Monday, July 21, 2014

2058) THEANTDAILY - Permitting eateries to open only at 3pm is dumb, dumb, dumb - PPIM



PETALING JAYA: Although fasting is not something new to Muslims in the country with most faithfully adhering to fasting rules during the holy month of Ramadan, the government apparently feels they need more help to fast.

This is so because Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom has announced that Muslim eateries nationwide are not allowed to run their businesses and sell food before 3pm during the fasting month.

A somewhat strange thing to say because most of the 24-hour food outlets, aside from the fast-food ones, are “mamaks” which are owned by Muslims and frequented by all races, Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

Malaysian Muslim Restaurant Owners Association (Presma) president Noorul Hassan Saul Hameed told theantdaily that whatever laws are implemented should be implemented fairly for all.

“To implement a law to prevent Muslims from eating in public but at the same time allowing 7-Elevens and hypermarkets as well as supermarkets with food courts to operate defeats the purpose.

“Exempting fast-food outlets is also unfair as they are halal-certified. This is discrimination,” said Noorul.

He also questioned the rational of such a move in a multiracial country like Malaysia where restaurant patrons comprise of all races and religions.

“Most of our members are operating in town areas where more than 60 per cent of the clientele are non-Muslims. There is nothing in the Quran that says we cannot operate a business during the fasting month. Only during Friday prayers are we supposed to close. What’s the agenda behind this move?

“If you’re trying to prevent Muslims from eating in public, aren’t you also concerned about their eyes and ears? What about the Muslims who go out wearing indecent clothes? By looking at them in this kind of clothes, your mind gets diverted and your fast is ‘batal’ (cancelled). If you really want to take care of the puasa month, why allow pubs and nightclubs to operate?” questioned Noorul.

With their restaurants only being allowed to operate after 3pm, Noorul asked where Muslims exempt from fasting were supposed to get their food.

“There are certain groups exempt from fasting such as the elderly, the sick, women who are having their monthly periods, women who have just delivered and children. How about them?” he asked

He reminded the government that as business operators, they too have costs to take care of.

“If the government and local authorities stop us from operating our business, who is going to bear our overhead costs?

“If you want to follow Islam, implement the true teachings of Islam, not just Islam at the surface level,” he said.

Asked if they were consulted on this, Noorul Hassan said: “No. The authorities never called the operators or the associations to get our feedback. They just announced this ruling.”

On July 5, Jamil Khir reportedly said Islamic departments nationwide should closely monitor all Muslim eateries particularly to avoid them selling food to Muslims.

“Food operators are allowed to prepare their dishes by noon but they are strictly prohibited from selling the food to Muslim customers before 3pm.

“All state Islamic departments and relevant agencies will not hesitate to take stern action against these stall owners for disobeying the council’s law which prohibited Muslim eatery operators from operating their businesses before 3pm during Ramadan,” the minister, in charge of religious affairs, was quoted as saying, adding that those who disobey the rule are liable to a RM300 fine and also face having their food and equipment seized.

Subsequently, Kedah executive councillor Badrul Hisham Hashim came out to say that restaurants operating in the state must operate after 3pm during the fasting month or risk having their licenses revoked but that fast-food outlets and Restoran Hameed serving tourists in Langkawi would be exempted from this rule.

Malaysian Muslim Consumers Association (PPIM) chief activist Datuk Nadzim Johan said this matter should also be viewed from the perspective of self-regulation.

“We must be trained to self-regulate, not purely to be regulated by outside law. If people want to eat, they will eat. Fasting is for spiritual cleansing. It makes no sense to force them to fast. I think for us to force it down to that level is not fair as non-Muslims are also eating there. I’m not too sure if there is anything in the Quran saying Muslims cannot sell to non-Muslims during the fasting month.

“I think the approach should be more of an outreach approach to get people to understand and fast voluntarily. There is no sense in forcing something in the middle of the journey. It’s like having a regulation against stealing. It is better to train and educate people to not steal even if the item is out in the open. It’s about self-control from within,” he said.

Nadzim feels an outreach approach is more important than enforcement of the law.

“Look at the Singaporeans. They are very disciplined in their own country but are not so when out of it. We should learn from the Japanese who are disciplined wherever they are.

“It is not about not getting caught. It is about being good from within. If you succumb to temptation, then you have failed the test. We should be fortifying people’s souls to hold strongly to their faith. We should teach them to hold tight to their principles,” he said.

Calling the move “dumb”, former Cabinet minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim did not mince his words in his blog when he wrote: “If they (present Muslim leaders) were not so dumb, then they would trust Muslims to fast voluntarily. They would concentrate their teachings on the merits of fasting, so people fast out of belief and not fear. But no—these leaders are only interested in punishment. The more the punishment, the better.”

As Aidilfitri approaches, Muslims will have plenty of expenditure, what with all the Raya clothes to be bought for family members and the throwing of open houses for guests.

So at a time when these businessmen would need to make the most amount of money, such a directive must surely not sit well.

The government should trust Muslim Malaysians to fast instead of cutting off avenues for them to obtain food.

After all, those who don’t will face the consequences in the hereafter.

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