Malaysian authorities scrapped a concert by American singer Erykah Badu on Tuesday after she angered Muslims with a photo in which she sports body art including the Arabic word for “Allah”.
Information Minister Rais Yatim said on Twitter that the concert was cancelled because it breached government guidelines on “religious sensitivities and cultural values” in the Muslim-majority country.
“The ‘Allah’ graphic on the singer’s body will surely cause controversy among Muslims,” Rais said.
In separate comments quoted by state news agency Bernama, he warned the concert — scheduled for Wednesday — would “lead to bigger problems” by threatening national security and tarnishing the government’s image.
The acclaimed soul artist had been scheduled to perform in the capital Kuala Lumpur.
Organiser Pineapple Concerts said late Tuesday on their website they were working “to rectify the issues that we’re facing”.
“Erykah Badu and Pineapple Concerts will still like to carry on with the show. We hope to still have your continued support to bring on the show,” it said without elaborating.
Malaysian Islamic groups frequently oppose concerts by Western artists whom they accuse of promoting promiscuity and corrupting youths, but rarely are high-profile acts cancelled once initial approval has been granted.
Badu is known for pushing the envelope.
She raised eyebrows in 2010 with a video for the song “Window Seat” in which she strips naked while walking the street in Dallas, Texas, where President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, falling “dead” at the fateful spot.
The offending photo appeared Monday in Malaysia’s biggest English-language daily, The Star. It depicts Badu with various symbols on her upper body including in Arabic and Hebrew.
It was not immediately clear whether the symbols were permanent tattoos.
Tattoos are forbidden in Islam and many Muslims also frown upon depictions of the word “Allah” that are deemed frivolous or disrespectful.
The picture sparked a backlash and the newspaper ran an apology on Tuesday, saying the photo was published “inadvertently”.
Badu, who had mentioned her impending Malaysia gig in a tweet on Monday, did not immediately comment on the cancellation.
But Some Malaysian Twitter users took to the microblogging site to denounce the cancellation.
“Erykah Badu show in Malaysia has been cancelled because of her tattoos. Now you don’t ask why all the best bands/singers go to Singapore,” one user tweeted.
Singapore, where Muslims are in the minority, borders Malaysia.
“I think concert promoters in this country understand how I feel. And for those who love music, we’re sick of (Rais Yatim) and his guidelines,” another wrote.
The Home Ministry, which summoned three top editors of the newspaper on Monday, has said it would issue a warning letter to The Star demanding an explanation over use of the photo.
Malaysia’s Centre for Independent Journalism issued a statement criticising the ministry’s response as “unnecessary and detrimental to media freedom”.