Now, Jakim washes hands of ministry’s Ponggal circular

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 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.

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 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 (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.

Since then, two DAP 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.

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