PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The use of animal symbols and images during Chinese New Year is something that must be respected by everyone, says the chief of Malaysia's powerful Islamic agency Jakim.
"Even though animal symbols are used during Chinese New Year, the concept of co-existence dictates that all parties need to respect this practice and maintain harmony between all races," said Othman Mustapha, director-general of the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim).
"This is in line with government's policy of using a wasatiyyah (moderate) approach," he said in a statement on Tuesday (Feb 6). Jakim is an agency under the Prime Minister's Department.
His comments came following a recent controversy in the country when festive T-shirts sold last month at Giant Hypermarket, which has 110 stores across Malaysia, had only 10 of the 12 Chinese zodiac animals printed on them.
Missing from the T-shirts were the dog and the pig, animals considered unclean among the country's Muslim majority.
While the other 10 animals of the zodiac like the rooster and rabbit were represented by cute drawings, the dog and the pig had to settle for Chinese characters "xu" and "hai", respectively.
Ethnic Chinese across the world are preparing to usher in the Year of the Dog next week, but local media reported recently that some businesses and shopping malls were soft-pedalling the use of dog images in their Chinese New Year decorations so as not to offend Malaysian Muslims who are growing more religiously conservative.
Tan Sri Othman said all parties needed to exhibit wisdom and fully understand the spirit of co-existence in order to ensure unity among Malaysians of all faiths and ethnicities.
Dogs are considered unclean under Islamic tradition and Muslims are required to carry out a washing ritual if they come in contact with the animal.