Malaysian shop chain that sold ‘Allah socks’ targeted with petrol bombs

<span>KK Super Mart is Malaysia’s second-largest chain of convenience stores.</span><span>Photograph: Vincent Thian/AP</span>
KK Super Mart is Malaysia’s second-largest chain of convenience stores.Photograph: Vincent Thian/AP

Three stores belonging to a Malaysian minimart chain that sold socks carrying the word “Allah” have been targeted with molotov cocktails over the past week, in a rare case of such violence.

One of KK Super Mart’s stores in Kuching, the capital of Sarawak, in Malaysian Borneo, was hit by a molotov cocktail on Sunday, a day after a separate attack on a store in Pahang on the east coast of peninsular Malaysia. On 26 March, a store in Perak was also targeted with a petrol bomb, though it did not ignite, according to local media.

No one was injured in the incidents, which are being investigated by police.

The attacks came after pictures of socks bearing the word “Allah” at one of the chain’s stores were shared widely on social media, provoking outrage among Muslims who viewed use of the word in association with feet to be offensive.

Mostly Muslim ethnic Malays make up two-thirds of Malaysia’s population, while the country also has large ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities.

Chai Kee Kan, the CEO of KK Super Mart, the country’s second-largest chain of convenience stores, and his wife, a company director, were charged with hurting religious feelings last week, while three officials from supplier Xin Jian Chang have been charged with abetting them. All five pleaded not guilty. They could face up to one year in prison, or a fine, or both, if convicted.

Chai Kee Kan blamed the supplier, which the chain is suing, and said that only 14 pairs of “Allah” socks were found on the shelves at three KK Super Mart outlets.

Both companies have apologised. The supplies said the socks were part of a larger shipment of 18,800 pairs ordered from China.

The use of the word “Allah” has long been a highly contentious issue in Malaysia, where court cases have been heard over whether the word can be used by Indigenous Christians in their religious worship. Such controversy had, however, been largely confined to the courtroom, said James Chai, visiting fellow at the Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute, Singapore.

The sale of the socks was a flashpoint for wider tensions, he said, pointing to the success of the Islamic-based party PAS in the 2022 elections. “Many people attribute this to years of segregation by race and religion, as well as the growing number of Islamic institutions including schools that have built a more conservative mindset within society,” he said.

Some politicians, including the youth chief for the Umno, a Malay political party which is in the governing coalition of the prime minister, Anwar Ibrahim, have been accused of fanning anger, by calling for a boycott of the stores.

After the petrol bomb incidents, Sultan Ibrahim, the king of Malaysia, has called for unity, saying community leaders must act with maturity. A senior police figure also warned against escalation, saying there should not be a repeat of the 2001 Kampung Medan riots, which occurred between the Indian and Malay communities, local media reported.

James Chai, of the Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute, said there were no indications yet that the tensions could escalate to the level seen in 2001, or in 1969, when deadly racial riots occurred between the Malay and Chinese communities. He added the petrol attacks should serve as a caution that “the harmony and peace that you have in the racial communities should not be taken for granted”.