Bali Defies Fatwa On Yoga

March 9, 2009

Author: Peter Gelling

Source: The New York Times

A weeklong international festival celebrating the pan-religious practice of yoga here on the island of Bali is wrapping up peacefully despite a recent religious ruling condemning the practice from the top Muslim authority in Indonesia.

It is the second time in recent months that Bali, a predominantly Hindu island in the world’s most populous Muslim country, has openly opposed rulings by the Ulema Council, the quasi-governmental body that issued the yoga edict.

In October, after the Indonesia Parliament passed broad antipornography legislation, which was first championed by the Ulema Council and included limits on dancing and dress, Balinese erupted in anger, fearing many of their traditional rituals would be considered illegal. Thousands marched through the streets and Bali’s governor, Made Mangku Pastika, declared that he would not enforce the law.

Though about 90 percent of Indonesians are Muslim, the country is made up of hundreds of distinct ethnic and cultural groups. Islam itself comes in many different forms here. The religious and governmental authorities in Jakarta, on the island of Java, Indonesia’s most populous island and the country’s center of power, are often accused of being insensitive to these differing cultures.

When the Balinese, along with people in Sulawesi and Papua, protested the pornography bill last year, they held signs calling for increased autonomy from the central government in Jakarta.

The Muslim Council’s yoga ruling came in a package of fatwas issued in January. The council deemed the ancient Indian poses and exercises incorporating Hindu chanting or rituals a sin for Muslims. Similar fatwas have been issued in Egypt and Malaysia. In all three countries, the religious leaders said they were concerned that practicing yoga could cause Muslims to deviate from Islamic teachings.