YOGA has been in the news a lot recently. As colleagues have written, the establishment of International Yoga Day, celebrated for the first time last Sunday was a significant milestone for India’s “soft power” and on balance, a personal success for Narendra Modi, the prime minister who led 37,000 people in a display of the spiritual exercise.Yoga also generates headlines in countries far from India, both because of its widespread appeal and the mixed feelings (to put it mildly) that it engenders among followers of the world’s monotheistic faiths.
Malaysia and Iran stand out as Muslim countries where yoga is both quite popular and controversial. In 2008, when Malaysia’s supreme Islamic authority told Muslims to eschew the practice, this was widely greeted with dismay as a symptom of a hardening theological line in a country where many faiths have to rub along. Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the (devoutly Muslim) prime minister at the time, later specified that it was permissible to do the exercises as long as people held off from Hindu chanting.
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