Why did Indonesia and Malaysia banned yoga

If it were just stretching and breathing, acrobatic contorting of the limbs and tensing the muscles for the purpose of better body awareness, then the serious gentlemen on the Malaysian Fatwa Council would probably have nothing against yoga. Then they would see it as a sport, as an elegant and, at best, aesthetic form of fitness training. And what should be lewd about it?

But now it is the case that many a practitioner recites, meditates, reverently sings mantras in a foreign language while stretching and breathing, sometimes even to a deity, as in Hinduism by the thousands, by the millions, are worshiped. Perhaps some are not only looking for the balance of their body, but also that of the spirit and soul. And that goes too far for the strict gentlemen.

The supreme guardians of the faith in Malaysia have issued a fatwa against the old Indian-Hindu philosophy and physical fitness, a religious edict against yoga. Islam, they say, offers everything for every situation in life, it does not need any foreign aids that could undermine and dilute its teaching. "One thing leads to another so quickly," says the edict. And so Malaysia's Muslims, around sixty percent of the population, are no longer allowed to practice yoga.

There are no statistics available that would provide information about the number of Malaysians who practice everyday stress with yoga, mostly early in the morning, shortly after the morning prayer when they turn to Mecca. There are said to be hundreds of yoga classes in the capital Kuala Lumpur alone. It is true that there has never been any talk of secret mass conversions from Islam to Hinduism. But apparently the time seemed ripe for the councils to set an example. The Indonesian Council of Clergy is now also examining the question.

Human rights organizations react to the fatwa with outrage. The Malaysian group Sisters in Islam, for example, which campaigns for a liberal and tolerant interpretation of the Koran and for women's rights, complains of alleged paranoia. In the Sunday Star newspaper, one of its leaders said: "The edict of the Fatwa Council gives the impression that yoga poses a danger to Islam. For most, it is just a physical form of exercise such as Tai Chi." But her voice has little weight.

The Malaysian government generally follows the advice of the faithful. At least it seldom defies a command that could separate the Muslim-Malay majority more strongly from the large minorities, the Chinese and Indian-born Malaysians, who make up 25 and 10 percent of the population, respectively.

For years this separation, which has been cemented with preferential political programs for the Malays, has been accompanied by an Islamization of society. It stands in opposition to the image of a harmonious, multicultural and open society, as Malaysia likes to paint of itself.

Failure to do so is a sin

The Fatwa Council is becoming more and more active, and that in all possible areas of everyday life. For example, he recently forbade Muslim women to wear trousers because it was not appropriate. Botox injections during cosmetic surgery have been outlawed since laboratory tests reported that the mix also contained traces of pig tissue. And before every concert by a scantily clad rock star from America, the council rushes for weeks until the women decide to dress modestly or to cancel the concert.

The fatwas are not legally binding. But whoever acts against it commits a sin. And that's almost as bad as breaking worldly law.