Religion. A topic that has never caused any controversy ever in the history of time, right? Well, like it or not, religion is part of the daily lives of millions of Malaysians. Most people in our fair tanah air have found a way to live out their faith in ways that are both beautiful and harmonious. In ways that respect the freedoms and decisions of those outside and within their faith communities.
Then of course…there are the religious fundamentalists. America has their Westboro Baptist Church and we here have the good ole Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) to tell them darn kids to turn off their boomboxes and pull up those jeans! They’ve earned a reputation for themselves for being the Grampa Simpson of Malaysian politics and have recently made headlines for trying to ban Coldplay from coming to Malaysia. In spite of the fact that Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim has welcomed the band and their eco-friendly message.
This led to backlash from Malaysian users online accusing them of religious extremism. This isn’t the first time though. So in the spirit of celebrating the old grump of a party, we figured that now would be a great time to recap the times PAS has rained on our parade. Oh and again, this is all written in the spirit of poking fun so let’s not lose our minds in the comment section, k?
1. Bon Odori
For decades the Bon Odori festival has been celebrated as a fun, colourful cultural event among the citizens of Kuala Lumpur. A time when otakus and mochi-munchers come out of the woodwork to show their appreciation for Japanese culture, if not to groove to the beat of the drums. In 2022, though, PAS attempted to put a stop to Muslims participating in the festivities of Bon Odori. They cited that the festival borrows too heavily from Japanese Buddhist influences and worried that it might confuse the local Muslim Malay population.
However, Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah of Selangor spoke out in defence of the event and clarified that it was merely cultural and advised the religious affairs minister Idris Ahmad to “understand the difference between religion and culture”. He was even encouraged to go and attend the festival for himself! In spite of the sultan’s advice, PAS has maintained that Muslims should not go to the event.
2. International Concerts
No matter your race or religion, everyone loves music in their own way. Whether it’s Billie Eilish, Beyonce or Blackpink, there are bound to be Malaysians looking to bop to the beats of their favourite artists in real time. PAS however has expressed that these artists should not be allowed into the country if they don’t comply with our values. Look, you don’t have to agree with everything a particular musician believes to enjoy their music. We can see still watch “Perks of Being a Wallflower” even if Ezra Miller is being an absolute terror! As long as they’re not causing trouble in Malaysia, we should all be fine.
There was an even point in which PAS threatened to launch a nationwide protest against the government if they didn’t cancel ALL international concerts. Thankfully, Malaysians are still allowed to enjoy performances from international artists in spite of the opposition from PAS. They have made their position clear that they are not wholly against musical performances but still, they perceive foreign musical acts to be detrimental for society.
There’s something really special about the cinematic experience. The atmosphere, the crowd and just the ability to sit there, tune everything out and devote an hour, or two, or three, to a story. Well for Kelatenese folks, you’re just going to have to travel to another state to do that seeing that cinemas are banned wholesale in the state. The ban was implemented by the PAS-led government when they took over around the 1990s and is still in effect to this day. The reason cited was that they believe cinemas promote social issues and are not in line with their Islamic values.
We get that PAS isn’t too keen on showing “Magic Mike’s Last Dance” for a religiously conservative audience. However, some Kelantanese folk have voiced their frustrations that this prohibition has prevented them from enjoying any sort of film whatsoever, even family-friendly ones, in a setting conducive to immersion. Oh well, if you live in Kelantan, looks like movie nights at someone’s house are going to have to be a regular thing.
4. Traditional Mak Yong Dance Theatre
Before 2019, PAS had implemented a ban on traditional Mak Yong dance theatre. The Mak Yong performance is an ancient and beautiful tradition that dates back to the Kelantan Sultanate and beyond. It is a fascinating mixture of dance, music and acting that is used to tell stories from Malay folklore. However, around the 1990s, PAS declared that it had “un-Islamic” aspects and that the cultural practice was illegal to perform, at least in the public sphere. The practice has even been recognised by UNESCO as a cherished part of our shared human heritage.
The ban has since been lifted by PAS, however, only performances that are syariah-compliant and promote Islamic values are allowed to be practised. They applied a similar philosophy to other Malay traditions such as wayang kulit (shadow theatre) and the menora dance. Well, at least the people of Kelantan can enjoy some parts of their heritage. It’s better than nothing.
5. Claw Machines
Promotes gambling? Are you serious? It’s a silly game in which children try to win a stuffed animal through sheer skill! We get it if you guys aren’t a fan of casinos and slot machines, we can see the merit in the argument. That being said, to assume that somehow kids trying their luck at winning a poorly made Pikachu plushie teaches them how to gamble and should be banned is completely bonkers to us!
Thankfully, the ban never really materialised in Sabah and kids are still allowed to have their fun. If PAS wants to truly help us out, they should advocate for tighter claws on these machines. Those butter fingers are the real crime!
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