Malaysia's leader assured Muslims on Wednesday they can perform yoga if they do not chant religious mantras — an apparent effort to assuage public anger over an Islamic body's ban of the ancient Indian exercise.
Last week, the National Fatwa Council said that elements of Hinduism in the practice could corrupt Muslims. Many ordinary Muslims responded by saying they had been performing yoga for years without losing their faith.
Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi told the Bernama news agency that Muslims who were interested in the health benefits of yoga could continue practicing as long as they do not chant.
"I wish to state that a physical regime with no elements of worship can continue, meaning, it is not banned. I believe that Muslims are not easily swayed into polytheism," Bernama quoted Abdullah as saying.
Abdullah's aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to make public statements, said the prime minister wanted to curb confusion about the body's edict.
Council representatives could not immediately be reached for comment.
The prime minister's statement is unlikely to be considered an affront to the council because he did not criticize the edict.
Decisions by the Fatwa Council are not legally binding until they are enshrined in national laws or Shariah laws of individual states.
The ruling reflects the growing influence of conservative Islam in Malaysia, a multiethnic country where Muslim Malays form nearly two-thirds of the population.
Recently, the council said girls who act like boys violate Islam's tenets. The government has also made similar conservative moves, banning the use of the word "Allah" by non-Muslims earlier this year, saying it would confuse Muslims.