Thursday, April 25

Malaysians in a spin


LAUNDROMAT was never a place in my world.

In the early years, the family did the laundry by the river. Even in my teen years, we still hand-washed our linens.

I love my clothes to be dried under the sun. As one of my dear friends said: “The smell of the clothes after drying under the sun is unbeatable.”

Indeed, it is. But not when the neighbours started open burning, I added.

Then I moved into a flat. It was still manageable. But due to limited space for drying clothes, when it came to bed linens and curtain days, it was a must to visit a laundromat to use the drying machine.

Just a few days before the laundromat saga in Johor Bahru, I went to one, located in a Malay majority area.

This launderette requires customers to take off their shoes outside the shop. I was a bit hesitant because I came with an expensive pair of medifeet shoes! Well, that was the first thought but I was comfortable with it as the floor was squeaky clean.

A young woman was seen cleaning the dryers, picking the particles (furs or threads) while another woman was sweeping  and mopping the floor.

I texted my friend in Kuching that soon someone would probably start to segregate the machines for users by ‘religion.’ It was meant as a joke amidst all the hoo-ha over the Beer Festival.

Therefore, I was not surprised that within the week, a sign was put up in a Johor Bahru laundromat, restricting its clientele to Muslims only.

In strict business sense, this does not make sense. Don’t we want the machines in the laundromat to be in full spin all day long? For a spin of 25 minutes, it’s RM5 only. It takes many spins actually to make some money – as I calculated.

Also in business sense, it is a privately run operation, the owner has the liberty to choose and accept his customers, saying non-Muslims could visit other nearby launderettes as this is his business model.

But it does not make sense when the 40-year-old operator told a Chinese daily he was only carrying out his duty as a Muslim, being worried, as he obviously was, that there might be ‘unclean’ elements such as furs on the clothes non-Muslims brought to his launderette.

In other words, he considers non-Muslims unclean and are, thus, not allowed to use the same washing machines and dryers with Muslims.

A Malay daily, rubbing salt into the wound, reported Johor mufti Datuk Mohd Tahrir Samsudin as saying the launderette’s move was commendable as cleanliness was a priority for Muslims.

“This should not be turned into an issue as it only encourages negative perception from non-Muslims towards Muslims.

“I think it’s a good move as Muslims will no longer be doubtful when using the self-service launderette,” the daily quoted him as saying.

However, a move such as this will only serve to segregate Malaysia’s multi-racial and multi-religious communities. It must be pointed out that discrimination, based on faith, is prohibited by our Constitution.

Such segregation, if unchecked, will lead to other forms ethno-religious centrism and as such, we are putting the country on the path towards racial discord and tension.

Pictures of the laundromat, comments from netizens went viral, and just as we wondered whether it would ever end or how it would end, a voice of the highest authority in Johor spoke out strongly to put a stop to such intolerant and selfish behaviour in that state.

“The owner has gone against the vision of a united, harmonious, moderate and tolerant Johor. If he still insists on carrying on the Muslim-only practice, he can leave Johor. I suggest he set up shop in Afghanistan. His thinking is sick and goes against everything that Johor stands for.”

The Sultan of Johor, Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar, was reported by The Star (Sept 25) as ordering the owner to immediately stop his discriminatory practice or risk being shut down by His Majesty.

“I cannot accept this nonsense. This is Johor which belongs to Bangsa Johor – to all races and faiths. This is a progressive, modern and moderate state.

“This is not a Taliban state and as the Head of Islam in Johor, I find this action to be totally unacceptable as it is extremist in nature,” he said.

Indeed, at this time, the country needs this kind of firm and understanding leadership. But how many of our leaders from both sides are ready to offer the people hope by standing up to say what His Majesty has said to stop the practice  of extremism in our midst.

And to fittingly recapitulate, the Sultan has said – in no uncertain terms – he brooks no divisive practice that alienates Bangsa Johor of all races and faiths.

He reassures that as the Head of Islam in Johor, he does not condone the ‘extremist and totally unacceptable’ action of the laundromat.

And lastly, may I quote the most salient point made by the Sultan: “Johor is a progressive, modern and moderate state, not a Taliban State.”

Thank you, Your Majesty, for stopping the spin.