Society is not judged by what it wears

By Mariam Mokhtar, Malaysian Mirror

Banning the football shirt will only add to the belief that there is growing oppression and religious intolerance in Malaysia. It appears that the Johore and Perak mufti might have scored an own-goal with this latest suggestion/ban.

In 2008, Malaysians recoiled in horror when religious clerics announced a ban on tomboys and yoga because the former embraced lesbianism whilst the latter had its origins in Hinduism. Today, Malaysian Muslims were told not to wear the Manchester United football shirts because the image of the famed red devil is forbidden in Islam.

Although a fatwa was not announced, the suggestion of the clerics is causing consternation amongst Malaysians, not just football fans.

If banning the jerseys is what these clerics strongly believe in, they might as well ban football.

Football, in Malaysia, has almost a religious following with whole families taking a lively interest in the sport. Toothless toddlers to ‘toks’ (grandpa) in one family are often seen proudly sporting the jerseys of their favourite club.

Besides the Red Devils, football shirts of Brazil, Barcelona, Portugal, Norway and Serbia are unacceptable because they have images of the cross or alcohol brands.

Nooh Gadot, a top Islamic cleric from Johor said, “This is very dangerous. As a Muslim, we should not worship the symbols of other religions or the devils. It will erode our belief in Islam. There is no reason why we as Muslims should wear such jerseys, either for sports or fashion reasons.”

Ironically, Malaysians are top supporters of the English Premier League and sale of football shirts is big business. Last March, the Red Devils signed a sponsorship deal with Telekom Malaysia to increase their profile as one of the top sports teams in the country. In 2006, the tourist body signed a £2million sponsorship deal with the club.

These announcements are highly embarrassing to the Malaysian government. Even the aircraft of Air Asia’s fleet proudly displays the Manchester United image.

Joining in the fray is Harussani Zakaria, a Perak mufti who agreed that devils should be shunned: “Yes, of course in Islam we don’t allow people to wear this sort of thing. Devils are our enemies. Why would you put their picture on you and wear it? You are only promoting the devil.”

Malaysian supporters of ‘Manchester United’, have already expressed their anger, at this latest directive, on the fan websites.

David Gill, the Manchester United chief executive said, “Anyone who went on our tour of the Far East last summer knows the strength of feeling that Malaysians have for the club.”

Many of us (even those who are not active in any sport) find the association with devil worship alarming. To ban these jerseys would be both idiotic and unnecessary.

Sports devotees are well aware of the uniting power of football, that even politics, is unable to do.