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Cultural tolerance under scrutiny

THE STRAITS TIMES – A Japanese cultural dance festival that has been celebrated for over four decades in Malaysia has come under the spotlight after the extremist party in the ruling coalition asked people to steer clear of it, once again raising questions about cultural tolerance and diversity in the country.

Religious Affairs Minister Idris Ahmad, who is from Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), on June 6 advised Malaysians not to attend the Bon Odori Festival next month, claiming it was “influenced by elements from other religions”.

This drew a rare response from Selangor Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah, who is the head of Islam in Malaysia’s most developed state. He said that although the festival started as a religious celebration, it has evolved into a largely cultural celebration over the past few decades, and he urged Idris to attend the celebrations.

“Your Majesty does not want certain parties, especially politicians, to use issues that are religiously sensitive for their own personal benefit or to score popularity points,” Sultan Sharafuddin said last Thursday.

The Bon Odori festival in Shah Alam in 2019. PHOTO: AFP