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Islam and Pluralism ( 29 Jan 2009, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Deoband intervenes: ‘Muslims can do yoga, Namaz itself a form of yoga,’ says cleric

The National Fatwa Council last week issued the edict, deeming as 'haram' (prohibited) the practice of the ancient Indian fitness regime that aims at mental and physical well-being. The Council said that yoga contained chanting and worshipping also.

A university teacher of theology last month raised objection to yoga, contending that it diluted Islamic beliefs.

Joining the debate, Malaysia's long-time former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad warned against turning the edict into a religious debate.

Endorsing the National Fatwa Council's action, he said: "If they believe it is wrong, then it is wrong. It is unfortunate that other people think that it is a slur on their religion," he said.

"It is like saying Muslims should not eat pork and it is not an insult to the Chinese. It is the same when Muslims cannot do yoga, it is not because they are insulting the Hindus.

"It is just that they should not do it. Like all other things forbidden among Muslims, it is not an insult to others. Whether the Malays follow it or not, that is really their business." he said.

Mahathir said people should not make it into a religious issue.

"Personally, I don't care very much if you stand on your head or stand on your feet. It is not as if by performing yoga you immediately become a non-Muslim," he was quoted as saying in The Star.


Indonesia not to follow Malaysian move on yoga

 Jakarta, Nov 26 (IANS) -- Indonesia, which has the world's largest Muslim population, will not follow the Malaysian move to ban Muslims from practicing yoga, the country's top clerics have said.

"It is okay if it's for sport but I do not know if it is proven that it can destroy our beliefs as Muslims or contains ideas of polytheism," Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) deputy chairman Umar Shehab was quoted as saying by The Jakarta Post Monday.

MUI edict commission deputy chairman Ali Mustafa Yakub said there was no need to ban yoga as no Muslims were found practising it in Indonesia.

"If they are, they are not publicly visible, so there is no problem," he said.

Yakub added that the Indian influence in Indonesia was not as strong as in Malaysia and such influence was only limited to music.

Shihab said more research had to be done before a decision can be made to prohibit yoga. The council had not carried out any study on yoga as it had not received any objection from the public.

The Indonesian clerics were reacting to the ongoing debate in Malaysia, where the National Fatwa Council last week issued an edict declaring that the practice of yoga by Muslims is "haram" (prohibited) as it dilutes Islamic values and practice.

 Malaysian edict against yoga kicks up controversy

Kuala Lumpur, Nov 25 (IANS) -- A fatwa (edict) banning the practise of yoga by Malaysian Muslims has kicked up a controversy in the country, with some saying that it had nothing to do with religion and was practised because of its “known health benefits”. Two states have put on hold implementation of the fatwa.

The National Fatwa Council last week issued the edict, deeming as 'haram' (prohibited) the practice of the ancient Indian fitness regime that aims at mental and physical well-being. The Council said that yoga contained chanting and worshipping also.

However, several people have objected to it, adding to the ongoing debate whether Muslims should be asked to eschew yoga on the ground that it diluted Islamic values.

The Sultan of Selangor state said the fatwa could not be implemented in his state as it had not been presented to the state Fatwa Committee.

Perak state's Islamic Religious Department director Jamry Sury withdrew his earlier statement that Perak would adopt the fatwa, saying that several procedures including seeking the consent of the Sultan, had to be carried out first, The Star newspaper said Tuesday.

 In Perlis state, Mufti Asri Zainal Abidin spoke out against the edict. He said that a form of yoga with the non-Muslim elements removed should be allowed.

"These sports did not have anything to do with Islam but have been practised because of their known health benefits," he said in a telephone interview with Mstar Monday.

"Yoga practitioners who are Muslims should be given an alternative by practising a version of yoga that does not resemble the version practised by other religions," he said, adding that chanting while practising the exercise should also be stripped.

He maintained that yoga was a good exercise to maintain a healthy lifestyle if done minus the extra bits that are against Islamic teachings.

