Malaysian Islamic party demands Oktoberfest events be shut down

Ongoing trend it would appear:

Malaysia’s largest Islamic party is pushing for Oktoberfest events across the country to be banned, renewing a familiar culture war in the Muslim-majority country.

Key points:

  • It’s a crime for Muslims to drink alcohol in Malaysia but it’s rarely enforced
  • Several states have banned Oktoberfest events
  • Lifestyle issues can be a point of contention between non-Muslim and Muslim Malaysians

The ultraconservative Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) has for years barracked against the hosting of Oktoberfest and other alcohol-related events in Malaysia, which has large Buddhist, Christian and Hindu minorities.

“Oktoberfest should not be organised and must be strongly objected to,” Senior PAS figure Mahfodz Mohamed said in a statement this week.

“If non-Muslims want to drink alcoholic beverages, they are welcomed to do so in their homes without promoting the activity and organising large-scale events.”

In the state of Terengganu, controlled by PAS, the Government has expressly banned Oktoberfest events.

“No-one has applied to hold Oktoberfest here,” said Tourism Minister Ariffin Deraman as quoted by The Star newspaper, adding: “We will be constantly monitoring to ensure that the festival is not held.”

The comparatively liberal state of Johor also announced this week it would not be issuing licences for organisers to host alcohol-themed festivals, including Oktoberfest.

“As with any other private institutions serving alcohol, restrictions and conditions can be imposed on the event, not to ban it completely,” Melissa Sasidaran, director of Lawyers for Liberty, told the ABC.

In Kuala Lumpur, meanwhile, the Mayor said venues could host Oktoberfest events as long as they were held indoors and already licenced to sell alcohol.

“A blanket ban on everyone is an unreasonable restriction and authorities cannot be moral police and impose conservatism,” Ms Sasidaran said.

Analysts have observed a conservative shift within Malaysian Islam in recent decades.

Farida Ibrahim, a member of progressive Muslim organisation G25, told the ABC it was “undeniable” religious conservatism was on the rise.

“The Government has to rein it in before it gets out of hand … most of our Islamic institutions have been infiltrated by Wahabis from Saudi Arabia,” she said.

“This culture war has impinged upon the rights of both Muslims and non-Muslims.”

Malaysia applies some aspects of Islamic law to Muslims only, covering matters regarding family law and religious observance.

Muslims are barred from purchasing or consuming alcohol, however the law is seldom enforced. In 2009, a Muslim model was sentenced to caning for drinking beer, but her sentence was later commuted.

Oktoberfest is not the only issue that has pitted conservative Muslims against more liberal Malaysians.

US fast food chain A&W now calls its signature product — non-alcoholic root beer — simply “RB” in order to maintain halal certification.

A governmental Islamic body ruled in 2016 that products named “hotdog” would be denied halal certification, due to the perception among some Muslims that dogs are forbidden in Islam.

In 2014, Malaysia’s High Court ruled non-Muslims could not use the word “Allah” in their publications, despite the fact Malay-speaking Christians had used the term in their holy texts for centuries.

PAS recently formed a coalition with the country’s main opposition party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO).

UMNO dominated Malaysia’s ruling coalition for six decades before being toppled by Mahathir Mohamad’s Pakatan Harapan in a historic election last year.

“Politicians must refrain from playing up trivial matters and manipulating religious cards,” Ms Sasidaran said.

Source: Malaysian Islamic party demands Oktoberfest events be shut down

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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