A SELF-SERVICE laundromat in Malaysia has come under fire for implementing a policy to bar non-Muslims from using its services.
In a sign widely circulated on social media, the coin laundrette in Muar, Johor proclaims: “Due to hygiene factors this shop only accepts customers who are Muslim. We regret to cause any inconvenience.”
While only a minor, localised example of intolerance, the case has again spurred public debate over rising religious conservatism among the Malay Muslim majority, racial divisions and the country’s sensitive pluralism.
It drew heavy criticism from many within Malaysia’s Chinese and Indian minority communities online, who represent around 22.6 and 6.7 percent of the population, respectively, and are largely Christian, Hindu or Buddhist.
“If the government seriously wants to unite everyone under the slogan ‘1Malaysia’, they should have rules restricting anyone putting ads … insensitive to religion and race,” wrote one netizen, referring to Prime Minister Najib Razak’s campaign to promote ethnic harmony and national unity.
Isn't the washing machine meant to pure impure clothes? Are the impure things still impure when you wash them?Muslim Laundry shop at Muar,Johor. Only For muslim .
Moderate Muslim group Sisters in Islam (SIS) released a statement in which it said it was “disappointed” by the laundromat’s actions which it said was “yet another divisive policy that will further segregate and isolate our multi-racial and multi-religious communities from each other.”
“Islam is a religion of fairness, justice and has high regard for dignity in humanity. Islam in its time of advancement and leadership always existed side by side with people of other faiths and ways of life,” said SIS.
“The perception that non-Muslims are considered unclean and thus unable to mix laundry with the Muslims is in simple terms, prejudism and bigotry. It should be seen as such and not as an excuse of ‘Islamic requirements’. It is an assumption which has no basis.”
The owner of the laundry, however, told Free Malaysia Today that he is not racist and that there were many laundrettes available for non-Muslim customers nearby. “We respect other religions but ensuring cleanliness is a requirement under Islam,” he said.
A United Nations Special Rapporteur on cultural rights recently said that Malaysia’s professed commitment to diversity and tolerance didn’t reflect the lived reality of many Malaysians.
Various sectors in society “expressed concern at what they saw … as the growing Islamisation of the Malaysian society and polity, based on an increasingly rigid and fundamentalist interpretation of Islam,” said the Special Rapporteur’s initial observations report.
Last Friday, some 25 Islamic civil society groups protested in Shah Alam near Kuala Lumpur to call upon Malaysia’s government to prevent the hosting of festivals based around alcohol or the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.
Earlier in the week, a beer festival scheduled to take place in KL was controversially cancelled after complaints from Muslim activists and the Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS).
Malaysia imposes some restrictions on Muslim citizens based upon Islamic law, including barring them from consuming alcohol and engaging in pre-marital sex.