Moving towards moderation: Yoga centres for women sprout in Saudi Arabia

Riyadh: Postures, like squatting, lunging and doing headstands, were not permitted for Saudi women until a year ago. However, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman vowing an “open, moderate Islam,” the kingdom last November recognized yoga as a sport. The Ministry of Commerce and Investment (MCI) has approved the teaching of yoga as a sports activity. Few months after the yoga was recognised officially, a new industry of yoga studios and instructors has sprouted in various Saudi cities, including the Holy cities Makkah and Madina. As a result, now one can witness in a sparse, wood-floored studio, Saudi women squat, lunge and do headstands.

All non-Muslim worships were banned in Saudi Arabia, the cradle of Islam, including Yoga which is widely perceived as a Hindu spiritual practice. But the new liberalization drive of Crown Prince has made it possible for even the women to go for it.

38-year-old, head of the Arab Yoga Foundation Nouf Marwaai, a Saudi woman spearheaded efforts to normalize yoga in the kingdom. She had to face insults and threats from extremists to challenge the notion that yoga is incompatible with Islam. She is quoted to have said, “I have been harassed, (and) sent a lot of hate messages.” She has trained hundreds of yoga instructors in the kingdom.

Budur al-Hamoud, a recruitment specialist defends it saying, “Yoga has nothing to do with religion. It’s a sport… It does not interfere with my faith.”