Monday, June 8, 2009

When Om Means No

After I left Morocco, I swore that I would never work in a Muslim country again which, at the time, meant never ever ever again but which actually meant that I would never work in a Muslim country again unless the conditions were really really really good. Unfortunately, those particular Muslim countries which offer really really really good conditions either hold little or no appeal to me or won't hire me.

But when the prospect of gainful if not somewhat illegal employment in Turkey reared its wattled head, I paused and considered the matter. After all, as I said elsewhere, Turkey is not an Islamic country, its 99% Muslim citizens (and its gazillion mosques) notwithstanding
. Turkey is a secular country, does not promote any one religion, and supports religious freedoms. At least on paper.

And while I'm talking about paper, let me toss up this little gem which recently saw the light of day in one of Turkey's English-language newspapers. Entitled It's OK to Stretch, Just Don't Believe, it outlines concerns that Ali Bardakoğlu, the head of the Directorate of Religious Affairs has about - wait for it - yoga.

Let me just say that when I saw that such an animal as the
Directorate of Religious Affairs should even exist in a secular country, which does not promote any one religion, and supports religious freedoms (at least on paper), my head spun. Not in any Exorcist sort of way, but spin it did.

So here it is in a nutshell: Mr. Bardakoğlu is worried that people - presumably Muslims - who practice yoga will become extremists. Funny, I never equated the words yoga, extremism and Islam before but then again, I never bothered to read the 9/11 Commission Report. Anyway, as we all know, and he goes to great pains to remind us, yoga-induced extremism leads to the disintegration of traditional Islamic beliefs. These concerns were widely published in right-wingnut, conservative papers with the headline Yoga Warning from Religious Affairs. And I thought the only warning we needed to heed before assuming Downward Facing Dog was to consult our physicians before attempting such exercises.

Moreover, he adds, it is often loneliness that pushes otherwise Allah-fearing men and women towards yoga. And for him, the real concern is why these
otherwise Allah-fearing men and women aren't finding the answers to what ails them in Islam. Because the answers are there. All of them.

It's probably because the poses aren't much fun.

According to Mr.Bardakoğlu, because its roots lie in Indian-oriented Far Eastern philosophy, yoga is at fundamental odds with Islam and its practitioners are doing nothing less than indulging in missionary (proselyting not the position) activities. By asserting that yogis are only relieving stress and acquiring flexibility by a Half Lord of the Fishes pose is, at best, disingenuous. And of course, at worst, it propagates a "religion" which is anti-Islam. And in the middle? - it's feeding a cash sacred cow, i.e., the yoga industry. He adds "The services in Islam, for instance, are free." Fair enough. One for Mr.Bardakoğlu.

Mr. Bardakoğlu's comments have instigated a flurry of responses from around the country ranging from wholehearted support to the more sane some head-scratching what-the-fuck?'s. Personally, I would like to pause and have a WWAD (What Would Atatürk Do?) moment. I would like to think that Modern Turkey's Founding Father would have a few shots of rakı (his favourite tipple) and remind Bardakoğlu that blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ataturk would close all yoga classes and execute the yoga teachers without blinking.