Does the ‘Year of the Pig’ Tread on Muslims?

Red lanterns acknowledge the Chinese festive season

China and its diaspora are abuzz this month with festivities tied to the Lunar New Year, celebrating the last animal in the zodiac, the pig. And while that may not spark much controversy in many countries, it does at least raise an eyebrow acroww the Islamic world. Swine are identified as “haram” or “forbidden” in the Quran.

There have been isolated calls for an outright ban of the holiday in Southeast Asia. At least incrementally, those demands may have more traction in Indonesia because of volatile cross-communal ties between Chinese Indonesians and native Indonesians.

The commotion seems to be mitigated in part because last year was the “Year of the Dog.” While canines are not expressly identified as haram in Islam, they are controversial. Some conservative scholars apply the view that they are forbidden in the home. A story in the Quran explains how the angel Gabriel breaks a meeting with the Prophet Muhammad because a dog had wandered into the house.

Across Southeast Asia, the prevailing wisdom last year was that non-Muslims should be respectful of Islamic sensibilities and downplay New Year decorations that center on images of the dog. That view continues to hold sway, even more so, in the “Year of the Pig.” In Indonesia, Religious Affairs Minister Lukman Hakim Saifuddin affirmed the need to respect tradition.

Holiday vendors appear to be making the best of an awkward situation. The BBC interviewed one baker in Malaysia who asserted, “[Muslims] buy my cookies for Chinese colleagues and friends who celebrate the holiday. Some also order for themselves because they like the [pig-shaped treats].”

From a Western perspective, the debate highlights the cultural diversity of Southeast Asia. The fact that lively discussion on the matter is common in the public domain suggests tolerance for divergent viewpoints. This sort of exchange is in short supply in some parts of the Islamic world.

Our Vantage Point: Amid Lunar New Year festivities in Southeast Asia, hostility toward Chinese tradition by Muslims is muted. We gloss over sensationalist headlines.

Learn more at the BBC.

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Image: Red lanterns acknowledge the Chinese festive season. Credit: Topten22photo at Can Stock Photo Inc.

Bikinis Deflected From Indonesian Airspace

Indonesia is the largest economy in Southeast Asia

Vietnam-based Vietjet is no ordinary airline. It has carved out consumer awareness of its brand by featuring bikini-clad flight attendants. The gimmick has worked for its female founder; Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao became a billionaire after the airline’s initial public offering in February. But minimalist uniforms are not export-friendly, at least to the Islamic world. In tandem with growing Vietnamese-Indonesian ties, Jakarta airport authorities looked for assurances that bikini-clad flight attendants will stay grounded on Vietjet’s soon-to-launch Ho Chi Minh City-Jakarta route. Vietjet obliged—and announced it will include halal meals in the service mix. While the lesson may be deference to cultural values, it is also one in business strategy. Vietnam is chasing Indonesia to propel its torrid growth rate of 6%-to-7%. Tourism is a key component in the mix. According to Mastercard, outbound Indonesian travel is one of the fastest growing hospitality segments in Asia, with outbound trips set to grow by almost 9% a year over each of the next few years.

Our Vantage Point: Wealth generation trends in the Islamic world offer enormous profit potential to multinationals. But the character of that business needs to side with conservative halal lifestyles.

Learn more at The Jakarta Post.

© 2017 Cranganore Inc. All rights reserved.

Image: Stable rupiah is one outgrowth of Indonesian economic wherewithal. Credit: Caputrelight at Can Stock Photo Inc.