Muslims in Malaysia may be barred from the ancient practice of yoga if they engage in Hindu "religious elements" during the exercise, a top Islamic cleric said Wednesday.
Harussani Zakaria, a controversial cleric from the northern Perak state, said the government-backed National Fatwa Council would soon release a decree, or "fatwa", which would decide if Muslims were allowed to practise yoga.
"If it involves any faith or religious elements it is definitely not permissible but if it is just a form of exercise that is all right," Harussani told AFP.
Islam is the official religion of Malaysia, where more than 60 percent of the population of 27 million are Muslim Malays who practice a conservative brand of the religion.
The practice of yoga, a popular stress-buster in Kuala Lumpur, dates back thousands of years in India, where it was a favorite of holy men before becoming hugely popular internationally, especially among western celebrities.
Zakaria Stapa, a professor in the Islamic faculty of the National University of Malaysia, had called on Muslims to stop practising yoga, saying it could cause them to "deviate from their faith", news reports said on Wednesday.
Muslims in Malaysia practised yoga not just for exercise but also as part of the growing urban lifestyle and involved "chanting mantras while in various positions", he said.
"Why should we look for other alternatives to exercise and search for peace? Yoga could cause (Muslims) to stray from their faith because its movements are according to the style and traditions of Hinduism," he said.
The fatwa council, one of Malaysia's highest Islamic bodies, last Friday banned women from dressing or behaving like men and engaging in lesbian sex, saying it was forbidden by the religion.