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Muslim-only laundromat owner removes sign after Sultan of Johor condemns it as ‘extremist’

Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar’s criticism is at odds with local officials’ views, but approved by PM Najib Razak.

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The 40-year-old owner of a Muar laundromat has removed a sign from its entrance which stated only Muslim customers were accepted due to a “purity” factor, after the Sultan of Johor harshly criticised him in an interview on Wednesday (27 September). The Sultan questioned the owner’s understanding of Islam and said the act had gone against the vision of “a united, harmonious, moderate and tolerant Johor”.

“I cannot accept this nonsense. This is Johor, which belongs to Bangsa Johor and it belongs to all races and faiths. This is a progressive, modern and moderate state… This is not a Taliban state and as the Head of Islam in Johor, I find this action to be totally unacceptable as this is extremist in nature.”

– Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar

He also demanded an apology to himself and the people of Johor; suggesting that if the owner insisted on continuing this he should move to Afghanistan.

The owner removed the sign later the same day, after friends told him about the interview and sent him the article. The sign went viral over the last week in Malaysia, and he initially told a Chinese newspaper that he was doing it to fulfil his obligation as a Muslim.

“I regret the issue and I will obey His Majesty’s command.”

– owner of Muar laundromat, who refuses to be named

The Sultan said in the same interview that he has directed the state executive council to revoke licences of any business owners who carry out such discriminatory practices. He instructed business owners not to “mess around with your narrow-minded religious prejudices.”

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Islamic religious affairs committee chairman Abdul Mutalip Abd Rahim and Mufti Johor Datuk Mohd Tahrir Samsudin, however, have both made conflicting statements before convening with the Sultan.

Abdul Mutalip, who is Johor’s executive councillor for religion, said that the laundromat was a business and it was up to the operator to run it in the way he wished, unlike restaurants which are regulated. He told Free Malaysia Today that the laundromat had not violated any regulation, and so could not be shut down.

Mufti Mohd Tahrir Samsudin reportedly called the owner’s act “beautiful” – telling Harian Metro that cleanliness is a top priority for Muslims.

Nadzim Johan, the chief of The Malaysian Muslim Consumers Association (PPIM) also spoke up to defend the action, saying that he didn’t believe it was done to hurt anyone because the laundromat owner “understands Islam”.

There are numerous sources advising on whether it is najis or ritually unclean to use coin-operated washing machines or laundromats overseas. Darul Ifta Australia, a non-profit organisation based in Melbourne, Australia, allowed for usage of such facilities overseas or in Western countries, but mentioned that drycleaning would be impure due to the solvents involved being reused each time.

The website of the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s most influential Shiite cleric, answers the question of purity with clothes washed in non-Muslim laundromats directly:

”There is no problem in praying in those clothes that were pure before washing them [in such facilities] as long as you are not aware that they have become impure. [In other words, what goes in the public washing machine as pure comes out as pure unless you are sure that it has become impure.]

Similarly, [you can pray in] the impure clothes [that were washed in the public laundry machines] provided that you are reassured:
that the impure element, if any, has been washed away;
that the pure water covered the entire impure area twice (if it had become impure by urine and even if the water was connected to kurr source as an obligatory precaution) or just once (if it had become impure by other elements);
and that the water was removed from the clothes by wringing or other similar method [i.e., spinning of the machine] if it was qalil.”

– answer from website of the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani

Malaysia’s prime minister Najib Razak approved the Sultan’s reaction through a statement, saying that the government will remain committed to upholding true Islamic teachings while protecting the interests of other communities as demanded of Islam.

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