KUALA LUMPUR (SIN CHEW DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The upcoming Lunar New Year is the Year of Dog, and as usual, festive celebrations and accessories will invariably be themed after the canine.
But this year, dog-themed decorations have become a taboo in this country.
A hypermarket was first to come up with a festive T-shirt design of the twelve Chinese zodiac signs minus the pictures of the dog and pig substituted with their respective earthly branch characters in Chinese. The design has since sparked tremendous outcry in our society.
Following that, a number of local businesses also announced that they would not put up dog-themed Chinese New Year (CNY) decorations in a bid to avert religious sensitivity and not to hurt the feelings of the country's Muslims.
While we can understand the rationale behind such a move given the fact we are living in a multicultural country and by right we should learn to be more sensitive towards other races and religions.
However, overzealous self-censorship on the part of business owners may give the public a wrong impression that they are compromising on their own self esteem and rights to practice their customs.
The zodiac signs are a symbol of the Chinese culture and customs. Keeping dogs or other pets is legally permitted in this country while pork and pork-related products can be freely sold in the market.
Despite their religious taboos, Muslims in Malaysia are well aware of the functioning of a democratic society, and how they should handle any unintentional contact with the tabooed animals.
Similarly, non-Muslims must take into consideration the feelings of non-Muslims in the handling of pets and products related to dogs and pigs to avoid any misunderstanding or unpleasant incidents. For example, we should not put our pet dogs in supermarket shopping carts or trifle with the hygiene of pig-rearing farms.
However, it is unnecessary for us to withdraw the pictures of dogs and pigs from public vision. We may have overreacted as Muslims may not necessarily feel disturbed or offended looking at the images.
As a matter of fact, Muslims in this country generally respect the culture of their Chinese compatriots.
Pos Malaysia has recently launched a series of commemorative stamps and first day covers on working dogs in conjunction with the Year of Dog, while the KL Central Market has put up decorative lanterns of twelve Chinese zodiac signs complete with the images of all the represented animals.
Many Muslim shoppers and tourists could feel the festive mood of Chinese New Year celebrations, a harmonious picture we all long to see in our multicultural society.
People living in a multicultural country must learn to respect one another's cultures and refrain from doing anything that could hurt the feelings of others, but that does not mean we must hold back our own cultural manifestations just to please people.
Lest we forget, the country's Constitution has accorded freedom for all Malaysians to practice their own religions and cultures irrespective of race.
What we are concerned about is that irresponsible quarters might exploit the issue to raise a sensitive racial question.
To avoid causing trouble, some may have opted to back off. While such a move may indeed help minimise the incidence of potential conflicts, we should instead promote the unique elements of our own culture so that more people will get to know our culture, since it is totally lawful for us to keep our identities, cultures and religious beliefs.
Sin Chew Daily is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media.