KOTA BARU • The Kelantan government has asked all pasar malam (night market) traders, including non-Muslim stall owners, to stop operations for 10 minutes when the Muslim call to sunset prayers is made, raising hackles from the non-Muslims.
The north-eastern Malaysia state, whose 1.8 million population is 95 per cent Muslim, is ruled by Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), a federal opposition party.
Party officials say the move is to allow Muslim stall owners to perform their prayers.
"All traders are involved, including the non-Muslims," Kelantan's State Councillor for local government Abdul Fattah Mahmood told the Free Malaysia Today news site of the stop order.
"They don't need to cease operations for long; it's just for 10 minutes."
Non-Muslims don't need to pray at that time. So why is this ruling being expanded to non-Muslims?
DATUK HUSAM MUSA, a former state councillor in Kelantan, on the move by the state government, in a Facebook post.
He said that traders who ignored the rule would first be warned, and later have their trading licences suspended.
Non-Muslims see this as a rights encroachment amid repeated assurances by Malaysian Muslim leaders on both sides of the political divide that non-Muslims will not be affected by the expansion of Islamic issues into the daily lives of Muslims.
Datuk Husam Musa, a former state councillor in Kelantan, wrote on his Facebook account that during his time Muslims were "encouraged" to stop selling their goods to go for prayers while non-Muslim traders were left alone.
"Non-Muslims don't need to pray at that time. So why is this ruling being expanded to non-Muslims?" asked Mr Husam, who is now with PAS splinter party Parti Amanah Negara.
On news websites, some praised the move to nudge Muslims closer to religion, while others asked why only night market traders had to stop operations, but not the shops in the vicinity.
Non-Muslims in Kelantan had previously faced restrictions on their businesses as PAS officials flexed their administrative muscles.
Supermarkets were told in 2015 to close for about an hour during Friday prayers.
Last year, a Chinese man who owns a watch and pen shop in the Kelantan capital of Kota Baru was ordered by the municipal council to take down watch posters deemed too sexy.
One of the posters showed Bollywood actress Aishwarya Rai sporting a luxury watch.
Former law minister Zaid Ibrahim, who is now with an opposition party, said he will file a legal challenge against the Kelantan government for the pasar malam order.
"Many of their policies have no basis in law. They just capitalise on Muslims who are scared to be branded jahil (ignorant)," he said, as quoted by Malaysiakini news.