Zaid: Why is Kelantan singling out night market traders with maghrib rule?

Zaid questioned which sunnah and hadith, or the Islamic teachings attributed to Prophet Muhammad, was used as the basis for this policy. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng
Zaid questioned which sunnah and hadith, or the Islamic teachings attributed to Prophet Muhammad, was used as the basis for this policy. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng

KUALA LUMPUR, April 21 ― Former law minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim today questioned why the PAS administration in Kelantan was only imposing a mandatory trading halt during evening prayers on the state's night market traders.

Zaid further asked why a trading halt was necessary only during maghrib, the Muslim evening prayer, when there were five daily prayers in Islam.

He said the Kelantan government must explain why it was not extending similar restrictions to all other businesses including hypermarkets when these operated through more prayer times than night market traders.

"Why is it not also made an offence for those driving express buses, taxis and rented cars? Why is it that airplanes do not have to pause during Maghrib? Why are shops at the airport free to open at that time?

"Are they not all doing business too? Besides that, I also wish to know, why just during Maghrib, why not Zohor and Asar?" he said in his latest blog post today, referring to the midday and afternoon prayer times for Muslims.

Zaid, who earlier this week announced his intentions to sue the Kelantan government over the rule, questioned which sunnah and hadith, or the Islamic teachings attributed to Prophet Muhammad, was used as the basis for this policy.

He went on to ask if the Kelantan government would give “rebates” for taxes such as quit rent and assessment to traders who were forced to halt their trading as a result of the ruling.

"Those who made this policy do not understand how hard it is for night market traders to make a living,” he added.

"Have a little respect for the ordinary folks such as night market traders. The rule to pray on them should be in the form of encouragement, not compulsion. Don't make it difficult for them," he concluded, having said they would only be able to get their earnings in the limited window of time from 6pm to 9pm.

Earlier in his blog post, Zaid defended the night market traders, saying that the opening of their stalls during the maghrib prayer time did not necessarily mean that they do not perform their obligatory Muslim prayers.

"Furthermore, can't night market traders take turns to perform their prayers so it would not cause inconvenience to customers who cannot pray or non-Muslim buyers?" he said.

Zaid indicated that the matter of performing the daily prayers should be a personal responsibility of Muslims, instead of falling under the state government's policing to prevent Muslims from sinning.

"Is this what PAS and Umno wants to show to the public, that Malays must be forced and have law enforcement to fulfill their own religious obligations? Do we hear of people of other religions being ordered and forced by laws on how they dress and how they should run a night market business?" the DAP member asked, pointing at the two political parties which have expressed support for the mandatory rule on Muslim night market traders.

He questioned PAS and Umno leaders' justification that Kelantan residents were allegedly in favor of the maghrib business break rule, claiming that the state's residents also want their leaders to declare the assets held by them and their family members.

"How, do you dare? Can the sinless Kelantan leaders make a declaration on their wealth and asset ownership and transparently disclose it to the public?" he asked.

Yesterday, Kelantan's Local Government, Housing, Youth and Sports Committee chairman Datuk Abdul Fattah Mahmood had said the mandatory 10-minute break policy was aimed at helping Muslim night market traders avoid missing their prayers due to preoccupation with their business.

He had highlighted that the prescribed hour-long prayer time of Maghrib is relatively short, and gave his assurance that non-Muslim traders and visitors would not be caught by the mandatory rule and were free to continue their activities.

Last weekend, Abdul Fattah was reported saying that local authorities throughout Kelantan have been given clear orders to ensure that all trade activities are suspended immediately for 15 minutes as soon as it is time for maghrib, and that errant traders would face trade suspension until they pledged to comply.

Kelantan is ruled by Islamist political party PAS and has a predominantly Muslim population. Malaysia’s 2010 census showed Kelantan to be 95.2 per cent Muslims, followed by 3.8 per cent Buddhists and all other religions at between 0.2 per cent and 0.3 per cent each.

Muslims are obliged to pray five times a day, with the Maghrib prayer performed after sunset.

The prayer times may differ from month to month, with the current Maghrib prayer times listed online throughout this month for Kelantan falling between 7.20pm to 7.23pm.

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