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Raja Petra Kamarudin

Wednesday, 26 August 2009 16:42 

There are some very upset people in Malaysia who feel that Islam is being challenged or that non-Muslims, plus some Muslims, do not respect Islam and whatnot. These are people who always think that if you disagree with them then you are insulting Islam and/or need to go and learn more about Islam. Let’s look at reality -- and then let’s argue till the cows come home.


The entertainment industry is said to be the largest industry in the world. That actually took me by surprise because I had initially thought that the arms industry was the largest. So it appears that making love is more profitable than making war after all.


Now, when I say ‘entertainment’, I am talking about more than just movies and music. Theme parks, holiday resorts, tour packages, casinos, discos (which serves as the market for designer drugs), night clubs, cabarets, bars, pubs, prostitution, and all those other activities which allow you to ‘let your hair down’, relax, enjoy yourself, have a good time, and so on, come under the classification of ‘entertainment industry’.

Just list down all those things banned in Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s two Holy Cities, and that would come under the category of entertainment. The Saudi ulamak reluctantly allowed TV to be introduced into the Kingdom (after much pressure from the ruling elite) but only for religious programs and news, not for entertainment purposes. In that sense, anything that Saudi has banned can be regarded as un-Islamic, according to the strict Saudi interpretation (who argue that that is true Islam). And this would include everything under the entertainment industry category.

For that matter, general elections are also ‘banned’ in Saudi Arabia. Would, therefore, elections be regarded as un-Islamic since there was no such thing during the time of the Prophet Muhammad as well as during the Islamic Empire headed by the Caliphs -- until the collapse of the Ottoman Empire less than 100 years ago? And since PAS participates in this ‘Christian’-created Westminster system of parliament and general elections can PAS be considered as being involved in un-Islamic activities?

Yes, that is certainly food for thought is it not?

Going by the standards set by Saudi Arabia, the country regarded as the home of the Prophet Muhammad and the centre for Islam, it seems like only the Jews observe true Islamic teachings. And is it not also ironical that some of the best entertainers in the world (actors, actresses, singers, etc.) are Jews? This certainly represents a contradiction of sorts.

So, what, therefore, would make one a true Muslim? Would the banning of beer and the punishing of Muslims who drink beer be the proper Islamic thing to do, as many seem to think so? Or do we need to do more than that if we really want to become a true Muslim? This is the dilemma faced by Muslims and which was the point of my previous article: Go all the way or no way (

Some Muslims think I am defending the sale of beer and oppose the ban and punishment of those who drink beer. This is not the point at all. The point I am making is we appear to be preoccupied with a mosquito bite when the patient is suffering from terminal cancer and just had a massive heart attack on top of that. Why worry about something not life threatening when the patient is about to die? Forget about the itch on the finger when the toes have been eaten away by gangrene.

I have written about this issue so many times and I am sure by now many, Muslims in particular, are quite tired of reading about the same thing. But how can I stop harping on this same issue when we have people who still fail to grasp what the real issue is?

Below are extracts of two reports concerning the liquor industry and the problem it represents to Malaysia. What I want to stress is that the liquor industry is a huge industry and Malaysia ranks among the top ten in the world. And do you know how much tax the government earns from this (plus of course from tobacco and cigarettes which are equally haram according to many Muslim scholars)?

Okay, what happens to these taxes earned? It goes into the government coffers -- and we are talking about a huge amount of money here.

Next question: what does the government do with this money? It is used, of course. The government pays the salary of one million civil servants (more than 90% who are Muslims). The government builds roads, schools, hospitals and whatnot (which are used by all Malaysians, more than half who are Muslims).

So, how far are the Muslims prepared to go? Do they really want to be true Muslims? Do they really want to see sin and vices eradicated? Are they prepared to totally ban all forms of entertainment (liquor, beer and cigarettes being just part of it) that go against Islamic teachings? Are Muslims prepared to do what Saudi Arabia is doing to keep the country ‘pure’? And this would include a ban on interest-bearing loans and credit cards.

It is embarrassing when Muslims scream and shout about the issue of beer (or about the issue of a group called MLTR that sing tame love songs no different from Malaysia’s own Muslim singers such as Sharifah Aini, Sudirman, Siti Nurhaliza, etc. -- who they do not ask to also be banned). And when we express opinions that contradict theirs they scream about how we are insulting Islam, have no respect for Islam, should go and learn more about Islam, and whatnot.

Understand one thing, when we argue about a minor issue (and beer is a minor issue) while we tolerate the much larger problem we look like hypocrites.

The day one million Malay-Muslim civil servants throw in their resignation letters and refuse to continue working for the Malaysian government until the government stops earning tax money from haram activities would be the day I join my fellow Muslims in demanding that all forms of haram activities be banned.

Why are we so uptight about what others do? They want to drink then that is their business. It is between them and God. But if we earn a salary from taxes earned from haram activities then that would become our business. That would be when we should start getting upset.

But somehow that does not upset Muslims. They are not concerned that all these haram activities earn big money for the country and which goes to pay their salaries and develop the country with facilities that they also enjoy. They are not concerned that they are ‘partners’ in haram money. They are only concerned about what others do.

The Malay proverb about being able to see a germ across the ocean but not being able to see an elephant in front of your face rings true here.

