Yoga which was banned by the Malaysian National Fatwa Council in November 2008, is now permitted to be practised in Saudi Arabia.
Malaysia's top Islamic body, the Fatwa Council, banned Muslims from practising yoga, claiming elements of Hinduism in the ancient Indian exercise could corrupt them.
However, Saudi Arabia on Tuesday officially approved yoga as a sporting activity under its Ministry of Trade and Industry, India’s English language fortnightly news magazine India Today reported.
So, anyone who now wishes to practice or teach yoga in Saudi Arabia can do so by applying for and procuring a licence for the same.
The Saudi Ministry of Trade and Industry has listed yoga under "sports activities", which allows any Saudi citizen to practice or propagate it after getting a licence from the government.
Nouf Marwaai, who teaches yoga to thousands of people in the Islamic nation, has had an uphill task to make the profession official.
"My illness made me interested in yoga," said the 37-year old Nouf, who has been on the forefront of the yoga campaign in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Finally her efforts have paid off.
She started approaching the authorities in 2005 but to no avail. She finally approached a princess, a member of the Royal Council, who started basketball for women in Saudi Arabia.
The princess assured Nouf (photo) that things were changing and they will soon approve sports for women.
When Malaysia banned yoga for Muslims in 2008, the Fatwa Council chairperson then, Abdul Shukor Husin, said many Muslims failed to understand that the ultimate aim of yoga is to be one with the God of a different religion - an explanation disputed by many practitioners who say yoga need not have a religious element.
"We are of the view that yoga, which originates from Hinduism, combines physical exercise, religious elements, chanting and worshipping for the purpose of achieving inner peace and ultimately to be one with God," Abdul Shukor said.
The council also banned tomboys and lesbian relationships.
Now, driving by women also allowed
"Princess Reema Bint Bandar Alsaud was chosen to be the deputy of the General Sports Authority and she welcomed all leaders in any sports for women to approach her directly. Sports have been allowed for women this year, and driving as well," Nouf said.
The leadership in Saudi Arabia, King Salman Bin Abdulaziz and Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, are changing the history of Saudi Arabia. The crown prince, known as MBS, launched the new Vision 2030 that focuses on development and investing in youth.
His vision includes focus on health and wellness of the nation as well. On Sept 26 this year, Saudi Arabia officially allowed women to drive cars. This move came after the kingdom was widely criticised for years for its conservative attitude towards women.
"I do yoga and naturopathy. My disease is stable and my doctors are surprised. That is why I became a champion of yoga and have been promoting it in Saudi Arabia," Nouf said.
It was the concerted efforts in campaigns throughout the nation and fighting conservative as well as fundamentalist forces to reach out to the government for a change in the mindset towards women that led to this decision by Saudi Arabia.
Even as many in India, and recently the life of a Muslim girl, Rafia Naaz, came under threat when she was issued a fatwa and her house attacked for teaching yoga, the decision by an Islamic nation to make yoga an official sport should be a wake-up call to all those clerics who see a health activity through the prism of religion.
M KRISHNAMOORTHY has been a yoga and meditation practitioner for the past 40 years. He teaches yoga voluntarily to groups, families and friends.