"The fatwa (edict) announced in this day and age should not be too rigid. The human movement does not necessarily have a connection with religion," he said.

Most other states said they would take the necessary steps to enable the edict to be implemented.

However, Sisters in Islam, a body of Muslim women, said the fact that the states had differing views on the matter seemed to suggest that there was no consensus on the ban.

The Sultan of Selangor, Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah, who is the constitutional head, said in a press statement that the Selangor Fatwa Committee would meet to deliberate the matter "in greater detail so that a decision is not made hastily”.

The Sultan said that once the state committee had made a decision, it would then be forwarded to him for approval in line with state laws regarding the administration of Islamic affairs.

The Sultan said he hoped that in future any fatwa that touched on an issue which affected the general public would be referred to the Rulers Conference prior to being announced.

"This is to ensure that the method of channelling a fatwa is implemented in a wise manner to avoid any confusion or controversy," he said.


 Muslim practitioners of yoga upset over ban in Malaysia

 Kuala Lumpur, Nov 23 (IANS) -- Yoga as practised in Malaysia has evolved and there is nothing religious about it, several Muslim practitioners and enthusiasts of this ancient Indian fitness regime have said, expressing deep disappointment at the National Fatwa Council's move to ban yoga among Malays.

The Council Saturday declared that yoga is haram (prohibited) in Islam and Muslims are banned from practising it.

Practitioners of yoga maintain that it has not shaken their belief in Islam. They say yoga has become mainstream and no longer had religious elements.

"I believe yoga has not affected or eroded my faith. If anything, yoga is the only exercise which combines stretching, strengthening and balancing movements," yoga instructor and personality Ninie Ahmad said.

She said her faith in Islam was strong although she had been practising and teaching yoga for eight years.

Her reaction and those of many Muslims who endorse yoga came even as the Council Chairman, Abdul Shukor Husin, asked that none should question the edict.

"Many Muslims in the country fail to understand the ultimate aim of yoga," Husin was quoted as saying in The New Straits Times Sunday.

The newspaper said the edict was 'expected'.

A university teacher of theology last month raised objection to yoga, contending that it diluted Islamic beliefs.

Husin said once the fatwa was gazetted, it would be passed on to the 13 states to decide on its enforcement.

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.

The edict would affect thousands of individual Muslim practitioners, besides yoga centres and those engaged in its business endorsement.

Muslim Malays form the majority in Malaysia's 28 million population that also has 33 percent ethnic Chinese and eight percent Indians, a bulk of them Hindus.

Although worried how the fatwa would affect her business, Ninie Ahmed, who is the brand ambassador for Adidas yoga line, said she would go ahead with plans to open a three-studio yoga centre next month.

"The show goes on for me. I have invested half a million on this. Yoga is my bread and butter," she said, adding that she was unclear how the ruling would affect her Adidas endorsement.

The centre, to be called Be Yoga, is a Bumiputera-owned (Muslim Malay) company and will be run and operated by Muslims.

"To portray yoga as harmful to one's faith will be a great loss to the country. In Klang Valley alone, there are 30,000 registered yoga practitioners in yoga centres and gyms, and 30 percent of them are Muslims," Ninie said.

Asked if she was afraid of the repercussions from the authorities, she said her centre promoted yoga purely as an exercise.

"I'm disappointed that the council failed to see the bigger picture of the benefits of yoga."

A fellow yoga enthusiast, Azzy Soraya, said it was unfair to think that Muslims who practised yoga were a step closer to converting to Hinduism.

"Yoga moved on from its religious roots a long time ago. It's about well-being and all religions encourage their followers to stay healthy."

Some Islamic bodies also disapproved of the ban, The Star newspaper said.

