KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 25 — Mamak eateries and 24-hour restaurants provide more than just food as it is a safe space for youths to mingle and to prevent acts of khalwat, a group has said.

The Malaysian Indian Muslim Congress (Kimma) said it is unhappy with the news that mamak eateries will have to close their doors by 12 midnight, should new health policies be enforced starting next year.

Its president Datuk Syed Ibrahim Kader said that the government must understand that restaurants are a business serving the public and it goes beyond simply providing food.

“There are other factors to consider, one is university students. These students hold study groups and discussions at a lot of mamak restaurants that are open 24 hours, seven days a week. It is a safe environment where boys and girls can mingle.

“What’s going to happen if you take this away from them? They may go somewhere else that isn’t as safe,” he told Malay Mail.

“For Muslim students, are they going to go to a friend’s house with boys and girls mingling around (in an enclosed space) unchaperoned?” Syed Ibrahim added, saying that this may lead to acts of khalwat (close proximity) and subsequently arrests by religious enforcement officers.

He said that instead of forcing eateries to close shop at midnight, the government should promote and educate better eating habits among the population.

Syed Ibrahim said that instead of going out and eat, the Malaysian population could easily choose to snack at home or prepare a meal in their own kitchen at odd hours.

“What are they going to do next? Tell people you can’t cook after midnight? And what about during Ramadhan month, when people need to have their sahur to fast the next day? Who is going to provide the food service for them?” Syed Ibrahim asked.

He then voiced his fear that Malaysia’s attractiveness as a global food destination might also suffer should eateries are no longer allowed to operate past midnight.

“We (Malaysia) are known for our food throughout the world. Tourists come here and are amazed that food is available for 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Have they thought how this would impact the tourism industry?” he added.

Today, New Straits Times reported that Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S Subramaniam is spearheading the campaign to promote healthier living amongst Malaysians in order to battle the rising threat of non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

Among the policies discussed by a Special Cabinet Committee last Friday was that restaurants and eateries’ operating hours are limited until midnight, which will be carried out in stages.

Currently, many fast food outlets, hotels and mamak restaurants or stalls provide a 24 hour service.

Moving forward, Syed Ibrahim said his association will prepare a counter-proposal and submit it to the government the moment everything becomes official.

Malaysian Muslim Restaurant Owners Association (Presma) honorary secretary Habibur Rahman Shahul Hameed on the other hand supports the government’s policy and initiative, but is concerned about the fate of factory workers.

“It won’t impact us as much. Even now we do have some problems getting workers to man our restaurants. But I’m more concerned about the factory workers. Some factories operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” said Habibur.

“Where are these workers going to get their meal if they can’t drop by mamak restaurants during their break? What about some of the security guards on night watch? Who is going to feed them?”