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Fatwa, Islam and Malays

The fatwa on yoga and the concern that the Malays are divided just because they support different political parties were among the issues discussed by the Malay press from 24 to 28 Nov 2008.

The National Fatwa Council announced the fatwa on yoga on 22 Nov, saying that a systematic practice of yoga that includes chanting and the aim to be one with God, was against Islamic principles.

The Malay press reported different responses to the issue.

On 26 Nov, Berita Harian reported in Empat negeri sedia haram yoga selepas diwartakan that Penang, Terengganu, Perak and Sarawak were ready to enforce the fatwa as soon as it was gazetted in the respective states. It said the fatwa would be discussed at the respective state fatwa committees before referring it to the sultan, and gazetting it. The following day, the paper reported that Kedah would also follow suit.

Members of royalty have also weighed in on the matter. Some rulers pointed out that any decision on implementing the fatwa should be decided by the Conference of Rulers.

The Raja Muda of Perak, Raja Dr Nazrin Shah, echoed the 24 Nov statement by Selangor’s Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah that it would only be proper that any fatwa that affects the people be brought to the Conference of Rulers first. This was because Islamic matters come under the rulers’ jurisdiction.

In the same Berita Harian report, Empat negeri sedia haram yoga selepas diwartakan, Selangor Menteri Besar Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim said the state would only gazette the fatwa after consulting the Selangor Fatwa Council and Sultan Sharafuddin.

Khalid said the sultan conveyed through his private secretary that he was disappointed that the fatwa was announced to the media before it was presented to the rulers, to the extent that it raised questions among the public.

Khalid said the sultan did not want to be treated like a “rubber stamp” who would sign a fatwa without being given a detailed explanation first.

Doesn’t affect non-Muslims

On 27 Nov, Majlis Amal Islami Malaysia (MAIM) called on all the states to immediately gazette the fatwa. In the report, MAIM minta negeri segera wartakan untuk elak masalah, its manager Mohd Fitri Aziz Mohd Yusof said: “A delay would cause non-Muslims to have a negative perception of the Islamic authorities in this country, and also mar the reputation of Islam.”

A 27 Nov feature in Utusan Malaysia titled Bukan Islam jangan pertikai fatwa said the fatwa does not affect non-Muslims, who therefore should not question the fatwa. The feature asked why non-Muslims were questioning the fatwa but openly accepted the prohibition of alcohol and pork on Muslims.

A commentary by former editor-in-chief of Bernama, Abdul Rahman Sulaiman, observed that the fatwa has caused uneasiness among several quarters. In Kontroversi penharaman yoga perlu diselesaikan, published by Utusan Malaysia on 27 Nov, he said some non-governmental organisations, which are supported by Muslims, have questioned the fatwa. These groups argue that they practise yoga for healthy exercise and did not chant mantras.

He added that among some non-Muslims, particularly the Hindus, the fatwa was deemed insulting to their religion. Such reaction from the non-Muslims stemmed from their lack of knowledge of Islam, he said.

Abdul Rahman said there was a possible similarity between the fatwa on yoga and the banning of the Nasrul Haq silat in the 1970s. Although Nasrul Haq started out as a form of martial art with no religious conflict, he said, problems arose later when the practitioners believed they could topple their opponents without even touching them.

He said they also believed their powers were a miraculous gift from Allah and became arrogant about it. Abdul Rahman said yoga practitioners could also end up like this when they feel they are one with God.

In Utusan Malaysia‘s interview with the former Perlis mufti Dr Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin on 28 Nov, the issue of fatwa inevitably cropped up. In the article, Jangan takut bawa pembaharuan, he said: “Islam teaches us to use our thinking and reasoning well, so that we don’t act irrationally in any situation.”

Mohd Asri, who is known for his critical views, said the role of religious leaders, like the mufti, was not to merely say what was permissible and what was forbidden by Islam. “When we talk about a statute or anything about Islam, people want to see how strong those views are,” he said.

He said when something was declared “haram”, how this was conveyed was important, so that people could understand the reason for the ban, and if the conclusion was arrived at intellectually. He noted that people no longer lived in an era when religious leaders are never questioned.

Mohd Asri also said there was no need for a fatwa on tomboys, which has led some to misunderstand it as gender discrimination.

Race and religion

On 25 Nov, Utusan Malaysia quoted Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi as saying the Malays were divided into three groups: Umno Malays, PAS Malays and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) Malays.

“There may also be a fourth group, Malays who don’t care which political party is governing as long as it upholds democracy,” he said in a published interview titled Usah kompromi soal Islam.

He said when the Malays were divided, there was a need to find common ground to look at the Malay agenda and see how past Malay politicians and administrators could strengthen the position of the Malays and Islam without marginalising other races and religions.

“To me, we should not compromise when it concerns Islam but this does not mean we want to deny the non-Muslims their share of influence, the economic pie and power. The non-Muslims should not be worried because history has proven that although the Malays continue to be in power, it is never stated that the non-Muslims are marginalised,” he said.

Utusan Malaysia reported on 28 Nov MCA deputy president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek’s view that the concept of ketuanan Melayu was no longer relevant. He said the concept should be changed to equal power-sharing among the Barisan Nasional component parties.

“The people today can no longer accept a concept based on master-servant relations. We don’t reject Malay leadership but we can’t accept Malay supremacy,” he was quoted as saying in the report, Konsep ketuanan Melayu tak lagi relevan.TNG

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