Festival ends, reaches
out to clerics

The first ever yoga festival held in Indonesia ended Tuesday with a declaration that some saw as an attempt to reach out to Islamic clerics.

In January this year, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) issued a fatwa (edict) saying it was forbidden for Muslims to take part in certain aspects of yoga that incorporated ritualistic movements and chants.

The ban apes a similar edict in neighboring Malaysia, although the Malaysian fatwa banned yoga outright.

The 10-day International Bali-India Yoga Festival ended with a six-point declaration, with some points referring directly to the MUI’s grievances.

These points stipulate that the words for meditation in yoga be changed to dzikir (an Islamic form of chanting) if done by Muslims, and that the recently created Indonesian Yoga Association (AYI) hold dialogues with the MUI to ensure the continued existence of yoga in the country.

“With the creation of the AYI, all matters concerning yoga may be brought to the association’s attention,” said Dr. Somvir, founder of the Bali-India Foundation and chairman of the festival’s organizing committee, at the foundation office in Denpasar.

He added the declaration was worded as such to prevent misunderstandings by Muslims.

Utang Ranuwijaya, head of the MUI’s research and development division, said the act of meditating was unacceptable, and that chanting while practicing yoga was also sinful because it would erode a Muslim believer’s faith. He added Muslims should instead just focus on dzikir rather than chanting.

“Muslims should be careful in choosing exercises that incorpo-rate other forms of meditating or chanting, to prevent the erosion of their faith,” Utang said at Monday’s seminar.

Participants ended the festival with a relaxed and simple yoga fashion show, despite the controversy being stirred up by the MUI.

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