KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - A prominent Muslim group in Malaysia has joined calls by Islamic conservatives in Indonesia for a boycott of Starbucks to protest against the international coffee chain’s support of gay rights.
Activists say intolerance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people has spiked in recent years in Indonesia and Malaysia, both majority Muslim, multi-ethnic Southeast Asian countries.
Perkasa, a group with about 700,000 members that campaigns for the rights of ethnic Malay Muslims, said it agreed with calls this week by Muhammadiyah, Indonesia’s second-largest Muslim group, for a boycott of Starbucks over its pro-LGBT stand.
Perkasa also agreed with the Indonesian group’s call for Starbucks’ operating license to be revoked, it said.
Amini Amir Abdullah, who heads Perkasa’s Islamic affairs bureau, said Starbucks’ position challenged Malaysia’s constitution, which recognized Islam as the country’s official religion.
“Our objection is because they are promoting something that is against the human instinct, against human behavior and against religion. That’s why we are against it,” Amini told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday.
Muhammadiyah’s call for a boycott has gained support from the Indonesian Ulema Council, its top clerical body.
The religious groups’ opposition to Starbucks came after a video from 2013 circulated online of pro-LGBT comments made by the company’s chairman and former chief executive, Howard Schultz.
In the video, Schultz said Starbucks embraced diversity and “not every decision is an economic decision”, in response to a shareholder who complained that the company had lost customers because of its support for gay marriage.
Starbucks Malaysia could not be reached for comment.
PT Sari Coffee Indonesia, which holds the license to run the Starbucks chain in Indonesia, said in a statement it was not affiliated with any political or ideological groups.
“We are grateful and proud to have been a part of local communities in Indonesia for 15 years, always maintaining the deepest respect for, and adherence to, Indonesia’s local laws, culture and beliefs,” said Fetty Kwartati, a director at PT MAP Boga Adiperkasa, the parent company of PT Sari Coffee Indonesia.
Some Muslims in Indonesia, however, said the boycott call would not stop them from buying Starbucks coffee.
“I love their products, not their CEO,” said Jakarta resident Kornelius Kamajaya.
The boycott call got a similar response from some in Malaysia.
“Don’t make it such an issue that we have to boycott a company because of one small statement,” said Muhammad Azril Maridzuan, an assistant bank manager in Kuala Lumpur.
Muslim groups should not “be so extremist” even though gay rights was against their religious beliefs, he said.
Reporting by Ebrahim Harris in KUALA LUMPUR and Yuddy Cahya in JAKARTA; Writing by Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Robert Birsel and Paul Tait