Friday, November 28, 2008

All Gaga over Yoga

“Missed a bullet, somehow, I sense.”

First it was a ban on yoga for Muslims because of what apparently were Hindu elements – though yoga didn’t seem to bother the most conservative of other religious groups, even the ones who taught that Harry Potter was the Antichrist. Then it seems that the National Fatwa Council may have stepped into the territory of the Sultans, and one can only guess if the advice from the Raja Muda of Perak to take time to study matters in order to avoid hasty decisions may suggest that the ban was indeed hasty.

On one hand, non-Muslims aren’t practically affected by this whole brouhaha on yoga. We’ve been chugging down beer (still legal in Selangor!) and chomping on piggy meat as happily as Muslims have been munching on beef burgers (better not tell the powers-that-be that the cow is a sacred animal to Hindus or they just may make that haram too).

But there was this thing about the Information Ministry getting involved, and the Prime Minster declaring that yoga is alright minus the chanting as “I believe that Muslims are not easily swayed into polytheism." (The Star, 27 November) – I’m not polytheistic myself but I did find that it carried a disrespectful tone to Hindus. Something like if Buddhists were told that attending Hari Raya open houses was okay because they are faithful enough not to be swayed into monotheism.

And of course if Mahathir has to remind us not to make it into a religious issue (and what kind of issue was it then? An economic one?) then we have to think twice about it. It’s like the guy who may have just accidentally spat in front you on purpose. It may have been pure coincidence, but when he says, “Now, don’t take that personally,” you may just start to wonder.

Somehow we’re losing the idea that unity in this country will always be founded on diversity. That we should embrace the idea that there is a form of exercise – more so than tai-chi or chi-gong – that actually brings together people of all races. That it just might be another area of common ground, of conversational currency, when Muslims visit their friends during Chinese New Year.

The one time a government official made any sense in these sorts of decisions was in regards to Shanon Ahmad’s controversial political parody, Shit. After rumours of whether it was bad taste or free speech and the idea of banning a book by Sasterawan Negara, a decision was made that ignoring it was the wiser option than making it an even bigger deal. In this light, the final irony may indeed be that the popularity of yoga may actually increase – if not for the critical opposition to the idea that yoga has religious implications from progressive Muslims like Marina Mahathir and Azmi Sharom, then certainly the idea that you hide things that are on some level, at the very least, interesting.

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