That is the point in my whole argument.

Executive summary

No increase in excise duty leads to a better performance for alcoholic drinks

Alcoholic drinks in Malaysia posted stronger volume growth in 2008 as a result of the government’s decision not to increase any excise duties on alcoholic drinks for the year. Coupled with the rising affluence of consumers, alcoholic drinks thus saw stronger volume growth in 2008, when consumers who in the past turned to contraband as a cheaper alternative started to switch back to duty-paid products. Moreover, the increased number of female drinkers in Malaysia as a result of the rising number of women in the workforce also contributed to the stronger volume growth for alcoholic drinks in Malaysia.

Cocktail concoctions enjoy rising popularity among consumers

White spirits, namely vodka and gin, enjoyed strong volume growth in 2008. This was largely boosted by the rising consumption of cocktail concoctions in Malaysia towards the end of the review period, with consumers viewing them as a sophisticated drink and consuming them largely in on-trade channels during social gatherings. Cocktails are also largely favoured by female drinkers, who view them as being easier to drink rather than consuming the neat shots directly. New drinkers, mainly youths, also see cocktails as an interesting drink and a cheaper alternative than shots at on-trade channels.

Multinational players dominate

Unsurprisingly, Guinness Anchor Bhd and Carlsberg Brewery Malaysia Sdn Bhd were the top two players in Malaysia, with their dominance in beer, the best-selling alcoholic drink in Malaysia, as the key contributory reason. Domestic players remain largely present as distributors for key multinational brands in Malaysia, with those companies involved in manufacturing just present in “other spirits” such as ad-mix rum. Marketing and promotional campaigns run in both on-trade and off-trade channels were still constantly engaged in by players during 2008 as a means to expand their consumer base and reinforce awareness among consumers.

Supermarkets/hypermarkets command the largest distribution share

In 2008, supermarkets/hypermarkets were still the main off-trade channel for alcoholic drinks in Malaysia. This is mainly because of the convenience of one-stop shopping, particularly in relation to hypermarkets. In addition, several key supermarket and hypermarket chains engaged in a price war during 2008 that allowed consumers to enjoy bargains on their favourite alcoholic drinks easily. Independent food stores were the second most important off-trade channel for the sale of local spirits such as ad-mix gin, largely due to these outlets’ proliferation in rural areas and the consumer profile for these drinks remaining largely those on low incomes.

Positive outlook for alcoholic drinks

Over the forecast period, growth in alcoholic drinks is expected to be positive as it is still largely viewed as a drink for consumers during social gatherings and as a stress reliever after a hard day at work. However, government movements in terms of excise duties remain key to the fate of alcoholic drinks in the forecast period, as any increases are likely to dampen consumer demand for duty-paid alcoholic drinks, as they are unwilling to fork out extra for their usual drinks. With still red wine continuing to earn a reputation as a drink that is beneficial to the health in Malaysia; it will thus be the fastest-growing alcoholic drink in the forecast period, with still white wine following closely behind.


Alcohol consumption and prevalence

Malaysia, though a small country, is the tenth largest consumer of alcohol in the world. Each year Malaysians spend over US$500million on alcohol. Whilst the per capita consumption is 7 litres, those who do drink alcohol consume heavily. Among the drinking population, the Malaysian Indians who make up about 8 per cent of the population are by far the heaviest drinkers with an annual consumption of absolute alcohol exceeding 14 litres. Beer consumption in Malaysia at 11 litres per capita is comparable to that of European countries known for their high consumption. The easy availability of alcoholic drinks in coffee shops, supermarkets, sundry shops and plantations together with aggressive advertising and promotions are driving Malaysians to drink. The average age for alcohol dependence is 22 years.

There are two main breweries, which are located in or near the capital city of Kuala Lumpur. Guinness Anchor Berhad is a joint venture between Guinness and Asia Pacific Breweries of Singapore, itself a joint venture with Heineken and a local soft drinks company. Carlsberg controls the largest shares of Carlsberg Brewery Malaysia Berhad.

We have an active local spirits industry, which produces approximately US$43.4 million (RM180million) worth of samsu, the generic name for cheap spirits, per year. These drinks average 38 per cent alcohol and are widely available illegally from outlets such as sundry shops and private residences. The smallest bottle of samsu costs as little as US$0.36 (RM1.50).

In Malaysia, the biggest victims of alcohol are the poor, particularly the rural Indian labourers who work in rubber and oil palm estates. Here alcohol is a major cause of poverty. They drink samsu, (a locally distilled potent spirit) and toddy (which was introduced by the British during colonial times) Of the estimated 200,000 drinkers, 75 per cent are samsu drinkers.

The rural Indians in Malaysia look upon samsu as a scourge besieging the community, which has been worsening over the decades. They spend about US$5.5million (RM20million) a year on samsu. These drinks are packaged in small bottles of between 140-175ml and sold for as little as US$0.40–$0.80 (RM1.50 – 3.00) At such incredibly low prices, it is obvious that these potent drinks are packaged specially to appeal to the poor. A regular drinker can down six bottles a day, which works out to RM9.00 (US$2.50) or about three-quarters of his daily pay. In a month he can spend about RM300 (US$80) on samsu, which is about how much he earns.

Institute of Alcohol Studies 2006

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