Malaysian adverts miss the point of Ramadan

Nazry Bahrawi, The Guardian, Aug.9, www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2011/aug/09/malaysian-adverts-ramadan

The Islamic holy month is a time to connect with, not chastise, non-Muslims. This is lost to some in Malaysia’s media.

To opt for a dry throat and a crooning gut when a mere phone call can get you a decent feast is nothing short of foolhardy. Yet millions of Muslims around the globe choose to do just that when they fast in Ramadan.

Those with purchasing power must surely see this enforced austerity in a world of plenty as something akin to a warped practice: Why live like paupers when you can afford more?

In this very question also lies the spirit of Ramadan: empathy for the “other”, or that which is different from one’s self if we accept the definition provided by the German philosopher Hegel. By way of divine decree, Ramadan has come to denote a month where Muslims who can must not, an act that accords them a chance to feel for the have-nots.

With about 60% of tMalaysia’s population professing Islam, the local broadcaster 8TV ran a trio of 30-seconds clips in the first week of Ramadan aimed at instructing its non-Muslim ethnic minorities about the etiquette of proper conduct appropriate to this Islamic holy month.

The advertisements feature a young Chinese woman behaving greedily, obnoxiously and wearing tight clothings at a Ramadan bazaar to the chagrin of the Muslim Malays around her. Rightly so, the racist undertone has caused a public uproar as multitudes registered their displeasure on the station’s official Facebook page.

Even though 8TV’s advertisements run counter to the Ramadan spirit of hospitality, it is tenuous to read this episode as further proof of Islam’s intolerance. Rather, this is a textbook example of how the humanistic elements of a rich religious tradition have been drowned by the contextual concerns of its practitioners.

More than spell out the exclusive nature of Islam, the advertisements are revelatory of the inability of Malaysia’s ultra-Malay elites to overcome ethnic tensions with the minority Chinese. Ramadan or not, the advertisements suggest that their rose-tinted view of Malaysia is one coloured by race-tinted glasses.

Read the complete article here.

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