most in Malaysia and Indonesia. ***

Raid on a Malaysian Shiite Prayer Meeting

Romen Bose of AFP wrote: Religious authorities in December 2010 arrested 200 Shiites as they observed the holy day of Ashura, accusing them of threatening national security in a country where most of the 16.5 million Muslims are members of the Sunni sect. The majority of those detained were Muslim Malays joined by followers from Indonesia, Myanmar, Pakistan and Iran. Former state religious department head Mohammed Khusrin Munawi, who led the December 16 raid, said that the faith, if left to grow, could undermine security as "fanatical followers of the sect consider other Muslims infidels". "For them, the blood of the followers of other faiths is lawful which means that it is okay to kill (Sunnis)," he told the Utusan Malaysia newspaper. "Shiite doctrine is more dangerous than other deviant teachings (as)... Shiite followers in Iran and India are fighting against other Muslims merely because of different faiths," he said. [Source: Romen Bose, AFP, February 7, 2011 \=\]

“Kamil Zuhairi Abdul Aziz, 45, the Iranian-trained leader of the Hauzah ar-Redha or "Knowledge House" raided by authorities in December, says they are forced to practice their faith quietly. "We are Muslims just like any other Muslims in the country but we live in fear as we are constantly attacked verbally and are often arrested and detained by authorities," he told AFP after prayers at the hauzah, the biggest of 40 Shiite community halls throughout the country. "Shiism came to the shores of Malaysia in the 14th century when Islam arrived here as many of the Arabic, Indian and Persian traders who brought the religion were also Shiites. "The authorities must recognise that we are not a recent phenomenon and that we should be respected just like any other faith in the country," he said in the hall filled with religious banners and pictures of Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. "We do not believe in bloodshed or that we are justified in killing anyone but yet these are the lies spread about us." \=\

Liz Gooch wrote in the New York Times, Islamic experts said the December 2010 raid “reflects the religious authorities’ reluctance to accept diversity within Islam, and was part of the authorities’ continuing efforts to impose a rigid interpretation of the religion. Although there had been some earlier arrests of Shiites since the National Fatwa Council, the country’s top Islamic body, clarified that Sunni Islam was the official religion in 1996, the December raid on the prayer room occupied by the Lovers of the Prophet’s Household was the first in recent years, according to the Shiite group’s Iranian-trained leader, Kamil Zuhairi bin Abdul Aziz. [Source: Liz Gooch, New York Times, January 27, 2011]

The raid was carried out by the Selangor State Islamic Religious Department. Those arrested were charged with preventing Islamic officials from carrying out their duties and insulting religious authorities. They denied, violated or disputed a fatwa.. They were summoned to appear before the Shariah court for hearings. The offenses are punishable by a fine of up to 3,000 ringgit, about $981, imprisonment for up to two years, or both.

Fear Sends Some Shiites to Worship Underground

Liz Gooch wrote in the New York Times, “On a recent evening, a small group of men and a handful of women with toddlers in tow climbed the three flights of stairs to the prayer room where the raid had taken place. A sign atop the building, which is sandwiched between a mechanic’s workshop and a small cafe on a quiet suburban street, reads “House of Knowledge.” A Koranic verse in Arabic marks the entrance. Inside the prayer room, the flags of Malaysia and the state of Selangor flank a red and black banner bearing the name of Muhammad’s grandson. As many as 100 Shiites attend prayers led by Mr. Kamil each week, although he said many Malaysian followers worship privately. “Most of the Shia are in hiding because of the oppression,” he said. [Source: Liz Gooch, New York Times, January 27, 2011 ***]

“He said some fear they will be discriminated against when they apply for jobs if it is known that they are Shiites, while others are afraid of being detained by the religious authorities. Some Sunni leaders have claimed that Shiites deviate from the true form of Islam and represent a “threat to national security,” according to Mr. Kamil. He said some Sunni leaders, alluding to violence in Iraq and Pakistan, have alleged that Shiite Islam permits the killing of Sunnis, an accusation he emphatically denied. ***

