KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 1 — Two bear sculptures have been taken out from the unity-promoting United Buddy Bears exhibition in Penang after accusations that alleged Arabic script on one of the statues were “demeaning” to Islam.
Penang Umno Youth chief Rafizal Abdul Rahim claimed that words from a hadith or Islamic teachings attributed to Prophet Muhammad had been written at the bear sculpture’s rear, adding that the organisers of the exhibition should have been more careful.
“The words were etched near the rear of the sculpture, which is demeaning to Islam.
“We support the effort to spread unity, but the Hadith should at least be given the right place on the bear,” he was quoted saying yesterday by local daily The Star.
In a separate report by local daily Sinar Harian, Penang mufti Datuk Dr Wan Salim Wan Mohd Noor said organisers should have first approached him or the Penang Islamic Religious Affairs Department before holding such an exhibition.
“This is to prevent certain quarters from taking advantage on religious matters and misunderstanding among society. The statue is not done by us (Penang government), it is done by the organiser,” he was quoted as saying.
He added that he hoped organisers would be more sensitive in the future — especially in matters involving Islam — to avoid hurting the feelings of anyone and in consideration of Muslims’ sensitivities.
As for the bear sculpture, Wan Salim clarified that the words were not from the Muslims’ holy book al-Quran, but was from an oft-cited hadith, adding that it was still inappropriate to write it on the statue’s rear.
“Maybe for certain people, it is an insult because it is written on the rear... for me, it is also not nice because it is written on a statue.
“Therefore, after this, we will ensure every organiser refers to us first before holding any exhibitions and so on,” he said.
According to Sin Chew Daily, the globally touring United Buddy Bears exhibition initially had 148 bear sculptures each measuring two-metres high before the removal of the two sculptures.
Sin Chew Daily also reported Penang chief minister Lim Guan Eng as saying at the exhibition’s launch last night that the state government had spent RM862,000 for the two-month-long display of the bears which he said symbolised Penangites’ peaceful and harmonious life together.
Organiser E-Plus Global Sdn Bhd’s spokesman was reported to have confirmed that the two sculptures were removed due to religious sensitivities.
The spokesman also said the two sculptures were part of the entire exhibition that was previously displayed for a month in Kuala Lumpur in 2011 and touring countries such as India, Russia and France before the current exhibition in Penang.