The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Yoga not halal

This is the kind of stupid thing that gives Muslims a bad name:

A religious edict saps the energy out of yoga enthusiasts in Egypt, where clerics say the 5,000-year-old practice violates Islamic law.

Answering a religious question put forward, Egypt's highest theological authority called yoga an "ascetic Hindu practice that should not be used in any manner of exercise or worship."

The undated but recent edict was signed by the mufti, Ali Gomoa.

The edict, published in the pan-Arab daily newspaper Al-Hayat and obtained Sunday by the Associated Press, called the practice of yoga "an aberration" and said mimicking it is "forbidden religiously."

There is a serious problems with the use -- and perhaps the tradition itself -- of fatwas, especially when they are given out by a government appointed sheikh. There is not meant to be in Islam, as far as I can tell, an "official fatwa-maker." This is why Ali Gomaa has occasionally clashed with Al Azhar University, which has a council of scholars that often give out fatwas. But in principle, fatwas can be made by any person, and are usually personal advice given to individuals, not a reflection of government policy (and indeed Egypt has not banned yoga). The problem is that when an idiot or extremist decides that yoga is haram, or that a certain writer has insulted Islam, or that it's OK to kidnap Americans working in Iraq, it often looks like he's speaking to all Muslims. Particularly if someone powerful -- the state, a fundamentalist group, a university -- had decided that this person is entitled to make fatwas.