Malaysian supermarket chain and supplier to be charged over ‘Allah’ socks for wounding religious feelings

The offence carries a maximum one-year prison term and a fine.

Meanwhile, directors of the Xin Jian Chang distribution company will be charged with abetting the offence and are liable for a similar penalty, police added.

Islam prohibits the depiction of God in any form. Its use on socks further offends the Malay community as the feet are considered dirty.

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KK Super Mart, through its founder and chairman Chai Kee Kan, issued a public apology on March 16, saying the sales of the socks were an unfortunate oversight which he took full responsibility for.

“Even I can’t accept the sales of socks bearing the word Allah, what more to print such products,” said a teary Chai.

While outrage has billowed out, some Muslims have urged the public to accept the apology and move on from the issue.

Analysts say Malay Muslim politicians have been fanning anger over the sock saga as they seek to exploit issues which dominate headlines, whip up their support base and divide multicultural Malaysia.

Despite the supermarket’s vociferous apology and the closure of the factory that imported the socks, Malay nationalists in Umno – a government coalition party – continue to seize on the issue.

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“Akmal Salleh poured fuel to spread the fire, now with the backing of his party and many powerful players,” said political analyst Wong Chin Huat, referring to Umno’s 35-year-old youth chief.

His comments came after Akmal lashed out against critics for calling him a rabble-rouser over his unrelenting attack on social media against KK Mart, including his demand for the chain to hang apology banners at all of its 881 branches nationwide.

Islam is the official religion in Malaysia, and Malay Muslims make up over two-thirds of the country’s 34 million people.

“The issue has now been both politicised and ethnicised,” political analyst Tunku Mohar Mokhtar from the International Islamic University of Malaysia told This Week in Asia.

The issue comes at a time of ethnic tensions between Malay Muslims and the country’s sizeable Chinese and Indian minorities, he said, adding that the case is not a straightforward issue about racial prejudice.

Supporters of the Malaysian Islamic Party carrying its flags before Malaysia’s 2022 general election. Photo: Shutterstock

Umno pounces on such issues to maintain its relevance among voters, he said, with swathes of Malay Muslims having turned away from the once dominant Umno.

Instead, its voter support has been usurped by the Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) and Umno’s splinter party Bersatu in the 2022 elections.

“Malaysia needs to rise above ethnic sentiments but Malaysians must be sensitive to one another’s feelings and faith,” Tunku Mohar said.

Wong said Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and his ministers “did nothing” to ease the tension.

This includes the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party in the coalition government, which was in a dilemma over speaking up or remaining quiet and leaving KK Super Mart and Xin Jian Chang in the cold.

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Since taking the helm of Umno’s youth wing last year, Akmal has taken stances that often put him and the party on a collision course with its coalition partners.

Akmal has argued that it is his responsibility as a Muslim to defend his religion from insult.

Firebrand legal activist Siti Kasim echoed criticisms against politicians such as Akmal, saying “Islamofascists” have been “allowed to run amok” in the country.

“If our leadership – if we can call them that – do not change the course of this nation, we are on the road to ruin, religiously and unity among races,” Siti said.

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