The politics of Himpunan 355 — Hew Wai Weng

Source: New Mandala

Hew Wai Weng reports on Malaysia’s recent rally for sharia law, and what it says about the prospects for Islamic party PAS in upcoming elections.

On 18 February, Padang Merbok in Kuala Lumpur hosted Himpunan 355, a rally to support the enactment of the 1965 Syariah Courts Act, best known as RUU 355. The rally was organised by the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), together with a few Muslim organisations.

The enactment of RUU 355, proposed by PAS President Hadi Awang, is a contentious issue in Malaysia. PAS leaders have publicly reiterated that the main aim of the proposed amendment was not about hudud but merely to strengthen the sharia laws, while opponents claimed it is an unconstitutional move and a stepping stone for the implementation of hudud.

About 30,000 purple-shirted people attended Himpunan 355. This is slightly higher than the Malay crowd at Bersih 5. Yet, this should not be seen as indicative of the strength of PAS’s electoral support. While this figure reflects the ability of the Islamist party to mobilise a crowd, it also reveals its limitations. Read more

Reclaiming halal — Hew Wai Weng

Source: New Mandala

Hew Wai Weng takes a look at what constitutes halal in contemporary Malaysia — a certification that today is less about faith and more about the commercialisation of Islam.    


PHOTO HAGENS WORLD ON FLICKR, taken from New Mandala

In recent years, halal controversies on everything from meatballs to chocolates, and from hot dogs to cakes, have made headlines in Malaysia. A few months ago, it was reported that the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) had suggested that a pretzel chain, Auntie Anne’s, should rename its ‘pretzel dog’ to ‘pretzel sausage’ to get a halal certification.

According to the Jakim-issued Manual Procedure for Malaysia Halal Certification 2014, halal means more than no pork and no alcohol. One of Jakim’s many guidelines is that halal certification could be denied for food products that have in their names ‘confusing’ terms such as ‘ham’, ‘rum’, ‘beer’, ‘bacon’, ‘char siew’ and ‘bak kut teh’.

In 2014, I joined a seminar about halal certification in Kuala Lumpur. At the seminar, an ustaz (religious teacher) representing Jakim even recommended that popular Indonesian dishes such as bakmi (meat noodle) and bakso (meat ball) should be renamed in order to be certified halal, because according to him, ‘bak’ (a hokkien term) implies pork (even though it literally means meat), and therefore could be confusing to Muslim consumers. In fact, such foods have been always considered halal and consumed by many Indonesian Muslims. Read more