Jakarta (AsiaNews) - Practicing yoga, smoking in public places, and abstaining from voting are "activities contrary to the precepts of Islam." This is the announcement today from the Indonesian ulemas council, during a plenary assembly in Padang Panjang, a city in the province of West Sumatra, attended by 700 religious figures and experts on Islamic law in the country.
As has already been done in Malaysia, the Indonesian ulemas are also prohibiting the practice of yoga for Muslims, because it contains elements characteristic of the Hindu tradition. The Islamic religious authorities reject the "recitation of mantras," and stress that continuing the practice means "committing a sin" and "weakening faith in Islam." The decision has already raised criticisms among Indonesian Muslims: yoga is one of the favorite activities among citizens and businessmen to get rid of stress and recover mental and physical balance.
Amid controversy and division, the ulemas have also banned cigarettes from public places. The smoking ban also applies to pregnant women and adolescents. The decision is ostensibly based on "risks to health." The tobacco industry is an essential resource for the country, and some of the ulemas, especially the ones from areas where cigarette production is concentrated, seem not to appreciate the decision to prohibit smoking.
The third fatwa applies to those who abstain from voting. This is also an important decision because of the political repercussions that it could conceal: elections are scheduled for April, while in July the new Indonesian president will be elected. And for Muslims, it is not possible to vote for candidates who are not faithful to Islam or members of Islamic parties.
Indonesia is the most populous Muslim country in the world: almost 90% of the 234 million Indonesians are believers in Islam. Most of them practice a moderate form of Islam, but fundamentalism is increasing. The recent decisions of the ulemas seem to be an expression of this fundamentalist view.