CHINESE New Year is approaching and I am excited!
It’s the time of year when my family will get together for a reunion dinner (that’s on the eve of the New Year) and really enjoy traditional Chinese dishes like the Chai Choy and steam fish. I salivate just thinking about it.
The next day is even more exciting because my kids will start collecting their ang pows (red packets) while my cousins, uncles, aunties and I will start gambling in multiple rounds of blackjack (we play with really low stakes where the biggest bet is just RM2 and everything is only for fun).
But what I’m even more excited about this year is the fact that we will be entering the Chinese zodiac Year of the Dog, and being in Malaysia where the majority of the population are Muslims, things can get pretty interesting.
The point I’m trying to make is that Malay Muslims can be pretty conservative. Being conservative isn’t at all wrong, but if you combine that with ignorance and preachings by overzealous religious leaders, well, it can lead to some really bizarre decisions!
Malaysia practices the Syafie teaching of Islam and the interpretation of this sect when it comes to dogs is a little strict. According to the teaching, a Muslim must clean himself or herself should he/she come into contact with the saliva of a dog.
Some in Malaysia, however, seem to have taken this interpretation to a whole other level.
Dogs are almost seen as the devil incarnate! These innocent animals are treated like the epitome of filth, sin and evil. Even the mere sight or image of a dog can be considered offensive.
For context, let’s look at the “pretzel dog” incident last year. Remember the public outcry when a religious leader complained about pretzel chain Auntie Anne’s naming one of its food items a “pretzel dog”?
It was essentially a pretzel with a sausage inside and obviously, the name was derived from the popular “Hot Dog”. Everyone knows that hot dogs are not literally made out of dog meat.
But hey! This is Malaysia. Eventually, Auntie Anne’s had to change the name.
Now back to the coming Chinese New Year.
Every year when the season approaches, businesses will put up decorations in anticipation of the celebration, and these would usually include depictions of the zodiac animal of the year. For example, 2017 was the year of the rooster so images of chickens were everywhere when the country ushered in the new year.
This year, however, a dilemma has struck society.
Many businesses have decided to self-censor, foregoing decorations featuring images of dogs. Speaking to the media, representatives of companies like Sunway Malls and Farm in the City said they would rather avoid hurting Muslim sensitivities.
I guess it’s fine if this is a decision they made of their own accord but as a Muslim (I have mixed parentage – Malay and Chinese), I can’t help but feel sad that they felt compelled to choose that route. They are, though indirectly and inadvertently, dictating the kind of environment in which the rest of society should be living in.
This, to me, is actually a form of oppression and forced assimilation. Just because you are the dominant culture and religion, is it right that your culture and religion dominates life? Not only that, the assumption that dogs are dirty and evil is totally wrong, even according to the religion.
Nowhere in Islam does it state that dogs are impure and evil. In fact, all the other sects do not see dogs as impure. For example, the Malikis do not even consider the saliva of a dog as impure, but they do say to clean things that come into contact with it for hygiene sake.
Islam also says that all beings and creatures, which would include humans and animals, are not to be treated cruelly. So that just shows that no animal is considered impure. People need to understand that purity is different from being hygienically dirty.
At the end of the day, I think that images and depictions of dogs (or even live dogs!) are not and should not be offensive to Muslims. Especially when these images aren’t being put up in bad faith or with malice.
For the sake of unity and racial and religious tolerance, and especially in the spirit of the Chinese New Year, it should merely be seen as what it is – a simple practice not meant to harm or offend other cultures or religions.
** This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of Asian Correspondent