What remains to be seen is whether those rulers have the political will to rein in the clerics despite the possibility of being labeled “un-Islamic.” If not, they set a dangerous precedent for themselves and their country.
“Sultans’ remarks cause a stir,” from the Malaysian Insider, November 27:
KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 27 – When the National Fatwa Council issued an edict on yoga last week, it also warned Malaysians not to question it but did not figure on the powerful Malay rulers stepping in.
Three rulers – from Selangor, Perak and Negeri Sembilan – have expressed disapproval that the monarchy was bypassed in the matter.
Under Malaysian law, the sultans are the head of Islam in their states, and the King is the head of religion for the country.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi added his voice to the issue yesterday, saying that “a physical regime with no elements of worship can continue”.
He said that Muslims who performed yoga without chanting Hindu mantras could carry on with their activity as it was good for their health.
“I believe that Muslims are not easily swayed into polytheism,” he told Bernama.
“What I understand from the decision of the National Fatwa Council is that it was aimed at explaining to Muslims the implications of yoga practice,” he said, adding that the fatwa would be implemented only after the rulers had given their consent.
On Tuesday, Perak crown prince Raja Nazrin Shah told the Perak Fatwa Committee to consider the fatwa very carefully. He added it will have to be brought to the Perak Islamic Religious and Malay Customs Council which he chairs, before being presented to the Sultan of Perak for consent.
A day before that, the Sultan of Selangor, Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah, said any fatwa on public matters should be brought to the Conference of Rulers first. Yesterday, the Regent of Negeri Sembilan, Tunku Naquiyuddin Tuanku Ja’afar, made a similar comment.
“Recently, the council has come out with edicts on tomboys and yoga. I am not at all certain that members of the royalty had been consulted on these issues and if not, I would certainly encourage the council to do so,” he said.
The public intervention of the rulers has caused a stir as it is unprecedented for them to come into conflict with the government’s Islamic authorities. The Islamic bodies are rarely criticised by the politicians for fear of being labelled as un-Islamic.
The rulers’ intervention has left the fatwa in limbo. So far, none of the states has gazetted the ruling that yoga is forbidden for Muslims if it included elements of chanting and worship. The physical exercises in themselves are discouraged as they might lead to an erosion of faith.
The fatwa has to be gazetted in each state for it to have the force of law for Muslims in that state.
There are mixed views. Kelantan Menteri Besar Nik Aziz Nik Mat said he personally agreed with the edict because of the Hindu beliefs associated with the exercise. But the Perlis Mufti, Dr Asri Zainal Abidin, had expressed reservations.
It is not clear if the rulers can reject the fatwa unilaterally. According to law professor Shad Faruqi, it is a grey area, but he believed that the sultans will have a strong say as they have wide discretion in matters of Islam in their states. […]