What’s the big fuss over Oktoberfest, asks Sarawak minister

Sarawak Tourism, Arts, Culture, Youth and Sports Minister Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah (fifth from left) at the unveiling of the Visit Sarawak logo in Kuala Lumpur. With him are other Sarawak leaders, as well as Tourism Malaysia director-general Mirza Mohammad Taiyab (third from left) and Sarawak Tourism Board CEO Sharzede Datu Salleh Askor (on Karim’s left).

KUALA LUMPUR: A Sarawak state minister today expressed incredulity over how Oktoberfest has become such a heated issue in Peninsular Malaysia.

Sarawak Tourism, Arts, Culture, Youth and Sports Minister Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah said the state had no issues whatsoever with Oktoberfest, which he described as a cultural festival.

“I am just surprised it has become an issue here. In Sarawak, you can see it being organised all over in the shopping malls.

“It is not an issue in Sarawak at all. It is only here (in Peninsular Malaysia) where you have many people who are not right in their heads,” he said after the unveiling of the Visit Sarawak logo at a hotel here today.

Karim said Oktoberfest has been celebrated in Sarawak since the 1970s when a German hotel manager, Peter Mueller, introduced it.

“I was still in secondary school at the time but I already knew all about Oktoberfest,” he said.

Karim said Oktoberfest only becomes an issue if it is promoted merely as a beer or alcohol festival.

“If that happens, then it is not just Sarawak, but I believe the whole of West Malaysia must also ban it. We are not supposed to be promoting alcohol.

“All religions, I believe, do not promote drinking excessively. For Islam, it is totally forbidden,” he said.

Karim said the festival originated in the province of Bavaria, Germany, and that during Oktoberfest, it was not just about drinking.

“They also serve a lot of pastries and cakes as part of the fest. There is dancing and a feeling of merriment. It is associated with harvest, as Gawai is to Sarawak.

“Similarly, for Germany, it is Oktoberfest. Germans being Germans, love to drink beer. When they have this merry-making, the eating of pastries and cakes, they drink beer,” he said.

Recently, Oktoberfest has become a heated issue, with PAS-led Terengganu and Pakatan Harapan-led Johor vowing to ban Oktoberfest events, without giving any reason.

Kuala Lumpur, however, allowed Oktoberfest to be held but the organisers are required to follow the rules and regulations set by City Hall.

PAS had been objecting against the Oktoberfest, claiming it is un-Islamic and immoral.

Economic Affairs Minister Mohamed Azmin Ali recently stated that Oktoberfest was a cultural festival and not a beer festival.

Earlier, while unveiling the Visit Sarawak logo, Karim, who is also Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) vice-president, paid tribute to Sarawakians who are proud of their cultures, languages and beliefs.

He said being the largest state in Malaysia, the strong ties among its multiracial communities have been the envy of many states.

“It makes Sarawak a destination yet to be discovered by many. Daily chores, experiences and stories are shared over a cup of coffee, notwithstanding the different cultural dynamics,” he said.

Karim said Sarawakians are always proud of their state and able to sit down together, regardless of whether they are Chinese, Dayak, Christians or Muslims.

“In Sarawak, the issue of kalimah Allah is not an issue. You can go to the SIB (Sidang Injil Borneo) churches (and see for yourselves). They perform their prayers in Malay.

“It is not our religion but we respect them. That is how we live. We are very, very proud of our traditions,” he said.

Karim said he did not wish to see racial intolerance, which has been happening in Peninsular Malaysia, taking place in Sarawak, citing the issue of the usage of “kalimah Allah”, and also the issue of using separate laundries for Muslims and non-Muslims.

“Things are just so different in Peninsular Malaysia. Things should not be that way.

“When I was undertaking my Senior Cambridge exam, I took Bible Knowledge as a subject. I got good grades. A lot of Sarawakians did that (took it as a subject) also.

“It does not make me less of a Muslim. Even after going to university, I’m still a Muslim.”

Karim expressed hope that the new Pakatan Harapan (PH) government can help make things better.