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Oktoberfest is back. But religious politicians in this country want it banned

(CNN) — The world’s biggest beer festival is finally back after a two-year dry spell, but politicians in one country is still against the return of celebrations – and it’s not because of the pandemic.
“While non-Muslims are not prohibited from drinking alcohol, the (Malaysian) government believes that allowing this festival and opening it to the public should not take place as it will cause social problems,” the minister noted. of Religious Affairs Idris op. Ahmad, also a member of the conservative Islamist party PAS, in a written parliamentary statement.

While he clarified that his comments were about Muslims and that non-Muslims were still free to drink alcohol, he claimed that beer, traditionally consumed in large quantities at Oktoberfest events, would only lead to “social problems.”

“Alcohol is seen as a violation of the harmony, order and security of the community,” he said.

“With regard to Oktoberfest, all parties must respect Malaysia’s rules and regulations, based on Islam as the federation’s religion.”

‘Don’t just drink beer’

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Hailing from Munich, Germany, and held annually between the months of September and October, Oktoberfest celebrates and promotes local Bavarian culture.

Beer is widely drunk during the festivities and traditional German dishes such as bratwurst (pork sausage) and sauerkraut are served.

The festival has become popular in other parts of the world, including countries with large Muslim populations such as Palestine and parts of the Middle East.

But it remains an annual debate in Malaysia. Malaysia, a Muslim-majority country, practices a moderate form of Sunni Islam but the conservative attitude has been on the rise in recent years. About 63.5% of the 32 million inhabitants are Muslim.

Religious groups such as PAS have consistently opposed promoting and holding Oktoberfest events in the country, saying the Bavarian festival does not respect “Muslim sensibilities” because of alcohol and other non-halal offerings served openly. A local politician even went a step further in 2017 by smashing crates of beer in front of a government building in protest.

Previous events have been banned after some complaints from the public, but Oktoberfest has been celebrated in Malaysia since the 1970s. In the capital Kuala Lumpur, bars and local breweries are getting ready for the festivities.

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But the Oktoberfest gatherings were the largest and liveliest in Penang, a highly diverse state that is also home to sizable international communities.

Organizers of the Malaysian German Association in Penang told CNN that their Oktoberfest celebrations would continue on October 21 this year. As in Germany, local festivities have been canceled for the past two years due to the pandemic.

“There is no apparent threat to the Oktoberfest celebrations within the German community in Penang,” the group said. “It is the desire of the local German community to continue the celebrations of Oktoberfest. But in recent years, some religious groups seem to have misunderstood Oktoberfest as a mere wild celebration of beer and would like to see it banned.”

“This festival is not just about drinking beer, but also a celebration of joy,” she added.

“If these groups succeed, the continuity of the festival will be jeopardized.”

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Ian Teh/Bloomberg/Getty Images

The opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP) refuted recent ministerial comments calling for a ban on Oktoberfest.

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“Oktoberfest has been celebrated in Malaysia for over 50 years and has not yet caused any racial or religious tension in the community – nevertheless, the relentless fear of this event has persisted,” DAP said in a statement, adding it was “not surprised.” due to recent complaints.

“As a multicultural and diverse nation, our tolerance and respect for each other must be the way forward for Malaysia to thrive socially and economically. These are challenging times indeed for us and it is sad that PAS has chosen to turn their attention to Oktoberfest when clearly much more pressing problems are at hand.”

Festival-goers are already looking forward to next month’s Oktoberfest celebrations.

Anisa Ahmad, a marketing manager who works in Kuala Lumpur, has been to Oktoberfest events in several pubs around the city. Along with St. Patrick’s Day drinking sessions, she has also enjoyed Oktoberfest for its color and vibrancy.

“It’s another chance for Malaysians to hang out together and just enjoy good food and drink,” she said.

“But it’s a shame that an event as innocuous as Oktoberfest has to be politicized like everything else, which is downright ridiculous. Anyway, it means more beer for those of us who don’t come to complain.”

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