Sport and religion separate for Malaysia's bodybuilders

Contestants waiting backstage at the Mr Malaysia bodybuilding competition in Puchong, outside Kuala Lumpur, on Sunday. The majority of the 70 finalists were ethnic Malay Muslims. Malaysia is generally regarded as a moderate Muslim country, but fears
Contestants waiting backstage at the Mr Malaysia bodybuilding competition in Puchong, outside Kuala Lumpur, on Sunday. The majority of the 70 finalists were ethnic Malay Muslims. Malaysia is generally regarded as a moderate Muslim country, but fears have grown recently that it is becoming increasingly conservative with emphasis on strict Islamic codes of conduct.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

KUALA LUMPUR • Their rippling muscles glistening with bronze tanning cream, dozens of buff bodybuilders vied for the title of Mr Malaysia on Sunday, a racy spectacle in the Muslim-majority nation.

Hundreds of fans, including women in headscarves, cheered and snapped pictures as the participants exhibited their six-packs, thigh and shoulder muscles in the two-day men-only event organised by the Kuala Lumpur bodybuilding federation.

"I have watched a few of the competitions. While the costume conflicts with Islam, I think we should see it as a sport," said Ms Farhana Nazri, 22, who was celebrating after her boyfriend's brother won.

Malaysia is generally regarded as a moderate Muslim country, but fears have grown in recent years that it is becoming increasingly conservative with emphasis on strict Islamic codes of conduct.

The majority of Sunday's 70 finalists were ethnic Malay Muslims.

With hot-pink shorts and hair spiked into a flame-red mohican, Mr Mohamad Hakimi said he was not concerned about baring - almost - all for the tournament.

"As a Muslim, I consider bodybuilding as a sport. I do not think by exposing my skin (it) contradicts with my religion," the 40-year-old gym instructor told AFP. "This sport keeps your physique in awesome shape."

According to the organisers, budding female bodybuilders are only able to compete outside of Malaysia, after the country stopped hosting competitions for women in the 1990s due to religious sensitivities over their revealing outfits.

A little over half of Malaysia's 30 million population are Malay Muslims.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 23, 2017, with the headline 'Sport and religion separate for Malaysia's bodybuilders'. Print Edition | Subscribe