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Malaysian bakery's ‘Merry Christmas’ ban sparks outcry

Boycott threat after chain claims it's afraid of getting halal certification invalidated if such greetings are put on cakes
Citing Islamic halal norms, a leading Malaysian bakery chain refused to display ‘Merry Christmas’ on its cakes.

Citing Islamic halal norms, a leading Malaysian bakery chain refused to display ‘Merry Christmas’ on its cakes. (Photo: AFP)

Published: December 18, 2023 05:07 AM GMT
Updated: December 18, 2023 05:57 AM GMT

A leading Malaysian bakery chain has come under the threat of a boycott after it banned the words “Merry Christmas” or “Xmas” being written on cakes, even if requested
by customers in the Muslim-majority nation.

Staff at Berry’s Cake House, a 29-year-old bakery chain with 10 outlets in the Greater Kuala Lumpur area, were told to write “Season’s Greetings” instead to avoid getting their halal certification invalidated, according to a Dec. 14 company memo.

“The reason is that we are holding a halal certificate, and so we should support and meet all the requirements,” stipulated by the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (commonly known by its Malay abbreviation Jakim), said Daniel Teoh, Berry’s operations manager.

Many took to social media threatening to boycott the chain, while some even vowed to boycott all halal bakeries during the Christmas season.

One common question asked was how the words "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Xmas" can make a product non-halal.

Eugene, a 65-year-old pensioner, who goes by one name, told UCA News, “If the other bakeries are following the same guidelines, then it’s time to bid them farewell and give business to our home bakers.”

Vijay Saravanen Vasudevan said on his Facebook account, “What do the words 'Merry Christmas' have to do with the food?”

“Religious authorities like Jakim are going overboard in enforcing rulings that do not augur well for a multiracial society,” the 53-year-old legal advisor told UCA News.

In response to the outcry, Jakim denied that outlets had been banned from having festive or celebratory greetings on their products.

 “This is an issue that has cropped up before and Jakim had already given an explanation on Dec. 25, 2020, and on Nov. 1, 2023,” the department said on social media on Dec. 16.

“We wish to reiterate that premises holding a Malaysian halal certificate are not prohibited from writing festive greetings on cakes and other products.”

The explanation in December 2020 came when a bakery wrote “Happy Holidays” on a cake when a customer wanted “Merry Christmas” on it.

Jakim then further said that decorations and wording on cakes for personal consumption were allowed but not cakes meant for display and marketing.  

Vasudevan took up that issue this year and asked, “...why can't you display a cake for marketing purposes in an outlet with ‘Merry Christmas’?”

Christians make up about 10 percent of the estimated 32 million citizens in Malaysia.

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