Malaysian Muslim women want AirAsia crew to cover up

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KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 10 (Reuters) Influential Malaysian Muslim women demanded a budget airline to swap its flight attendants' miniskirts for less revealing, more Islamic attire in keeping with the multi-faith country's dominant religion.

Female delegates of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), during a debate on Islam at the final day of its week-long annual meeting yesterday, zeroed in on AirAsia's stewardesses, saying their skirts should go down to the ankles.

The 3.3-million-strong UMNO represents the country's dominant ethnic Malays, who are by definition Muslim. UMNO is increasingly pushing an Islamic agenda to counter the opposition Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS) in the country's Malay heartland.

''The uniform is too revealing. We don't want to look at their thigh and knee,'' said Zaleha Hussin, an elderly woman delegate from the northeastern state of Kelantan.

''Malaysia is an Islamic nation and we are ashamed of the AirAsia uniform,'' she told the meeting.

Male delegates also supported the change of dress code. ''It should be implemented by explaining that we are a Muslim country,'' said Azman Ruslan, a lawyer.

AirAsia is one of Asia's fastest-growing budget carriers and its crew is made up of various races, including Malay Muslims who form just over half of Malaysia's 26 million people.

An AirAsia spokeswoman said the uniform did not compromise the staff's national identity. ''There's nothing to comment about it.

Wearing this uniform doesn't make us less Malaysian,'' she said by telephone.

Malaysia has been for long a tolerant Muslim society and has Hindu, Buddhism and Christian followers. Women constitute half the country's population.

Malaysians are still grappling with divisive racial and religious issues. The Chinese and Indians form sizeable minorities and follow different cultures and religions.

REUTERS JT ND0928

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