M. Revathi, 40, 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.

© 2008  Indo-Asian News Service (IANS)


If not Om, then Allah, God will also do for Ramdev’s yoga’

Rajeev khanna Posted: Nov 05, 2008

Dehradun, November 4: In a bid to popularise yoga among people other than Hindus, Baba Ramdev has said one can initiate the exercise without pronouncing the word ‘Om’ and can substitute it with ‘Allah’ or ‘God’. Ramdev’s Haridwar-based Patanjali Yogapeeth has asked its Christian and Muslim followers to begin yoga with a prolonged utterance of Allah or God.

“Our aim is to connect science with yoga for the betterment of mankind. Why should anybody not enjoy the benefits of yoga because of reservation to utter ‘Om’,” said Acharya Balkrishan of Patanjali Yogapeeth.

“Baba Ramdev believes that yoga might be a gift to mankind from rishis and yogis but it is not Hinduism. It is meant for everyone. Yoga cannot be restricted on the lines or religion and community. It is meant to enlighten the entire humanity,” he told The Indian Express.

Acharya Balkrishan further pointed that the pronunciation of ‘Om’ causes positive resonance in one’s body and ‘Om’ itself is not connected to any faith or community. “None of the religious images come to your mind when you say ‘Om’. It’s universal. Its prolonged utterance gives maximum benefit to scholars of yoga. However, it can be substituted with ‘Allah’ or ‘God’,” he said.

The Patanjali Yogapeeth has set up Yoga Samities in 560 districts across the country to propagate the ancient asanas and pranayaam techniques. “We have hundreds of yoga teachers in the country who are Muslims. They don’t have any opposition to the word ‘Om’. A large number of Muslim and Christian students are also learning various asanas and pranayaam in different states,” said Balkrishan.


 Spiritual airwaves

ASRP Mukesh | New Delhi

Monday, January 26, 2009

Early morning, in the holy town of Haridwar on the banks of the sacred Ganges, about 500 people sit on mats facing their saffron-clad, bearded guru and listening to every word his speaks. Baba Ramdev talks about how yoga helps in dealing with stressful life, an outcome of a Westernised lifestyle and stresses on imbibing Indian values for a healthy living.

Some 200 miles away in Delhi, Suhita Bhaumik and her banker husband watch Baba’s discourse on television. “We follow all that he preaches and act accordingly. It has changed our lives and helped us attain peace of mind even in current times of recession,” says she.Bhaumik is not alone. It is believed that some 90 million people across the globe watch Baba’s discourses on Aastha channel. And Aastha is not the only spiritual channel on air. Sanskar, Sadhna, Jeevan and God are other few niche ‘spirituality’ channels beaming across the country today, not to mention a large number of regional ones that exist.

Such has been their popularity that even hardcore news channels have started airing sessions on spirituality. Add to it the deluge of mythological serials being aired. Introduced by Doordarshan years ago, the concept has found favour with even the most business-minded private entertainment broadcasters. The ‘televised spirituality’ is now a big business.

Not only in the country, India’s spirituality channels are gaining market across the globe too. They are now beamed into more than 125 countries. “The overseas market is starved of programmes based on Indian spiritualism. Advertisers have taken note of it. Since its launch, the number of those watching Aastha rose from 65 million in 2001 to 90 million four years later,” claims an official from the channel.

The question however one may tend to ask is: with so many mythological shows already being aired, is there a need for such exclusive spiritual channels? “Improvement in standards of living and increase in materialism haven’t reduced mankind’s innate yearning for spirituality. No one will ignore the benefits of yoga if you have someone telling the same on TV,” says Baba Ramdev, who has been credited with restoring to yoga its deserved popularity and importance.

But is there enough space for such channels in the already congested market? Dinesh Kabra, board member, Sanskar TV, says, “Times have changed. Youngsters are more stressed and they find answers in spiritual discourses. Our audience profile consists of 25-year-olds, a drastic drop in age group from the 35-plus audience we had when we started.”

N Bhaskara Rao of Centre for Media Studies echoes a similar view, “People are bored with life. And then there are many who are fed up with what other channels are offering.”

