Some of us look to the Chinese zodiac for a bit of harmless fun, to see if our long-awaited promotion will materialise, or if we will win a fortune or find Mr Right.
We will celebrate Chinese New Year in five weeks’ time, but one nagging question threatens to confound us.
What should Malaysians do if we are born in the Year of the Dog, or the Pig? For people born in either of those years, it doesn’t look like it will be so auspicious.
To herald in the Year of the Dog, a retail chain began selling red T-shirts featuring the Chinese zodiac for RM10.99 each.
However, a quick look revealed that something was wrong. Only 10 of the 12 animals in the zodiac are depicted as cartoon figures. The dog and the pig are missing, presumably because they are considered “haram” by Muslims.
Why did the T-shirt manufacturers do this?
Did they think they could sell more T-shirts to Muslims by appealing to their religious sensitivities and omitting the dog and pig characters? Did this come at the expense of hurting the sensitivities of the Chinese community? Non-Malays will tell you that for decades, Malays have rarely visited their open houses on festival days.
Perhaps the manufacturers feared that national or state religious authorities would ban the images, so they took the initiative to omit the two animals.
Do they, like many others, think that religious sensitivities have gone to the dogs in Malaysia?
Who would buy a T-shirt with only 10 of the 12 zodiac signs? It would be like buying a car with three wheels.
In November 2015, Prime Minister Najib Razak expressed delight that Malaysia had been named “the world’s most advanced Islamic economy” by Thomson Reuters.
He said on his Facebook page: “The government and banking institutions laid down a strong foundation for Islamic finance to grow, adhering to the teachings of Islam.”
But what has happened to the moral and social advancements in Islamic thinking? In recent years, we have become more intolerant and insensitive towards people of other cultures and faiths in our communities.
That same month, rides at a playground on the Penang Esplanade were removed after photos of the design went viral on social media. Within hours, the rides which had resembled pigs were removed and replaced with new ones resembling birds.
Penang Muslim NGO coalition secretary Ahmad Yakqub Nazri expressed shock over the rides and denounced those who had installed them as being “clearly insensitive to Muslims in the state”.
Four years ago, Shah Alam-based printing firm KHL blacked out the faces of pigs in a farming article which appeared on the front page of the Malaysian edition of The New York Times.
How much longer are we prepared to be the world’s laughing stock? If images of pigs are removed from publications and playgrounds, Malaysian children will grow up without being able to recognise pigs or wild boar.
Will Asterix cartoons be banned, since every victory is celebrated with a feast of roast boar? Will children be allowed to enjoy classic television shows like Scooby-Doo and Lassie?
If we were to ban dogs, perhaps the Royal Malaysian Police would be forced to find an alternative animal for its dog unit, like the kambing. The thought of “attack-kambings” guarding our military establishments is alarming. Will “sniffer-kambings” make good drug detectors? The kambings smell more than the drugs!
When will over-anxious manufacturers lighten up, or be less bird-brained?
Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.