Religious fatwa in Egypt says Islam forbids yoga

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."

Yoga is a collection of spiritual techniques and practices, aimed at integrating mind, body and spirit. In recent years, classes have started at gyms and in dedicated yoga centers. Tourist trips to Red Sea mountains and beaches also are arranged around yoga classes.

The religious edict said yoga could distort Islamic beliefs, relying on a saying from Islam's founding Prophet Muhammad about how if Muslims hold on to what he has instilled they will never stray from God's book or the prophet's teaching.

To Mukesh Kumar, a yoga instructor in Egypt for three years and diplomat at the Indian Embassy in Cairo, considering yoga an aberrant faith is a stretch.

"It is neither a religion nor claims to be a substitute for any religion in the world," he said. "I am amazed (and wonder) why this kind of statement is coming."

Kumar said the Indian cultural center in Cairo introduced yoga classes in 1992, and that the center is now operating at maximum capacity - 120 registered participants. Eighty percent of them, he said, are Egyptian.

Kumar said yoga's therapeutic aspects have proved helpful to Egyptians living in Cairo, one of the world's busiest cities with a population of 18 million.

"I don't think it is haram (forbidden religiously). It is a way of life. It relieves people from stress," he said, adding that Egyptian officials and diplomats are among those enrolled in his classes. "It is a boon for humanity. We have to carry it, and spread it."