IT DOES not feel good when a business makes it clear that it is unwilling to serve you. It is worse when it turns you away because of who you are, and not because, say, your attire is inappropriate or you are misbehaving.
You can change clothes to follow a dress code. You can apologise and promise not to make trouble anymore.
But how do you respond to a house rule that says you need to go elsewhere because of your race or religion?
This is about the launderette in Muar that recently began accepting Muslim customers only.
People have been sharing photos of two signboards at the place stating that policy. One of the signboards explains that this is for kesucian, which translates into cleanliness in the religious context.
The launderette owner reportedly said 95% of the customers were Muslims.
He added that from an Islamic perspective, cleanliness was very important and was something that Muslims must strive for at all times.
But is this a valid reason to reject non-Muslims? Unfortunately, there is no consensus.
For example, Johor Mufti Datuk Mohd Tahrir Samsudin was quoted as saying he welcomed the owner’s decision because some Muslims had doubts over cleanliness when using launderettes.
On the other hand, his counterpart in Perlis, Datuk Dr Mohd Asri Zainal Abidin, worries that the launderette’s Muslims-only policy will lead to similarly restrictive ideas, such as the notion that banknotes that have been handled by non-Muslims are unclean.
The launderette owner said non-Muslims could go to other such outlets nearby.
A lot of people, including Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin, have pointed out that businesses should be allowed to choose their customers.
But there are just as many who have spoken out against any business practice of rejecting customers based on race or religion.
The debate is not about the law and free enterprise; it is about being able to feel comfortable in our own skin, and maintaining the sensitivity and understanding that ensures harmony among us.
Sure, non-Muslims can go to other launderettes, but it does not change the fact that this particular one in Muar does not welcome them, and for reasons that are open to debate.
There is nothing pleasant about discrimination, no matter how benign the rationale.
In multiracial and multi-religious Malaysia, there are countless factors that can be used to set apart one group from another, but we all know that the less we focus on these distinctions, the stronger we are as a nation.
Yes, it is hard to find common ground on this issue but we can agree on at least one thing – we must not let it take us one step closer to the proverbial slippery slope of extremism and suspicion.