“Since the raid, the group has installed a security grill in the stairwell leading to their prayer room, where a black curtain divides the men’s section from the women’s. But Mr. Kamil and others attending the prayer session this evening insisted that they were not afraid to continue practicing their beliefs. “We are not in fear, but we live in difficulty,” he said. Calling for dialogue with the Sunni majority, Mr. Kamil insisted that Malaysian Shiites, some of whom are married to Sunnis, want to live in harmony with all other religions. ***

“Mariyah Qibti, who teaches Shiite Islam to children at the prayer room on Sundays, has experienced firsthand.... differing approaches to Shiites. Born to a Shiite family in Indonesia, Ms. Mariyah went to Iran when she was 19 to pursue Islamic studies. Two years ago she married a Malaysian Shiite, and moved to Kuala Lumpur. Feeding her 1-year-old son as she sat on a rug at the back of the prayer room, she said that, in contrast to Malaysia, in Indonesia Shiites could practice their faith freely. Despite her looming court appearance in March, she says she is not afraid to continue practicing her beliefs. “This is part of the risk of being followers of Shia,” she said.” ***

Islamic Cleric Says Malaysians Should Not Do Yoga

In November 2008, a senior Islamic cleric said Muslims in Malaysia should not practice yoga because it will erode their faith in Islam. "Yoga is forbidden for Muslims. The practice will erode their faith in the religion," Abdul Shukor Husin, chairman of the government-backed National Fatwa Council, told reporters. "We advice Muslims not to practice yoga. It does not conform with Islam," he said in response to a call to ban Muslims from doing yoga [Source: AFP, November 21, 2008]

Yoga, an ancient Indian aid to meditation dating back thousands of years, is a popular stress-buster in Kuala Lumpur. Zakaria Stapa, a professor at the Islamic faculty of the National University of Malaysia, recently called on Muslims to stop doing yoga as it could cause them to "deviate from their faith". Abdul Shukor said yoga involved physical and religious elements of Hinduism including the recitation of mantras. He could not say how many Muslims were practising yoga but called on state authorities to punish those who do.

According to Star: “Some observers see the yoga edict as part of a trend towards conservatism among the Islamic authorities in Malaysia. The council’s chairman Abdul Shukor Husin said yoga had been practised by the Hindu community for thousands of years and incorporated physical movements, religious elements together with chants and worshipping, with the aim of “being one with God”. “Because of this, we believe that it is inappropriate for Muslims to do yoga. The council is declaring that practising yoga, when it comes together with the three elements, is haram,” he said. [Source: The Star, December 5, 2008 *-*]

“Muslims, he said, were discouraged from practising yoga even as a form of exercise as it would ultimately lead to worshipping and chanting, which is against Islam. He added that while merely doing the physical movements of yoga without the worshipping and chanting might not be against religious beliefs, Muslims should avoid practising it altogether as “doing one part of yoga would lead to another”. “In Islam, a believer must not do things that can erode one’s aqidah or faith. Doing yoga, even just the physical movements, is a step towards erosion of one’s faith in the religion, hence Muslims should avoid it,” he said. With the edict, it is now up to the individual states to implement the ruling. However, it remains unclear if the authorities will be able to enforce it. *-*

“Ninie Ahmad, publisher and editor of Hati Yoga, in his letter to The Star said “to impose a total ban on yoga is to blatantly reject the effectiveness and importance of physical exercise while shutting our eyes and deafening our ears to the findings of scientists as well as the recommendations of medical practitioners citing yoga as the most complete and effective alternative medication ever documented”. *-*

“Mariam Mokhtar, in her letter to The Star, said the NFC can discuss, debate and decide on (like the desperate in the light of and maintenance rights to single mothers, inheritance laws, subdivision of land in inheritance), but to deny the many Malaysian Muslims who currently practise yoga the right to do so, should not be one of them. “There was also the suggestion that it was not good to indulge, or believe, in supernatural practices. Many Malay and Malaysian legends are steeped in the supernatural—Raja Bersiong, Puteri Gunung Ledang to name a few. Also many fairy tales – like the Brothers Grimm’s, The Mermaid—are of the same ilk. Should I throw away the Harry Potter books that have riveted the attention of my teenage sons?” *-*

