Ponggal Circular – Education Ministry, Jakim Passing the Buck to Each Other

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Now, Jakim washes hands of ministry’s Ponggal circular.

  • Education Ministry said it has never forbidden the celebration of the Ponggal festival in schools, that the circular on how Muslims should deal with Ponggal was to assuage parents of Muslim students who may have concerns
  • Jakim insisted it was simply responding to the ministry’s request to provide its views, did not prohibit the celebrations in any way

The Education Ministry and the Islamic Development Department of Malaysia each say the other is responsible for a controversial circular advising against Muslim participation in the Ponggal harvest festival.

Sayuti Zainudin

Shortly after the ministry sent out a statement saying the views in the circular were based on Jakim’s position and guidelines, the department released its own saying that it was the ministry’s prerogative to send out the circular to schools.

Jakim also insisted that it was simply responding to the ministry’s request.

“The decision in this matter is under the ministry’s authority. Jakim only provided its views from the Islamic perspective and did not prohibit the celebrations in any way.

“Additionally, Jakim’s shariah expert panel is also of the opinion that it is permissible for Muslims to wish friends and neighbours who are celebrating without the intention of acknowledging their religion, and for Muslims not to belittle, demean, and insult their gods,” the department said.

Earlier, the ministry acknowledged the circular but insisted that it did not prohibit schools from celebrating the Ponggal festival.

The ministry claimed the circular was intended to allay the concerns of Muslim parents about their children’s participation in the festival.

The Education Ministry, in its statement today, said it is cognizant that schools are where unity is fostered.

“The culture and customs of different races should be known, understood and respected by all, including the school administrator, teachers and students.

“In an effort to foster the spirit of tolerance, mutual understanding and respect in a multi-racial society, the Education Ministry encourages the participation of students and school staff in all cross-cultural activities,” it said.

The circular that was leaked online yesterday showed the ministry describing Ponggal as a religious festival and advised Muslims to restrain their participation if “forced” to attend these.

The circular also highlighted Jakim’s guidelines on what Muslims should do if they had no choice but to attend the festival.

The document cited Jakim as saying it is “haram (forbidden)” for Muslims to join in Ponggal festivities, “especially the event where milk rice is cooked”, referring to the sweet rice that Indians cook in a pot to give thanks for a bountiful harvest.

Bernama

The circular dated January 13 was issued to all state education department directors ahead of the festival today.

It was signed by Education deputy director-general Adzman Talib, who said Ponggal is celebrated by Hindus and, as such, Muslims are not allowed to participate.

The state education directors were told to convey these to all school headmasters and principals.

Since then, several non-Muslim ministers have come out to stress that Ponggal is a cultural event and not religious in nature.

The controversy is the latest related to a cultural celebration in Muslim-majority Malaysia, after a school in Puchong was forced to remove its Chinese New Year decorations over claims that this amounted to proselytising to Muslim students.