What’s in a name? Controversy surrounds Timah whiskey over perceived namesake

Idris Ahmad lodges complaint despite explanation by booze makers

GEORGE TOWN – The award-winning Malaysian-made Timah whiskey has soured for some as criticisms have been levelled at the brand over its choice of name.

Although its makers have issued an explanation behind the name, it did not stop Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Religious Affairs) Idris Ahmad from lodging a complaint with the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry and Home Ministry.

In a brief interview with TV AlHijrah on Saturday, he confirmed that reports have been lodged with the two ministries, calling for an investigation.

“We have been consistent. We don’t agree with this,” he was quoted as saying

What’s in a name? Controversy surrounds Timah whiskey over perceived namesake
The award-winning Malaysian-made Timah whiskey has garnered criticism over its name that is feared will confuse Malay-Muslim consumers. – Timah pic

Meanwhile, PAS Syura Ulamak Council member Datuk Mahfodz Mohamad told The Vibes that alcohol companies should not use product names that could confuse Muslims, adding that “Timah” sounds confusing.

This is in light of the government being unable to ban alcohol consumption because Malaysia has non-Muslims, he said.

“But they shouldn’t use Muslim names in their products that will confuse the Muslim community. I would prefer if names used are not confusing, because it will appear that the product is for Muslims and it’s confusing for the community.”

Clarification posted on Timah official Facebook page on Oct 15 following the controversy. Pic courtesy of Timah, October 18, 2021
Clarification posted on Timah official Facebook page on Oct 15 following the controversy. Pic courtesy of Timah

However, Timah’s makers said the name is the Malay word for tin, which harkens to the tin mining era during British colonial times.

“The man on our bottle, Captain Speedy (British explorer Tristram Charles Sawyer Speedy), was one of the men who introduced whiskey culture back then. We do not intend for our name to stir controversy.

“Any interpretation of our name unrelating to Malaysian to tin mining is false. Timah is meant to be enjoyed by non-Muslims above the legal alcohol purchasing age.”

Critics still outraged 

Timah detractors have taken to social media, alleging the name is a traditional Muslim one – Fatimah.

Lawyers for Justice movement coordinator S. Raveentharan said in an interview that this should not even be an issue, adding that the critics have nothing better to do.

We should be more focused on fighting the pandemic and not get caught up about a whiskey name. To each his or her own.

“If this becomes an issue, it is up to each Malaysian to decide where they want the country to head to – a moderate nation whose foundations are built, or an overzealous nation, which compromises on progressive principles to embrace hard-line policies only to scare away investors and reverse economic growth.”

Women’s rights activist Ivy Josiah also lambasted Timah detractors, saying: “This is a perfect example of making a mountain out of a molehill. 

“In fact, I feel silly having to respond to this manufactured offence.

“The brand has clarified that ‘timah’ means ‘tin’. The detractors should not overthink this. One can defend women’s honour by taking on real issues that women face everyday, such as domestic violence,” she told The Vibes.

However, Malaysia Shariah Lawyers Association president Musa Awang said using brand names for non-halal products that could point to multiple meanings can be confusing, especially if it is synonymous with the Malay race and Islam.

“These situations will court controversy,” he said in a brief interview.

Although he agrees that “timah” means “tin” in the Malay language, it could also refer to a shortened version of the Malay name “Fatimah”.

“Timah is known within the Malay community as a shortened version of the name ‘Fatimah’. More importantly, Fatimah also refers to the name of Prophet Muhammad’s daughter.

“This is why the government should find the best way to resolve this matter to avoid confusion among Muslim consumers.”

‘A catastrophe, not something to take pride in

Earlier, PAS Youth information chief Nazir Helmi called Timah’s international win a “catastrophe and an insult to the country”.

He added that while he understands that only Islam prohibits alcohol consumption, it “affects not just non-Muslims but the entire society, regardless of race and religion”.

“How many Malaysians have died as a result of alcohol, whether due to road accidents or alcohol addiction? How many family institutions have collapsed due to alcohol?”

He also called for the relevant ministries to close breweries, adding that exporting such goods will not bring any good.

Meanwhile, PKR MP Yaakob Sapari joined in the criticism, posting on his Facebook page yesterday, saying the whiskey producer should have understood certain racial sensitivities.

“Siti Fatimah, Fatimah, Sarimah, Partimah, Kak Timah, Mek Timah, Timah – these are Malay names that are linked to Islam.

“Naming the whiskey Timah is a provocation that will cause anger, especially among Malay Muslims.

“Authorities, please take appropriate action. These wine producers have to understand the sensitivities of other races.

“Don’t wait for people to get angry.”

By : Ian McIntyre – THE VIBES

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