Mufti wants desegregated worship
MELBOURNE: Australia's Mufti, the highest Islamic authority, said he wants to end segregation of men and women in mosques.
Sheikh Fehmi Naji el-Imam said he would put his proposal to the next meeting of the Australian National Imams Council and consider how women could share the room with men during prayers.
He said segregated worship was introduced long ago, as a cultural change, not a religious one, and he would argue to end it.
His comments, reported in Australia's The Age newspaper, were seen as a response to Muslim women's anger at 'entrenched discrimination'.
'It is good to hear the complaints of the sisters, and to try to find some solution to their concerns,' he said. 'My duty is to propose, to discuss and try to convince. I can't guarantee the outcome.'
His announcement is likely to attract international attention and may spark fierce debate among highly conservative mosque communities within Australia.
In some mosques overseas, there are no physical barriers between men and women's areas but in Australia almost every mosque separates them.
Sydney lecturer Jamila Hussain last Thursday had told a conference at the National Centre for Excellence in Islamic Studies here that women found facilities at some mosques 'insulting' and that they were treated as second-class citizens.
She welcomed Sheikh Fehmi's promise to try to end segregation.
Ms Jamila, who studied Sydney mosques, said that in some, women had to pray in the yard under a blazing sun while men enjoyed the cool interior, or to pray in a kitchen between stoves and sinks, or in a tent in full view of a pub across the road.
[Comment: Positive and forward moving. Hope it leads to the right response. But I'm not optimistic. Meanwhile Malaysia's islamic authority has declared yoga haram.]
Nov 24, 2008
Fatwa forbidding yoga comes under fire
Hindus 'disturbed' by Muslim council move; critics say it will create division
KUALA LUMPUR: Yoga practitioners and moderate Muslim groups have criticised a decision by Malaysia's National Fatwa Council to declare yoga haram, or forbidden, for Muslims.
Sisters in Islam (SIS) programme manager Norhayati Kaprawi says many Muslims in Malaysia practise yoga as a form of exercise to stay healthy.
She said: 'I don't think it has caused any Muslim to convert to Hinduism; neither has it weakened their faith. It's just an exercise like qigong or taiji.'
Ms Norhayati said that by issuing the edict, the council had acted as if yoga were a widespread threat to Islam.
'I hope they can focus their attention on bigger and more pressing issues, such as money politics and corruption,' she said.
SIS has been holding weekly yoga classes for staff for the past year. It has no problem continuing with it, said Ms Norhayati.
The Fatwa Council, Malaysia's top Islamic body, issued a fatwa (religious edict) last Saturday banning Muslims from practising yoga on the grounds that it involves chants and acts of worship in order to be one with the god of another religion.
Chairman Abdul Shukor Husin said that while merely going through the motions of various yoga postures may not be wrong in Islam, the council believed the practice was best avoided altogether as 'one thing would lead to another'.
But 'many Hindus have been deeply disturbed by the Fatwa Council's announcement,' Malaysia Hindu Sangam president A. Vaithilingam said in a statement released yesterday.
He said it was regrettable that the council had not consulted the Malaysia Hindu Sangam - an association which oversees Hindu affairs - so the religious and non-religious aspects of yoga could be explained.
He added that as many Hindus and non-Hindus practise yoga together in a non-religious manner, the fatwa could drive a wedge between those of different religions.
But it is not just the council which opposes yoga. Some Christian groups frown on the practice for similar religious reasons, said a spokesman for the Malaysian Council of Churches.
Separately, veteran opposition lawmaker Lim Kit Siang said the edict showed Malaysia was heading towards a conservative type of Islam which could divide the multiracial country.
Recently, the council also issued an edict against tomboys, ruling that girls who act like boys violate the tenets of Islam.
'It is sending a most unfortunate message that Malaysia, instead of moving towards a moderate and universal Islam, is moving towards an opposite direction which will create division,' Mr Lim told AFP.
Rulings by the Fatwa Council are not legally binding on the country's Muslims, but it is an enormously influential body.
Ms M. Revathi, 40, who has been teaching yoga part-time for about 10 years, said some people mistake the names of the asanas (postures) as religious verses as they are in Sanskrit. 'But there's nothing religious about the names,' she said.
She added: 'As for the meditation part, it's not religious either. I tell my students to relax and free their minds, and they can meditate in whatever language they like.'
SUNDAY STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE