one fatwa too many?

from bob teoh, retired journalist, on the recent fatwas in the country. some muslims would argued that non-muslims should not comment on the fatwas as these do not affect them. true. i am not going to quarrel with that. only problem i have with that is eventually some of the implications would spill over onto non-muslims. e.g. the ban on yoga. how would non-muslims be affected too you have a blanklet ban on yoga? are yoga centres going to be closed down? or they need a permit to run? or they have to screen their participants first to ensure there will be no muslims attending? what if muslims practise at home in privacy? are they going to be arrested? with over-zealous little napoleons enforcing the law, would there be cases of 'wrong' enforcement? over 'true bumiputras as in mistaken identity? the concerns go on ...... (the other fatwa was about tomboyism. seriously, can proclaiming a fatwa on this behaviour seriously prevent or reduced lesbianism as what the authorities claim as the root problem? just because a lady choose to wear pants and have short hair, is she going to be hauled up for religious counselling or sent to rehabilitation centres for brainwashing for 2 years?)


One fatwa too many

Thursday, 27 November 2008 16:51 Malaysian Today Posted by admin Bob Teoh (Sin Chew Daily

Malaysia continues to be embroiled in controversies even as its embattled Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is preparing to step down from office soon. The current uproar is over the latest fatwa (Islamic edict) prohibiting Muslims from taking up yoga, which it considers 'haram' (unclean). If anything at all, this points to a fatwa fatigue. Especially coming so soon after another fatwa admonishing Muslim girls from behaving like tomboys.

Compounding this problem is that the issuance of the fatwa by religious authorities needs the consent of the Malay rulers who are constitutionally the guardians of the religion. In this case, their consent was not sought.

This matter concerns not only Muslims but non-Muslims as well simply because religion is not a private matter but acts itself out in the public square. This is more so as Islam is the official religion of Malaysia. Thus it affects everyone in a variety of ways and in varying magnitude.
Although it differs in form, the substance of the matter may be of equal concern among non-Muslims.

For instance, some Christians and churches in Malaysia, are equally wary of their followers taking up yoga on precisely the same ground as that taken by the National Fatwa Council; that it is rooted in Hinduism.

Undoubtedly yoga is of Hindu origin. So are many things else we find in the country since Hinduism predates Islam in Malaysia. If we want to split hairs, even the etymology of the word 'Putrajaya' (Malaysia's spanking new Federal administrative capital city), is Sanskrit, the language of Hinduism. So do we throw out the baby with the bath water?
Yoga has come a long way from it ancient roots but still the challenge is, how do we practise yoga without embracing Hinduism?

Some churches also warn their flocks to shun martial arts since they originated from temples in China. Tai chi, qi gong, and acupuncture are similarly frowned upon for the same reasons. However, it must be remembered temples in ancient China served as places of worship as well as centres of learning of the arts, science and medicine and much else.

Many Chinese Christians in Malaysia tread an ardous journey in their faith trying to keep what is cultural and what is not consonant with their belief system. Some are easy choices like ancestral worship. We do not worship our ancestors but we honour and respect them as mandated by one of the Ten Commandments. Similarly for Confucius, we can keep the philisophy but we reject his 'diety'. Others seemingly pose some problems like the ubiquitous Chinese dragon. How do Christians keep out the religious elements and retain the cultural form of this auspicious mythical animal that is deeply etched in the Chinese psyche since the Bible has made it plainly demomic?

We do not live in a black and white world and when the two begin to blur into grey, we are confronted with the challenge of contextualisation. Most times it's not easy to achieve a middle ground. Indeed, our spiritual baggage is that the sacred and the profane must not mix. Some feel incumbent upon themselves to ensure that the two worlds indeed do not merge, hence the need for fatwas or ecclesiastical edicts.

Even till this day, the Church of England, or the Anglican Church, subscribes to ecclesiastical insurance for its 17,000 churches nationwide. Fortunately, churches in Malaysia need not have to come under such encumbrances. This is because ecclesiastical insurance is not available in Malaysia. Churches may even take up takaful or Islamic insurance without having to worry that they might just be hedging on the wrong side of heaven.

In all this, what is important as the Bible points out in 1 Corinthians 7:19, "Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters."
Clean or unclean, haram or halal (kosher), form or substance, the moot point of ecclesiastical edicts is simply that only a 'circumcised heart' is required.