Kuala Lumpur: A Muslim politician has caused a stir by declining to shake hands with men as she campaigned in a tight by-election, triggering debate across
Malaysia`s racial and religious divide.
Normala Sudirman, a rising star within the conservative Islamic party (PAS) which belongs to the opposition alliance, said her faith prohibits close contact between unrelated men and women.
"We (Muslim women) do not even shake hands with Muslim men," she said this week, defending her stance against allegations that it was a sign of the rising `Islamisation` of the multicultural state.
Malaysia, a predominantly Muslim country, is ruled by a coalition of race-based parties including the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), whose leader Chua Soi Lek stoked the controversy by criticising Normala.
"We respect her choice, and likewise she should also understand why the people are baffled by her actions," Chua was quoted as saying by the Star newspaper.
Malaysia`s ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities, who follow Buddhism, Christianity and Hinduism among other religions, complain their rights are being trampled by the imposition of Muslim values on their way of life.