Skip to main content

Is Yoga Halal for Turks?

Much discussed in the Muslim world since the 1990s, the question of yoga and Islam has finally confronted a rather confused public in Turkey.
People practice yoga in Gezi Park at Taksim Square in Istanbul June 7, 2013. Istanbul's Gezi Park, yoga practitioners stretch and students read in a makeshift library - a statement of their intent to stay on after a week of protests. At night demonstrators taunt riot police from beyond barricades on the streets around Taksim Square. Those in its Gezi Park hold sit-down protests and discuss Turkey's future.   REUTERS/Osman Orsal (TURKEY - Tags: CIVIL UNREST POLITICS SOCIETY) - RTX10FAH

Print and social media boomed with news on Oct. 25 that Turkish Interior Ministry sought the official opinion of the Directorate of Religious Affairs (DRA) on whether yoga is caiz (not explicitly forbidden by Islam). News reports suggested that the cause of the inquiry was the Interior Ministry’s desire to provide yoga classes for the overstressed police force. The DRA replied as long as yoga was practiced as a sport activity it was permissible, but if it has a “religious mission” it could be objectionable.

I should provide the disclaimer that I have been practicing yoga more than 10 years. Although the news caught many Turks by surprise, as someone who studies religion, I'm quite familiar with statements such as “kosher yoga,” or questions such as “Is yoga sinful for Catholics?” I am also happy to confess I have friends who would never step foot in a yoga class because they do believe it is a sin, and they are not exclusively Muslims. On the other hand, I have attended “women only” yoga classes where no men were permitted and some participants were Orthodox Jews or hijabis (women dressed in accordance with Islamic law). The Muslim world has been debating whether yoga is an aberration for two decades-plus now.

Access the Middle East news and analysis you can trust

Join our community of Middle East readers to experience all of Al-Monitor, including 24/7 news, analyses, memos, reports and newsletters.


Only $100 per year.