Turkish officials ban religious symbols at yoga centers

Turkish officials ban religious symbols at yoga centers

Gamze Kolcu - ANKARA
Turkish officials ban religious symbols at yoga centers Having religious symbols and playing music specific to various religions at yoga centers has been banned according to a directive released by the Sports for Everyone Federation of Turkey (HİS), with officials arguing they aimed to take measures against missionary activities with the directive.

Consequently, having Buddha sculptures and mantra symbols as well as the playing of religious music and burning of incense can be considered violations which lead to the closure of these centers. 

Yoga trainers have reacted against the instruction, which included the phrase “different religions,” underlining yoga cannot be considered a religion and the use of symbols was natural.

According to HİS Technical Board head Süleyman Gönülateş, however, the instruction is a routine arrangement and religion should not be a part of sports. The instruction bans all kinds of religious symbols, including Islamic symbols, Gönülateş said. 

This is the first time in Turkey that a specification and criteria has been drafted for yoga centers, Gönülateş said, suggesting they have taken measures against missionary work. 

There should be no religious symbols at yoga centers, likewise at all sports centers, he said.

“We prepared the directive and the Youth and Sports Ministry approved it. At the drafting stage, the opinions of yoga trainers were sought. We mean all religions including Islam with the phrase ‘different religions.’ When symbols belonging to religions enter sports centers, then missionary work and politics begins. If yoga is a sport, then it should have nothing in it which is related to religion. We don’t want to see explicit symbols such as crosses at sports centers,” said Gönülateş.

While acknowledging the opinion of yoga teachers had been sought, Erol Benjamin Scott, the former chair of the Association of Yoga Trainers, nonetheless, said the final version of the directive was not in line with those opinions.

“What they mean by ‘religious symbols’ is not clear. Any federation of the state should not interfere in this affair. The article citing ‘different religions’ is thought-provoking. Yoga is far from being a religion and is a culture with 5,000 disciplines in it,” Scott said, urging for a review of the directive.