Oktoberfest is back. But the religious politicians of this country want to ban it


(CNN) – The world’s biggest beer festival is finally back after a two-year hiatus, but the politicians have stepped in One country is still opposed to the return of celebrations, and it is not because of the pandemic.
“Although non-Muslims are not prohibited from drinking alcohol, the (Malaysian) government believes that this festival should not happen and open to the public, because it will create social problems,” said Religious Affairs Minister Idris. Ahmad, also a member of the conservative Islamist party PAS, in a written statement in Parliament.

Although he clarified that his comments were about Muslims and that non-Muslims were free to drink alcohol, he said that beer, traditionally consumed in large quantities at Oktoberfest events, would only lead to “social problems”.

“Alcohol is seen to affect the harmony, order and safety of the community,” he said.

“Regarding Oktoberfest, all parties should respect Malaysian rules and regulations based on Islam as the religion of the federation.”

“Not just pouring beer”

Originating in Munich, Germany and held annually between September and October, Oktoberfest celebrates and promotes local Bavarian culture.

Beer is widely consumed during the festivities and traditional German food is served, such as bratwursts (pork sausages) and sauerkraut.

The festival has gained momentum in other parts of the world, such as Palestine and some parts of the Middle East, such as countries with large Muslim populations.

But it remains an annual debate in Malaysia. A Muslim-majority nation, Malaysia practices a moderate form of Sunni Islam Islam but the conservative attitude has increased in recent years. About 63.5% of the 32 million inhabitants are Muslim.

Religious groups such as PAS have consistently opposed the promotion and holding of Oktoberfest events in the country, saying the Bavarian festival does not respect “Muslim sensitivities” because alcohol and other non-halal offerings are openly served. In 2017 a local politician went a step further by smashing beer cans in front of a government building in protest.

Previous events were banned following public complaints, but Oktoberfest has been held in Malaysia since the 1970s. In the capital Kuala Lumpur, bars and local breweries are gearing up for the festivities.

But Oktoberfest gatherings have been the biggest and liveliest in Penang, a very diverse state that is also home to a large international community.

Organizers of the Malaysian German Association in Penang told CNN that the Oktoberfest celebrations would be held on October 21 this year. As in Germany, local festivals were canceled for the past two years due to the pandemic.

“There is no threat to Oktoberfest celebrations within the German community in Penang,” the group said. “It is the wish of the local German community that Oktoberfest celebrations continue. However, in recent years, some religious groups have misunderstood that Oktoberfest is just a wild beer fest and would like to see it banned.”

“This festival is not only about drinking beer, it is also a festival of joy,” they added.

“If these groups succeed, the continuation of the festival would be at risk.”

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Ian Teh/Bloomberg/Getty Images

The opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP) rejected recent comments by ministers calling for a ban on Oktoberfest.

“Oktoberfest has been celebrated in Malaysia for more than 50 years and has yet to cause any racial or religious tension in the community, yet persistent fear surrounding this event has persisted,” DAP said in a statement. “don’t be surprised” by the recent complaints.

“As a multi-cultural and diverse nation, our mutual tolerance and respect must be the way forward for Malaysia socially and economically. These are indeed difficult times for us and it is sad that PAS has chosen to focus on Oktoberfest. There are clearly far more pressing matters at hand when they are.”

Festival goers are already looking forward to next month’s Oktoberfest celebrations.

Anisa Ahmad, a marketing director working in Kuala Lumpur, has been to Oktoberfest events at various pubs in the city. Along with St. Patrick’s Day drinking sessions, Oktoberfest is also enjoyed for its color and vibrancy.

“It is another opportunity for Malaysians to come together and enjoy good food and drink,” he said.

“But it’s a shame that an event as innocent as Oktoberfest has to be politicized like everything else, which is frankly ridiculous. But hey, it means more beer for those of us who don’t come out to complain.”