Islam Channels The Onion

Browsing through the noise news today, I came upon this article, which reports that the highest Islamic body in Malaysia, the appropriately named National Fatwa Council, has officially banned yoga in that country, apparently because yoga originated from Hinduism, and, get this:

…many Muslims fail to understand that yoga’s ultimate aim is to be one with a god of a different religion…

Oops, I thought, I wandered into The Onion website by mistake, especially after I read this quote:

News of the yoga ban prompted activist Marina Mahathir to wonder what the council will ban next: “What next? Gyms? Most gyms have men and women together. Will that not be allowed any more?”

I checked the URl, and sure enough it was actually from MSNBC, home of Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow, not to mention Bill Gates. Serious people all around. Not the type to make fun of religion.

So if it wasn’t so pathetic, it would be funny, especially since the last thing this august body of religious wingnuts banned was tomboys. Yep. You read that right. Tomboys.

Recently, the council said girls who act like boys violate Islam’s tenets. The government has also occasionally made similar conservative moves, banning the use of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims earlier this year, saying it would confuse Muslims.

How does one enforce a ban on tomboys? Stoning?

Of course, Americans need to get in on the act, being fellow theists worshiping a different god, and all.

In the United States, where it has become so popular that many public schools began offering it in gym classes, yoga has also come under fire. Some Christian fundamentalists and even secular parents have argued that yoga’s Hindu roots conflict with Christian teachings and that using it in school might violate the separation of church and state.

Oy! That wasn’t predictable, was it?

It turns out that the Malaysian clerics are feeling a bit insecure, given the loss of a number of seats in the Malaysian Parliament, when their majority was reduced, though not eliminated.

If they actually would lose control, they’d have no problem getting jobs as writers and copy editors at The Onion, writing great articles like this one.

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15 thoughts on “Islam Channels The Onion

  1. I guess most martial arts would be forbidden as well, at least those from asia. Bodhidharma brought the basis of martial arts to China solely to improve the health of monks to better withstand the demands of a pure Buddhist lifestyle, and of course there’s that business of chi. The rest of asian martial arts are mostly derivative of this, so being a Buddhism inspired activity with heretical shit like chi, well, that’s all troublesome.

  2. Most Christians I know are suspicious of yoga. For a bunch of people who are so sure that their god is all-powerful, they’re scared of an awful lot of silly shit. It makes you wonder.

  3. I recall how scandalised my old church was years ago when they discovered that yoga was in fact a means by which to contact the devil (yep, that’s what we got told – thanks, crazy visiting Singaporean pastor!). Extra prayer meetings had to be laid on to deal with the poor traumatised bastards who had unknowingly been talking to Beelzebub by means of twisting themselves into pretzels.

    My parents got really worried when I took up t’ai chi, in case that too was a disguised form of devil-worship. Basically, anything vaguely “spiritual” that wasn’t in the Bible was Satanism, pure and simple.

    Gotta love that Christian paranoia!

  4. Hey John – you’ve reminded me of something that happened about five years ago at work. We have a yoga teacher that comes to our building Thursdays at noon, and about ten of us take yoga classes.

    So about five years ago we decided to give Tai Chi a try too. We sent an email to all employees asking if people were interested, and several were, and we actually had the class for about a year, though it sort of petered out and we’re back to just yoga now.

    But at the same time, after that company-wide e-mail, there was one response from a guy who suggested that we shouldn’t offer Tai Chi classes, because Tai Chi was based on a non-Christian religion.

    The guy who was organizing the classes (who is a Christian) showed me the email and we had a little laugh – I mean, first of all, Tai Chi can be appreciated on a number of levels, excluding any spirituality at all – or trust me, I wouldn’t have been there. But the other thing that we found amusing was David’s assumption that all of us in the company – which includes, aside from me, two other atheists that I’m aware of, two Muslims and one Buddhist – should be alarmed about non-Christian sources of our activities.

    It’s this attitude, that fails to recognize that there are beliefs other than Christianity that even need to be considered, that’s exactly what they’re seeing in Malaysia – only there it’s the Muslims. The interesting thing is that if I recall correctly, Malaysia’s Muslims are NOT the majority. This could get interesting.


  5. Mary,

    Muslim Malays are the majority in Malaysia. The Chinese and Indian minorities form about 30% of the population.

    Probably because of the presence of a large non-Muslim majority, there is a bit of a check on fundamentalism in Malaysia in terms of the national government. However, there is discrimination. For example, if you are registered as a Muslim and want to change your religion to another, the government will only change it if it is approved by the Islamic body that oversees such things. As you can expect, they rarely ever issue an approval to such requests.

  6. Hi Mary. Good to see you here!

    I agree with you. It’s one of the things that all religions seem to share, this myopia about other religions. I suspect it’s part of the self defense mechanism built into religion that indoctrinates believers into the idea that their religion is the only religion, and all others are pretenders. It fits within the meme theory of religion too.

    I know that one of the things I was constantly told by the nuns and priests as I was growing up, was that the Catholic Church was “the one true church”, so I always had this smug sense that I was one of the lucky ones to be a Catholic. Then, when I got older, I found out that my Protestant friends were told the same thing in their churches.

    It’s all so silly. But if I was a religion, I’d do the same thing, especially when confronted with other religions which have other competing, often contradictory, beliefs, no matter how benign. It’s like when I was a kid, I couldn’t let my gravy mix it up with my green beans on the plate. If it did, both would be ruined.

    I think Tommy is right about the Muslim majority in Malaysia. It’s one of the reasons why they are acting like they do in the article – because their majority is slowly eroding, and they need to assert themselves to their own congregations. (Is congregations a term applied to Muslims?)

  7. One thing I wanted to add. As I understand it, the banning of yoga and other such pronouncements by Malaysian Muslim authorities applies only to the country’s Muslim population. It is akin to the Pope reminding Catholics that condom use is forbidden by Church doctrine. It does not have the apparatus of state enforcement behind it and is more along the lines of “If you are a Muslim and attend yoga, then you are violating the tenets of Islam.” It’s not like there is going to be a Muslim cleric standing outside the door of the yoga center barring Malays from going to yoga class. It is more like trying to use social pressure to get Malay Muslims to voluntarily stop attending yoga classes.

    That being said, that does not rule out that more militant Muslims might be emboldened by such pronouncements to start vandalizing establishments where yoga classes are held or beating up people who attend the classes.

    Not all Malaysian Muslims are like this, and there is a moderate Muslim feminist organization in Malaysia called Sisters in Islam that has criticized the yoga fatwa, arguing, rightly, that it hurts Malaysia’s reputation.

  8. spanqi –

    “if I was a religion”

    Hell, if you were a religion I’d probably sign up so I could take advantage of the spiritual comfort of the naked women your iconography seems to favor.

  9. SI said:

    ” I suspect it’s part of the self defense mechanism built into religion that indoctrinates believers into the idea that their religion is the only religion, and all others are pretenders.”

    Must have been a Freudian slip of my eyeball this morning. When I fist glanced at this I thought it said “…and all others predators.”

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