KUALA LUMPUR, June 9 — Selangor Ruler Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah Alhaj today issued a statement to rebuke Religious Affairs Minister Datuk Idris Ahmad, suggesting that he was ignorant to warn Muslims against attending the Japanese cultural celebration Bon Odori next month.
Idris was told to attend the annual event himself “so that he could learn to make the distinction between culture and religion”, a sharp and direct censure rarely made by a monarch.
“His Highness does not want certain quarters, especially politicians, to use issues that touch on religious sensitivities like this for personal gain and to boost their popularity,” the Selangor Palace said in a statement.
“His Highness urges them not to whimsically label something negative without first conducting thorough research. They must be fair when making any public statement that involves social harmony,” the statement added.
“His Highness advises the minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Religious Affairs) to attend the Bon Odori celebrations on July 16, 2022, at the National Sports Complex Shah Alam so that he could learn to tell the difference between religion and culture.”
Idris, a PAS vice-president appointed senator, was also warned against leveraging on his position as head of the Federal Islamic Affairs Department (Jakim) to shore up political support. The criticism appeared to point to Sultan Sharafuddin viewing the minister’s statement about the Japanese event as a populist bid to appease conservative Muslims.
“His Highness does not want the minister to use the Jakim platform to issue misleading and inaccurate statements that could jeopardise Jakim’s image and reputation,” the Palace said.
The Selangor Palace’s statement came after the Sultan decreed that the event would continue to take place, itself a rebuke against Idris. The monarch is the supreme head of Islamic affairs in the state.
Sultan Sharafuddin himself had attended the Bon Odori event in 2016 accompanied by the then Japanese ambassador, the Palace noted, with the Ruler finding little evidence that the celebration “was in any way a deviation or a threat to the Muslim faith”.
“The Sultan asserted that the Bon Odori celebration was more a cultural event that showcased the traditions of the Japanese people,” it said.
“It (the celebration) is also meant to be a day when families and friends reunite after having been away from each other for some time.”
Bon Odori simply means the “Bon dance”, which is performed during Obon, an annual event when Japanese honour the spirits of their ancestors.
Malaysia is one of just a handful of countries where the festival is observed outside of Japan. The festival was first organised here by Japanese expatriates to introduce their country’s culture, arts, and cuisine to Malaysians.
Idris had suggested that Muslims avoid the Bon Odori Festival as it contains elements of other religions, citing a supposed study by Jakim. The statement immediately sparked controversy among Muslims online.
The celebration is also seen as crucial for bilateral relations between the two companies in the last few decades, the Selangor Ruler said, noting that Japanese factories have long provided jobs for locals with investment into the state reaching billions of ringgit.