Monday, November 18, 2002

Christmas sales on hold in Malaysia

Women shopping at Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman, in Kuala Lumpur
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) -- The commercial lure of Christmas has landed Malaysian retailers in trouble.
Two Malaysian states have ordered shopping malls to strip their halls of Christmas decorations and focus instead on setting the mood for a Muslim festival that arrives earlier in December, officials said Monday.
"We are disappointed that they (the malls) are so influenced by Western culture," Chua Soi Lek, tourism chief in the southern state of Johor, said.
The action followed complaints from politicians and commentators in this mostly Muslim country that many shopping complexes were displaying Yuletide ornaments and ignoring Eid-Al-Fitr -- the celebration at the end of Ramadan, the holiest month of the Muslim calendar.
Chua said the local government had directed malls to remove Christmas banners and other frills until after the first week of December, when Ramadan -- a time of fasting and other forms of abstinence -- is over.
State officials in Selangor, which borders Malaysia's economic center, Kuala Lumpur, also gave similar instructions over the weekend, the national news agency Bernama reported.
Domestic Trade Minister Muhyiddin Yassin scolded shopping malls for being insensitive to Muslims, who make up about 60 percent of Malaysia's 23 million people. Christians, the second largest religious minority after Buddhists, comprise 9 percent of the population.
"There are those who promote Christmas at a time when Muslims ... are fasting and preparing to celebrate Eid-Al-Fitr," Muhyiddin was quoted as saying by the New Straits Times newspaper Monday.
"The Eid-Al-Fitr atmosphere is not felt at shopping complexes, as if the operators had forgotten that it is the biggest celebration in the country."
Both Johor and Selangor are run by the moderate National Front coalition led by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who has governed this modern Southeast Asian country for 21 years.
Two of Malaysia's 13 states, Kelantan and Terengganu, are controlled by the opposition fundamentalist Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party. There have been no reports of early Christmas decorations in either one.