In Defense of Practicing Yoga in Malaysia

After the fatwa declaring yoga as haram (prohibited) was issued, The Star reported: “When the highest Islamic body in Malaysia issued an edict banning the practice of yoga among Muslims, it sparked a debate on how far religion affects personal and civil liberties. Yoga centres in Malaysia may face a downturn in the coming months. And this is not good for hundreds of Muslim women who are seriously practicing yoga to improve their health. This has brought Malaysia’s fight to save the soul of Islam in a whole new level. [Source: The Star, December 5, 2008]

“The fatwa has generated reactions from yoga practitioners as well as advocates of civil liberties. Marina Mahathir, the daughter of former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, had earlier criticised the council for considering the ban. It is “a classic case of reacting out of fear and ignorance”, she wrote in her blog. “Yoga may have spiritual roots but most of us do it for the exercise, both of the mind and body.” *-*

“Sisters in Islam (SIS), a non-government organisation that advocates Muslim women’s rights, also maintained that yoga is just a form of exercise. SIS programme manager Norhayati Kaprawi said many Muslims in Malaysia practised it as a form of exercise to stay healthy. “I don’t think it has caused any Muslim to convert to Hinduism, neither has it weakened their faith. It’s just an exercise like qigong or taichi which has its roots in Buddhism.” Norhayati said that by issuing the edict, the council had acted as if yoga was a widespread threat to Islam. SIS had been holding weekly yoga classes for their staff for the past year. Norhayati said they had no problems continuing with it. *-*

“Yoga teacher Siti Suheila Merican agreed that while yoga practice should not involve worshipping and chanting, the physical movements were good for improving health. Siti Suheila, who has been teaching yoga for the past 30 years, said the issue should not be blown out of proportion as many Muslims in the Middle East were doing it without any fuss. “Worldwide it has been accepted as an exercise for health benefits. It is a science of health that is time-tested and proven scientifically to be extremely effective. Many doctors in the West recommend yoga as an alternative therapy to medication.” *-*

“M Revathi, who has been teaching yoga part-time for about 10 years, said some people mistook the names of the asanas (postures) as religious verses as they were in Sanskrit “but there’s nothing religious about the names”. “As for the meditation part, it’s not religious either. I tell my students to relax and free their minds, and they can meditate in whatever language they like,” she said. *-*

“Muslim cancer survivors were also dismayed and confused by the blanket ban on yoga. The National Cancer Society of Malaysia’s advisor Zuraidah Atan said she had been inundated with calls from the survivors who were confused and apprehensive over the fatwa.“An overreaching fatwa like this is not good for them as unnecessary worry can have a negative effect on them psychologically and physically. Some are already feeling guilty for practising it. “There is a need for the Fatwa council to explain their edict properly so that Muslims who practise yoga, including cancer survivors are not made to feel guilty,” she said. Zuraidah said the council organised a weekly free yoga session for cancer survivors, especially those who were over 40 as a form of relaxation and breathing exercise.“Besides yoga, we also have qi gong sessions. Is the Fatwa council going to ban qi gong, too, because it has its origins in Buddhism? Then how about line dancing? She said yoga, qi gong and line dancing were good for cancer survivors because they were group dynamics, which also helped promote positive thinking and unity among survivors of different race and religion. Hhe said there were many levels of yoga and only yoga in its purest form involved religious chanting. “Most Muslims know this. The yoga that is being taught in yoga centres nationwide only concentrates on techniques and has nothing to do with the promotion of Hinduism,” she added. *-*

