Malaysia's Islamic agency Jakim under fire for proposing gender segregation at concerts

PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Concert promoters, entertainers and non-government organisations have hit back at the Malaysian Islamic Development Department's push for gender segregation at concerts.

The groups reacted strongly to the proposed guidelines released by Jakim on Saturday, with some dubbing the move as unwise, unwarranted, and that it threatens to ruin people's livelihood.

According to Jakim, the measure was taken after a three-minute video showing members of a South Korean band hugging and kissing female Malay fans on stage went viral on social media in January, prompting criticism that led Jakim's director-general Othman Mustapha to describe the incident as having "shamed Malaysia and the Muslim community".

On April 2, Communication and Multimedia Minister Ahmad Shabery Cheek said the organisers of the controversial concert had been blacklisted.

Reacting to news of the latest move, Soundscape founder Mak Wai Hoo said the guidelines were "silly".

"You can't follow all these guidelines for all the shows. As an organiser I see problems, not only for seating arrangements but also ticketing," he said.

Mak added that damage had already been done to Malaysia's reputation, and the guidelines were like adding salt to the wound.

Galaxy Group project director Bonor Seen said the guidelines were unacceptable in a multi-racial country.

"With so many more performing arts and cultural events (lined up) in conjunction with Year of Festivals 2015, these guidelines are at odds with the Government's vision of success.

"What is the objective of segregation? What are they trying to achieve with such rules?" he said.

This was echoed by Sisters in Islam executive director Ratna Osman, who asked if families would be separated at concerts.

"These rules will affect not just Muslims, but non-Muslims too," she said.

Malaysian Association of Creative Artistes president Freddie Fernandez said that while enforcement is by local authorities, the guidelines could impact concert attendance numbers.

Entertainer Irwan Shah Abdullah, popularly known as DJ Dave, said the move was a departure from a moderate Malaysia initiative.

"If you stipulate conditions on things such as concerts, we are moving away from these values," he said.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Dr Wee Ka Siong said Jakim had overstepped its jurisdiction by coming up with the proposal.

"Respect the rights granted to the people under the Federal Constitution," he said in reminding Jakim that it has crossed the line by now interfering in the affairs of non-Muslims.

"We must know our rights and fight for it," said Dr Wee as he called on everyone to stand up for fundamental liberties.

MCA Religious Harmony Bureau chairman Ti Lian Ker said Jakim should hold a forum with stakeholders.

"More liberal interpretations should be proffered as this guideline is very misplaced. There needs to be a middle ground."

Former Law Minister Zaid Ibrahim said Jakim guidelines were often "regulation-like", which is invariably bad for businesses, especially entertainment related.

"When the country has hundreds of real problems, why is Jakim making unnecessary rules? It won't make a difference as we are exposed to the TV, YouTube ... You can't shut out the world."