Islamic leaders in Malaysia urge cancellation of Ed Sheeran concert over singer’s

SINGAPORE: British singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran has become the latest target of calls in Malaysia to bar performances in the country by artists who support the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. 

Islamist party Parti Islam Se-Malaysia’s (PAS) ulama (cleric) faction, as well as the Penang mufti, have in recent days called on the government to block Sheeran’s concert, which is slated for Feb 24 at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium in Kuala Lumpur. 

Analysts say PAS’ move – largely a repeat of what it did for British band Coldplay’s Malaysia gig last November – is likely to fire up its conservative voter base, even if chances of the concert being cancelled are slim.

In a statement on Thursday (Feb 1), PAS ulama chief Ahmad Yahaya called on the government to “take a firm stand by cancelling the concert by a Western artist when Muslims are on the verge of Ramadan”. This year, the Muslim fasting month is expected to start on March 12.

“What is more saddening is that … the invited artist has a background of (supporting the) LGBT ideology which is firmly rejected by Malaysia,” he said. 

The PAS ulama faction has repeatedly said that pro-LGBT Western artists “should never be allowed to perform in the country”, he added.

The party had similarly lobbied for Coldplay’s concert in Malaysia last year to be cancelled.

And in response to concerts by Korean girl group Blackpink and American singer Billie Eilish, the party had urged the government to “control” the increasing number of concerts and performances held by foreign artists.

“The brouhaha over Ed Sheeran’s concert – and Coldplay’s before that – reflects the strategy of the opposition to use ethnoreligious issues such as the LGBT (issue) to strike at the current government. (It is) simply driving a wedge to widen the polarisation seen in the country now,” said Dr Azmil Mohd Tayeb, a political scientist at Universiti Sains Malaysia.

Dr Syaza Shukri, head of the political science department at the International Islamic University Malaysia, said that PAS’ move is a “confirmation” to its conservative voter base – predominantly located outside the country’s capital city – that the party is loyal to its struggle. 

“Most of the people calling for restrictions are those who live outside of Kuala Lumpur and Selangor. (The cancellation of this concert will not really) affect them, so that is why it is easier to call for a government intervention (to cancel the concert),” she told CNA.

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