As one may have heard, the Malaysian government decided to tackle an apparently ramping yet somewhat unexpected local issue: hot-dog stands. Firms selling hot-dogs have been encouraged by the government to rename such products. As a matter of fact, this encouragement seems rather compulsory since the risk incurred by non-compliant entities are “being refused halal certification”, according to the BBC. Losing such certification might not be seen as such a big deal in many locations, but it is in Malaysia. In a country whose population is, for the most part, Muslim, losing halal certification pretty much means filing for bankruptcy.
In a country whose population is, for the most part, Muslim, losing halal certification pretty much means filing for bankruptcy.
One could wonder what concerns might have driven this governmental policy. The Malaysian Islamic Development Department explains having adopted such ruling following “complaints from Muslim tourists”. The director of halal certification at the institution mentioned above Sirajuddin Suhaimee justified that such name might bring “confusion” since “in Islam, dogs are considered unclean, and the name cannot be related to halal certification”.
The Rise Of Conservative Islam
Social media quickly ridiculed the policy, but this event fits into a bigger picture. As anecdotic as it can seem, this ban highlights the current trend in Malaysia with regards to religion: “Muslim-majority Malaysia practises a moderate form of Islam, but conservative attitudes are on the rise.” Malaysia has indeed long been considered reasonable by opposition to countries such as Saudi Arabia, in which a more fundamental approach is taken regarding Islam. Moderate Islam implies a relative acceptance of different beliefs and habits. One may, for instance, mention that in Malaysia alcohol consumption is legally allowed for non-Muslims.
If one does not see any problem with such trend per se, it appears that some locals do. For instance, the human rights activist Tahir Rawther published The Rise of Malaysian Religious Tyranny in the Huffington Post. This article’s content might lead one to wonder where such accusation of religious oppression stems from. Unlike what one might have assumed, foreigners – both tourists and expatriates alike – seem to be concerned but not necessarily at the core of these fears. A quick look at demographics should shed light on this fact.
The Non-Muslim Presence
In 2010 foreigners represented 8.2% of the Malaysian Population according to the Malaysian Department of Statistics while Islam was the religion of 61.3% of the population. Even when assuming that every single foreigner is not Muslim – which is most likely far from accurate – around 30% of Malaysia’s population is composed of non-Muslim Malaysians. The number of non-Muslim Malaysians is therefore at least threefold the number of non-Muslim foreigners – or any foreigners for that matter.
Economic And Social Consequences
Such unfortunate event would, therefore, constitute a big hit to the Malaysian economy since “the total contribution of Travel and Tourism to GDP was […] 14.9% […] in 2014” according to the World Tourism & Travel Council. In that particular case, unemployment would significantly rise, which might stark conflicts between Muslims and non-Muslims in Malaysia. The latter could blame unemployment on Muslims and incidents of religious and racial violence might follow. Not that one wishes to compare the incomparable, but the May 1998 riots in Indonesia had similar motives. Events of similar size or importance seem rather unlikely, but it does not make a relative unrest based on ethnicity and religious beliefs less likely. If even a single event were to be advertised – right or wrongly – as such in worldwide news Malaysia’s tourism might suffer, even more, leading the country into a vicious circle.
In A Nutshell
The Malaysian government seems to have taken a more fundamental approach to Islam. Some concerns have risen from inhabitants, almost 40% of whom are not Muslim.
An economic analysis of the situation supports this apprehension: tourism could decline as a result of such governmental policy, leading to higher unemployment. From purely economic consequences could stem social ones, as unrest based on religious and racial concerns develop.