Malaysian convenience store owners charged over ‘Allah’ socks that angered Muslims

A customer walk out from KK Mart convenience store in Puchong area on the outskirts of of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Tuesday, March 26, 2024. The owner of a Malaysian convenience store chain was charged Tuesday with deliberately wounding the religious feelings of others after socks with the word "Allah" were found sold in some outlets. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

A customer walk out from KK Mart convenience store in Puchong area on the outskirts of of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Tuesday, March 26, 2024. The owner of a Malaysian convenience store chain was charged Tuesday with deliberately wounding the religious feelings of others after socks with the word “Allah” were found sold in some outlets. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — The owners of a Malaysian convenience store chain and one of its suppliers were charged Tuesday with offending the religious feelings of Muslims after socks printed with the word “Allah” were found for sale on its shelves.

Chai Kee Kan, founder and chairman of the KK Mart Group, the country’s second-large chain of convenience stores, and his wife Loh Siew Mui, a company director, pleaded not guilty to charges of deliberately wounding the religious feelings of Muslims. The company has blamed its supplier for sending products the company had not agreed to stock.

Religion is a sensitive issue in Malaysia, where Muslims account for two-thirds of a population of 34 million, with large ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities. Allah is an Arabic word for God, and many Malaysian Muslims found it offensive to associate the word with feet.

“The word ‘Allah’ is highly esteemed in the eyes of Muslims,” Minister for Religious Affairs Mohamad Na’im Mokhtar was quoted as saying by the national Bernama news agency earlier this month. “Allah is our creator and the act of putting Allah at our feet is an insult.”

Alwani Ghazali, a senior Islamic lecturer at Malaya University, told radio station BFM that it’s demeaning because feet are associated with a “lowly status.”

“Socks stink, do you agree? Are you happy to smell your socks after using them all day?” she said. “As a Muslim, I think it’s inappropriate and (the issue) is a big deal.”

The founder of the supplier that provided the socks, Xin Jian Chang, as well as his wife and daughter who are directors were also charged with abetting the offence. Xin Jian Chang has said the socks were imported from China as part of a large shipment and apologized for being careless in their inspection.

If found guilty, all five defendants face up to a year in jail, a fine or both.

KK Mart is a major 24-hour chain, with 810 stores domestically and some 5,000 employees. It also has outlets in Nepal and India. Chai has said the socks were put on its shelves by Xin Jian Chang, which rented shelf space in its outlets. Only 14 pairs of “Allah” socks were found on the shelves at three KK Mart outlets, he added.

KK Mart has sued Xin Jian Chang for “sabotage” over losses and damage to the chain’s reputation, reportedly claiming that it didn’t agree to stock socks from the supplier.

But a Malay political party in Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s coalition has called repeatedly for a boycott of KK Mart, while Malaysia’s new king, Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar, has called for stern action over the issue, warning that it could disrupt racial harmony. Two people deemed to have made insensitive comments online over the issue have also been charged, sentenced to jail and fined for insulting Islam.

Anwar has called for firm action but also urged the public not to make too much of the issue and to move on.

KK Mart has also reportedly said it had to cancel a planned listing on the Malaysian bourse due to the crisis.

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