The Malaysian government warned the country’s breweries on Sunday not to sell or produce alcohol-free beer on the grounds that it “confuses Muslims” about whether they can drink it.
Speaking to reporters outside a mosque in his home constituency of Parit Bunda, Dr. Mujahid Yuso, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department for Religious Affairs, urged beer manufacturers to stop producing the product as some Muslims may wrongly believe they are allowed to consume it.
“Using the name alcohol-free beer is confusing as the process of producing the drink including distillation is carried out in the system used to produce alcohol products,” he said. “We know the alcohol-free drink is produced by a beer manufacturer but it would cause confusion as some Muslims thought they could consume the drink.”
Yuso’s comments were specifically aimed at a viral campaign by the Dutch manufacturer Heineken with the tagline “Now You Can.” The company later clarified that their product was non-halal and only for non-Muslims.
“All Heineken 0.0 products are only available at the non-halal zone of supermarkets and convenience stores, with clear signage indicating that the product is strictly for non-Muslims, aged 21 and above only,” said the company’s Malaysian branch. “In addition, for stores without designated non-halal areas, we are placing clear signages to inform consumers that Heineken 0.0 is strictly for non-Muslims, aged 21 and above.”
The company also said that their alcohol-free product named “Heineken 0.0” was intended to allow people to enjoy a beer-like beverage at social occasions without experiencing the effects of alcohol.
“The ‘Now You Can’ tagline attached to Heineken 0.0 refers to the various new occasions that the drink can allow non-Muslim consumers to enjoy a beer, including lunch, work meetings, or driving,” they added.
Launched in 2017, Heineken 0.0. is said to have a similar taste to normal Heineken but without alcohol. However, the drink still has a negligible amount of alcohol at 0.03 percent, compared with five percent to the classic beverage. Each 330ml bottle also has 69 calories, while the traditional product has 150 calories.
The presence of alcohol, albeit negligible, means the product is forbidden under Islamic Law. As of 2017, Muslims comprise the majority (61.3 percent) of the country’s population, with minority religions being Buddhism (19.8 percent), Christianity (9.2 percent), and Hinduism (6.3 percent).
In recent years, Malaysians have seen the country’s theocratic authorities crack down on a range of civil liberties, including the introduction of blasphemy laws and the censorship of various artistic content.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) notes in their 2018 report that Malaysia’s human rights situation “improved significantly in 2018 after the election of a new government that ran on a manifesto promising make the country’s rights record “respected by the world.'”
“Since the landmark election last May, Malaysia has been a bright spot for progress on human rights in Southeast Asia,” said Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy Asia director. “But it will only remain that way if the government stops backtracking and follows through on its promises for human rights reforms.”