New Year canines stashed away in Muslim Malaysia
Kuala Lumpur, Fri, January 26, 2018
As the Year of the Dog approaches, some shops run by the Chinese diaspora in Malaysia are keeping canine figurines hidden inside to avoid causing offence in the Muslim-majority country.
Dogs are considered unclean in Islam, and a more conservative form of the faith has been gaining traction among Malaysian Muslims, causing tensions with the country's substantial religious and ethnic minorities.
People of Chinese descent make up almost a quarter of the population, but in Kuala Lumpur's bustling Chinatown on Friday, where shops were displaying red lanterns and flowers for Lunar New Year, dog-shaped decorations were mostly kept out of public view.
Only one shop was seen with a model of a dog on display outside.
Janice Kong, who runs a store selling decorations, said there was concern any display of dog statues could "cause some backlash".
"It is a bit sensitive now. There is a feeling that there is rising Islamic fundamentalism in Malaysia with one race trying to dominate the minorities," she said.
Another shop owner selling Lunar New Year decorations, Daniel Wong, added: "You cannot see any huge dog figurines because we do not want any trouble in Chinatown."
Shops were nevertheless doing a healthy trade, with Kong saying she had sold all her four-foot (1.2 metre) golden dog statues adorned with twinkling LEDs.
Models of animals from the Chinese zodiac are sold to mark the Lunar New Year, which falls in mid-February this year. The dog is well-regarded in Chinese culture, signifying loyalty and honesty.
It is a different story in Malaysia, where 60 percent of the population is Muslim Malay. Traditionally this group has practised a moderate form of Islam, but dogs have caused controversy in the past.
In 2016, American fast food outlet Auntie Anne's changed the name of its Pretzel Dog to Pretzel Sausage after a request from Islamic authorities.
A Muslim man organised an event called "I want to touch a dog" in 2014 aimed at removing the stigma surrounding the animals, attracting hundreds of participants but also the ire of religious leaders.
Despite the concerns, some Muslims in Chinatown insisted they were not offended by dog statues.
"There is no problem as far as I am concerned," Noor Azli Atan, a 45-year-old travel firm employer, told AFP. "Malaysia is a multi-racial country."