For centuries, the troubled and restless have turned to India’s religious mysticism to achieve relief and salvation. Swami Chaitanya Keerti who heads Delhi chapter of Osho says, “Our spirituality is functional and you can get tangible benefits of practising meditation and yoga.” Industry players say those who watch such programmes don’t switch channels as often as those who watch entertainment or news programmes. This might have to do with the response that religion commands in India. For, live telecast of festivals like the Kumbh Mela, Ganesh Chaturthi and Navratri in the recent past have proved that religion continues to be a huge hit with Indians. During Navratri, TAM Media Research recorded the following figures — Sanskar 6.9 million viewers, Aastha 5.7 million, Sadhna 0.8 million and God channel 0.6 million viewers.

Media commentator Shailaja Bajpai dubs such channels as ‘television psychiatrists’. “Most of the channels these days dish out violence and confusion. In comparison, on these spiritual channels you find someone saying things that are calm and soothing.”

The growing market has also made spiritual channels bring in the change in their content — from simple sermonising lectures by spiritual masters that attracted only the 50-plus crowds, they have now shifted to youth-friendly programmes like Art of Living, Yoga, Feng Shui and Vaastu.

Komal Tiwari, marketing head of Sadhna TV, says that to attract “young, corporate people”, they feature motivational speakers. And this also helps on the advertising front which is the mainstay of these free-to-air channels. “If we have younger audience, advertising will also grow rapidly as advertisers target the youth more that the older generation,” says she.

So is this ‘selling’ of religion a lucrative business after all? It is, if the spurt in ad revenues of these channels is any proof. But those in the business claim that the base for religious channels is moral, social and spiritual rather than monetary. “We’re socio-spiritual channel. Religion is not the only medium, one can also work towards building a society by giving away personal profit for larger benefit,” asserts Tiwari.

Notably, spiritual channels too have, at times come under scrutiny for being messengers of a particular religion, a disturbing thought in an environment clouded by religious bigotry. Says Shailaja, “Most channels are based on tenants of Hinduism. And if you tie this up with the communally charged environment we are living in, the influence of these channels could be significant.” Nevertheless, every channel is out to diversify to tap the vast market. Kabra says, “We keep changing ourselves by introuding good programmes to avoid monotony and to keep ourselves free from being propagators of any particular faith.”

The trend of spiritual channels is not limited to our country alone. They have struck a chord with people around the world. The popularity of God TV in Africa, Asia, Europe, America and the UK, and EWTN that claims to reach 70 million across the globe, are an example.

 Rao agrees no less. “In terms of growth in viewership, these are ahead of the news and entertainment channels at least as far as our country is considered. These channels are dynamic and changing their position regularly to appeal to a younger clientele.”

Analysts say that in future such channels could double their share in Indian media. “Look at the changing profile of the advertisements on these channels. A year ago, you would see only ads of balms and incense sticks. Today, you find everything from tyres and cement to airlines,” Rao says, “It’s simple. Spirituality sells in a world jaded by consumerist excesses.” The New Year has set in and Ramdev has already positioned himself as an entrepreneur with sole objective of bringing “spiritual awakening of India” through TV. His disciples say he is set to launch two more channels. As for the investments, some say his followers will chip in, others point to

Baba’s capability of funding them. Whatever be the source, one thing is sure — the airwaves will be filled with more spirituality in the coming months.

 Fact file

Religious channels have struck a chord with people around the world. God TV broadcast in Africa, Asia, Europe, the US and the UK and EWTN that claims to reach 70 million TV homes across the globe are the indicators

Spirituality channels from India now beam in more than 125 countries

Nearly 18 per cent of the viewers watching spiritual channels are in the age group of 25 and

34 while another 17 per cent constitutes those between 15 and 24 years

Spending between Rs 40-50 lakh per month on sourcing programmes, the channel officials say the viewership is constantly on the rise