A German brewing company has halted a World Cup marketing campaign after backlash from Muslims, who were angered by the Saudi flag printed on bottle caps.
Germany's Eichbaum brewery recently launched the campaign featuring the flags of the 32 countries set to compete in the World Cup this summer, the German newspaper Deutsche Welle reported on Saturday. Saudi Arabia's flag was of course included, but many Muslims saw the inclusion as offensive.
The kingdom's flag features the "Kalimat Al-Tawheed" or the Muslim declaration of faith. As Islam forbids the consumption of alcohol, many took issue with the important religious words being printed on a beer bottle.
According to the Saudi Gazette, the kingdom's embassy in Germany immediately reached out to the European country's authorities to complain about the campaign. The embassy requested that the product be halted and withdrawn from markets, and also asked for an official apology.
In a Facebook post on Friday, the brewery said that it was in the process of removing the Saudi flag bottles. The company apologized to the Muslim community, while also pointing out that it had been following a practice it had done for many years.
"Since Saudi Arabia participates in the world cup, we have also shown its flag for reasons of equality," the company said. "We didn't know that the characters were a creed. We have only checked whether flags and participants are correct ... We can understand your outrage at the mixing of confession and alcohol."
The brewery's Facebook page was swamped with one-star reviews from outraged individuals, causing the company's overall rating to drop dramatically.
Some felt the campaign was intended to "hurt Muslims"
Many saw it as a defamation to Islam and Saudi Arabia
Either "ignorance" or "attention seeking"
It's an "insult to the Islamic religion"
Others were offended that the caps would be thrown in the garbage
"Peace be upon you, Your Excellency the adviser. Today the pictures of the liquor bottles went viral. They placed the Saudi flag with 'Allah and His Prophet' mentioned on the flag. When people have finished drinking they will throw away the bottles’ cap.”
While alcohol is prohibited in Islam, Saudi Arabia is one of only a few Muslim-majority countries that have a complete prohibition on liquor. As a result, many who wish to drink smuggle alcohol into the kingdom or brew it secretly in their homes.
The kingdom does take prohibition seriously however. In 2015, the BBC reported that a 74-year-old expat had spent more than a year in a Saudi prison for being caught with homemade wine. He was originally sentenced to receive 360 lashes, but these were spared because of his age and poor health.
Individuals who traffic alcohol in the kingdom can technically be sentenced to death. But that doesn't stop them from trying.
A shipment of 48,000 cans of Heineken beer disguised with Pepsi labels was discovered by customs agents in 2015. The truck carrying the load was stopped at Al Batha crossing between the UAE and the kingdom, after a peeling label made one agent curious.