Ministry denies banning Ponggal celebrations in schools, passes buck to Jakim

Justin Ong
Women cook ‘Sarkkarai Ponggal’ on an open fire by boiling rice in milk during the Ponggal celebration in George Town January 15, 2020. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 15 — The Education Ministry said its circular describing Muslim participation in Ponggal festivities as “haram (forbidden)” was not intended to prevent the celebration of the Indian harvest festival in schools.

The ministry went on to assert today that it encouraged participation in all multicultural events to foster tolerance, understanding and mutual respect among the country’s races.

It then appeared to shift responsibility for the letter’s content to the federal government’s religious authority.

“Regarding the ministry circular dated January 13, this circular was issued to lessen Muslim parents’ concerns about their children’s involvement in the celebration.

“The circular’s contents took into account the position and guidelines released by the Islamic Development Department of Malaysia (Jakim),” it said in a statement.

The statement did not explain how telling Muslims that it was “haram” to participate in Ponggal celebrations either lessened their concerns over the celebration or encouraged multicultural learning.

The ministry insisted, however, that it has never barred the Ponggal festival from schools.

It went on to advise school administrators to follow existing guidelines with regards to the celebration of cultural activities.

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 document cited Jakim as saying it is haram 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.

Since then, two DAP ministers have come out to stress that Ponggal is a cultural event and not religious in nature.

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