WITH five weeks left until Chinese New Year (CNY), several businesses in multi-ethnic Malaysia are steering clear of dog images on their products and displays to avoid upsetting the country’s Muslim majority.
In February, the Chinese community will be ushering in the Year of the Dog, one of 12 animals in its zodiac calendar, but a photo of a CNY T-shirt which made its rounds on social media in recent weeks showed cartoon images of the canine and also the pig missing, creating a stir among netizens.
Although the 10 other zodiac animals like the rooster and rabbit were depicted in cute drawings, the Chinese words “xu” and “hai” had stood in for the dog and pig respectively, the Straits Times reported.
Sold at the Giant Hypermarket, which has over 110 stores across the country, the T-shirt was first offered at MYR15.99 (US$4) but its price had since dropped to MYR10.88 (US$2.77).
The matter has drawn mixed reactions, especially from Malaysia’s Chinese community, which accounts for 21 percent of the country’s 32 million population.
Stephanie Kuan, 23, a college student born in the Year of the Pig, was quoted as saying that the move to exclude dog images was based on trivial concerns.
“It’s getting overboard and rather childish. It’s just a cartoon, not an actual animal,” she said.
Kevin Tan, Chief Operating Officer of Sunway Malls, a group that manages five major shopping malls in the country, told The Malaysian Insight its malls did not use any display of the dog in 2006, during the previous cycle of the dog year.
“This is due to creative considerations. We have many choices. We don’t necessarily have to use the image of a dog.
“Culture is also a consideration. A mall is a public space, different races will be gathered here.”
“We’ll avoid any decorations with contentious elements.”
The country’s social scientists were also quick to point out a growing culture of self-censorship among non-Muslims in Malaysia to avoid subjective Muslim sensitivities, which they said was “unhealthy”.
“It has become ingrained in non-Muslims to respect Muslim sensitivity, but what is sensitive is often subjective,” Universiti Sains Malaysia political scientist Azmil Tayeb said, as quoted The Malaysian Insight.
Leading up to the celebrations, non-Muslim business owners feel a need to do without depictions of dogs and pigs, fearing backlash from the nearly 20 million Muslim population as the animals were considered unclean among the religious adherents.
“It’s definitely not healthy. It’s ridiculous. The tolerance is one way. This is due to years of intimidation (from some authorities). It’s overboard.
“Because non-Muslims have been told so many times not to offend, they think this is the best way to be safe than sorry,” the expert on Islamic politics in Southeast Asia said.
The country has also been rocked by similar incidences in the past.
In Oct 2016, religious authorities in Malaysia instructed a US fast food chain to take pretzel dogs, or at least the name, off its menu to avoid confusion among Muslims in the country.
The chain, Auntie Anne’s, was told by Islamic authorities that its popular Pretzel Dog item – a hot dog wrapped in pretzel bread and contains no dog meat – should be renamed as it could confuse Muslim consumers.
The Malaysian Islamic Development Department instead suggested product be renamed to “Pretzel Sausage” as part of conditions to obtain halal certification based on Islamic dietary laws.