Malaysia Muslim TV ad scrapped amid Christmas link

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - A Malaysian television station scrapped a commercial tied to the biggest Muslim holiday after viewers complained it appeared influenced by Christmas and Santa Claus.

The commercial began airing earlier this month to wish Muslim viewers a happy celebration of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. Ethnic Malay Muslims, who comprise nearly two-thirds of Malaysia's 28 million people, are expected to start observing Eid this Friday.

The ad depicted children traveling in a flying trishaw driven across the night sky by a white-haired, elderly man to a fantasy land with sparkling lotuses and oil lamps.

The clip drew complaints from people who believed the man was reminiscent of Santa Claus, and that the clip looked like a promotion for Christmas instead of Eid. Some also believed it should not have depicted lotuses or oil lamps, saying those seemed linked to Buddhism and Hinduism.

News anchors on the private TV3 channel apologized for the commercial during a prime-time news broadcast Sunday night, saying the station had stopped running the one-minute clip and would ensure that no similar incidents occur again.

TV3 officials could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.

Religion is a sensitive subject in this multiethnic country, where ethnic Chinese and Indians who mainly practice Buddhism, Christianity and Hinduism are the largest minorities.

The government has struggled in recent years to improve relations among the races following a series of grievances over racial and religious rights. Minorities say that efforts to bolster Islam have undermined their freedom to practice their faiths amid disputes such as whether non-Muslims can use the word "Allah" to refer to God.