“But some yoga practitioners believe that the edict has some grounds and are now seriously considering other ‘non-controversial’ exercise regimens. A doctor, who only wanted to be identified as Rafidah, said she had been attending yoga lessons once or twice a week for the past six months but would quit her classes now to adhere to the edict. “I still don’t feel that it has changed my faith in Islam at all. My faith as a Muslim is the same as before,” the disappointed 27-year-old said. However, she believed that the council had conducted the necessary research and knew more about Islam than she did. *-*

“Another yoga practitioner, who only identified herself as Siti, said she would stop doing yoga. “I think it’s fine for beginners but as I went for more advanced classes, I did not feel comfortable. I think I’ll take up pilates now instead as it is purely exercise,” she said. NFC chairman Shukor said Muslims must be careful not to do anything that could erode their faith, adding the religion strongly advocates “prevention is better than cure”. *-*

“Despite NFC’s edict, Malaysia seems to be alone in its concern. In Singapore, for example, experts do not share that sentiment. They are largely of the opinion that yoga is harmless as long as its spiritual aspects are not practised. Yoga centres are also flourishing in more orthodox Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. In Iran, yoga is so popular that there are classes for children. *-*

“In Singapore, Mohammad Yusri Yubhi Md Yusoff, executive imam of Al-Falah mosque, said: “Yoga may have its roots in Hinduism. But if you take away the meditation and other spiritual aspects, it becomes just another form of exercise.” Veteran religious expert Pasuni Maulan agreed. He said spiritual elements in exercises are not exclusive to yoga. Silat, which has its roots in Malay culture, can sometimes involve hailing spirits, a practice not allowed in Islam. “Those who are not sure about what is allowed may want to do other exercises,” he suggested. As a rule of thumb, avoid the spiritual forms of exercises and embrace only the physical aspects, said religious teacher and counsellor Abdul Manaf Rahmat. But should a blanket ban on yoga be imposed on Malaysian Muslims? A Muslim yoga practitioner bluntly said: “I believe there are many important issues that need our attention, such as money politics and corruption, besides something as trivial as this.” *-*

Malaysia Calls off Pig Cull and Denies Racial Tension

In September 2007, Malaysia called off a cull of 50,000 pigs amid concerns it could stoke racial tensions between Chinese pig farmers and their Muslim neighbours. Naveen Thukral of Reuters wrote: “Authorities in southern Malacca state abandoned the cull after dozens of farmers formed a human barricade around their farms. Riot police were called in to keep them at bay. Officials had said they ordered the cull following complaints from residents about the smell and water pollution from the pig farms. The government denied the cull had been called off because of fears of racial tensions and said farmers had now agreed to reduce their herds. [Source: Naveen Thukral, Reuters, September 5, 2007 \-\]

“But an opposition party said the racial dimension had forced authorities to back down. "People, their children and women came out, willing to defend their property, the government felt the backlash would be too great," said Lim Guan Eng, secretary-general of Malaysia's main opposition Democratic Action Party. He said the ruling coalition, dominated by Muslim ethnic Malays, had planned the cull for religious and political reasons. "It was done for political reasons to show that they are good Muslims and are fighting for Malay rights," Lim said. \-\

“Ethnic Chinese in multi-racial Malaysia relish pork, but the meat is banned in Islam as unfit for Muslim consumption. Malacca's chief minister has said the state did not want to emerge as Malaysia's biggest pig producer and the national government wants Malaysia to become a global hub for halal food. Farmers said their pigs were healthy and did not cause any pollution.” \-\

“A veterinary department official said the situation needed cooling down but denied it was a racial issue. "They are trying to cool down the situation and negotiating with people how to implement this agreement to reduce pigs," the official said. Under the pact, farmers agreed to cut the swine population from around 160,000 to 48,000 by September 21, an official of the Federation of Livestock Farmers' Associations of Malaysia said. "They will either sell the pigs or relocate them to farms in other states," said the official, who declined to be named. "It is not fair, it will lead to panic selling." In April, independent news Web site Malaysiakini.com reported that the Islamic International College in the region feared pollution from pig farms could affect its student intake. \-\

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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