Malaysia on Tuesday cancelled a concert by American singer Erykah Badu after a local newspaper sparked outrage by running a photo of her with body art that included the Arabic word for “Allah.”
Information Minister Rais Yatim said in a message on Twitter that the concert was cancelled because it breached government guidelines on “religious sensitivities and cultural values” in Muslim-majority Malaysia.
A ministry official confirmed to AFP that the show was scrapped but declined further comment. Concert organisers could not immediately be reached.
The acclaimed soul artist had been scheduled to perform in the capital Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday.
Islamic groups frequently oppose concerts by Western artists, alleging they promote promiscuous lifestyles and corrupt young minds, but rarely are high-profile acts cancelled once initial approval was granted.
Badu is no stranger to controversy.
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.
Malaysia’s biggest English-language daily, The Star, came under fire for running a preview story on Monday including the photo, which showed 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 Star ran an apology on Tuesday, saying the photo was published “inadvertently.”
“We deeply regret any offence caused to Muslims and sincerely apologise for the oversight,” it said.
Badu, who had mentioned her impending Malaysia gig in a tweet on Monday, did not immediately comment by Twitter following the cancellation.
The Home Ministry has said it would issue a warning letter to The Star asking it to explain within one week how the photo came to be published. Three top editors were summoned to the ministry on Monday.
Mashitah Ibrahim, a deputy minister in the prime minister’s department, called the photo an insult.
“Our religion does not even permit the name of Allah to be brought into the bathroom, let alone be used as a tattoo,” she was quoted by the New Straits Times as saying.
The opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) also voiced outrage, calling for the paper to be punished.