Penang mufti Wan Salim Mohd Noor’s statement that there should be improvements in the laws relating to the sale and promotion of alcohol in Penang seems to be putting the cart before the horse.
Responding to an objection raised by Permatang Pauh MP Fawwaz Md Jan against the sale of beer at the concourse area of a mall in Seberang Jaya ahead of Chinese New Year, he said he agreed alcohol should not be sold openly.
In his opinion, laws related to the sale and consumption of alcohol should be updated and improved so that they are clearer about what is allowed and what is not.
This is to ensure the sensitivities of the Muslim community are considered and to maintain harmonious relations among the races in this country.
It is unfortunate that the issue related to the sale and promotion of alcohol seems to be crafted from the argument of sensitivity of an ethno-religious community in relation to other communities, where a legal solution is sought. This is simplistic and transactional and reinforces differences between Muslims and non-Muslim over the issue.
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The issue related to alcohol is not just about the rights of a particular community; it is about seeking a consensus on the ills of alcohol abuse that affect the common good of society.
What is required in addressing the issues related to the unrestrained promotion and consumption of alcohol is consensus on its danger to the safety of the drinker, and the safety of those involved in drunk driving, the involvement of youths at a very young age, and the socioeconomic reality that drives certain Malaysians to alcohol consumption, as an escape from social deprivation and hardship.
The impact of alcohol consumption is not merely about the sensitivity to the Muslim community; its abuse is also felt in the non-Muslim community, and non-Muslims are equally concerned about the unrestricted promotion of alcohol.
Thus, the Penang mufti should engage in a broader dimension of dialogue that would provide him with more information.
A complex issue cannot be relegated to mere legislation. What is needed is consensus among all communities on the dangers of unrestricted promotion and consumption of alcohol.
Reaching a consensus among all communities on the dangers of alcohol abuse should precede any talk about introducing legislation.
Currently, the issue has turned into a political circus of a particular political party such as Pas, which tends to adopt a holier-than-thou attitude, and the DAP which seems to address the issue merely from the perspective of non-Muslim rights, which is short-sighted.
The Penang mufti should start a dialogue with non-Muslims in Penang and he would definitely obtain a different version of reality.