Oh my, gods. The Islamic Republic of Malaysia is reintroducing its fatwa (edict) forbidding the use of the Arabic word Allah, meaning 'god', by all but Muslims - thus denying other Arab abrahamic followers - Christians and Jews, if there are any there - the right to invoke the name of His Singularity.
The editor of the Catholic Herald magazine in Malaysia, Father Lawrence Andrew, claimed that recently gazetted Internal Security Act signed by the Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar on February 16 permits them to use Allah in its publications.
The next edition of the Herald will contain the word Allah, and we will print the words For Christians Only on the masthead so as not to contravene the Act.
Nice one, Father. However, he has failed to point out that the word Allah, for God, was in use by Christians for many centuries until 622AD, the year of the hijra, or emigration, which marks the beginning of the Muslim calendar. Christians could, therefore, demand that Malaysian Muslims should refrain from using the word in their devotions. Or, at least, to refrain from being so blinkered.
At the International Bali-India Yoga Festival, which finished on March 10th, Utang Ranuwijaya, the MUI research and development head, said the country's top Islamic body was "smoothing out" the declaration on banning yoga and would soon legitimize the edict it issued earlier this year banning Muslims from practicing certain aspects of yoga.
Unlike the edict in Malaysia, which banned yoga outright, the MUI edict allowed Muslims to practice yoga as an exercise, though under certain requirements.
"Only strictly physical yoga may be practiced by Muslims. Yoga must be completely sterile. In fact, Muslims should not be saying 'Om' - a word used in Hindu to represent the gods - while performing yoga," Utang said.
Utang pointed out that Muslims should pray rather than meditate.
"Meditation is a specific practice for a specific purpose that is not in line with Islam," he said.
He added yoga centers should avoid referring to yoga as an attempt to unite the mind and body.
"There is no such thing as uniting the mind and body," he said in all sincerity. "In Islam, there is just being khusuk - a tranquil and immersed state of mind while praying."
I first took up yoga nigh on thirty years ago at an adult's evening class held in a local secondary school. I was the only man in the class of maybe twenty. The other participants, of all shapes and sizes, generally wore leotards, exercise clothing. Such is the practice of yoga, the need to think about one's own body. I have regularly had back problems* and this weekly class did much to improve my posture.
I didn't pray or chant, although several of the asanas (positions) made me grunt and groan. However, the overriding memory I have of those evenings is the serenity I felt afterwards whilst wending my way home.
My mind and body were one, but then they generally always have been. I don't take my brain out of a bedside glass in the morning upon awakening. We are as one, and if the practice of yoga is a means of reinforcing one's identity, of being in tune with the universe, then that is my khusuk, my sublimation to my god. Whoever she is.
Utang also warned yoga trainers at the Festival to segregate men's and women's classes, and told them to remind the latter to conceal their skin and body curves while exercising.
As for covering one's body to "conceal ... skin and body curves" I totally agree.
There are some disgustingly flabby ulemas around, which is probably why they're generally dressed in sarongs and loose fitting clothing which is, strangely ideal for yoga exercises. ........................... *I have since discovered two more exercise routines beneficial to those of us with perennial back problems - swimming and sex. The breast stroke is recommended for both.