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Last week, the People’s Association (PA) came under fire when they were found to have used a Malay couple’s wedding photo as a standee for Hari Raya decorations in Radin Mas Single Member Constituency.

According to an Instagram post by the bride in the photo, 30-year-old Sarah Bagharib, neither she nor her husband had given any permission for the picture to be used. She also called the PA out for their “sheer ignorance” and for “using [her] wedding photo as a caricature of Malay people”.

“It is disappointing and frustrating to see the confused cultural messaging in People Association's use of a photograph of a bride and groom in traditional Malay outfit … to advertise PA’s ostensible celebration of Hari Raya — a completely different cultural event,” she wrote.

Many netizens, including celebrities like Fauzie Laily, Nurul Aini, and Jade Rasif, left comments expressing their disbelief at such an insensitive act as well as their support for Sarah, who has since received an apology from the PA.

On Monday (May 31), actor and The Noose star Suhaimi Yusof, who is of Javanese descent, waded into the conversation by posting his personal response to the incident on his socials.

“The recent error by PA when they used the wrong costume for the wrong occasion upset the community a bit. Well everyone makes mistakes. Look on the bright side, now we know each other better,” he wrote, sharing a collage of himself in various types of Malay traditional attire according to the corresponding occasion to show non-Malay folks the differences.

“To our Non-Malay friends, now we’ve learned that — it’s a different outfit for a different occasion because it gives a different meaning to a different celebration. But thank you for trying. But next time don’t cut out the face without permission lah. (sic)”

In a phone interview with 8days.sg, the 51-year-old said that while he believes the bride and the Malay community have every right to be angry, he wanted to react in a calmer manner, with a dose of humour thrown in for good measure (hence the photo of himself in that massive songkok, which he found at a Ramadan bazaar in JB, in the “When I make a mistake” pane).

“That was a joke,” he chuckled. “There’s a Malay proverb that translates as, ‘Don’t draw charcoal on my face’, which means ‘Don’t embarrass me’ and has something to do with face value. So if you’ve done something embarrassing, it’s very hard to face others, so I symbolised that by using that huge songkok to cover my face.”

Brilliant meme aside, Suhaimi also saw the whole debacle as “a great opportunity to educate” the non-Malay community about his culture.

“If you fight fire with fire, you won’t come to a solution and will only make the fire bigger. So pour the water on it slowly, and people will tend to have a bit more respect and listen to you,” he said. “Of course, you can throw in a joke or two, not to trivialise the matter, but to loosen people up. This was clearly a misunderstanding, so the solution is to make people understand! And what better way to do that than to use humour?”

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