PETALING JAYA: The Education Ministry says its guidance on the Tamil harvest festival, known as Ponggal, was merely to allay Muslim parents’ concerns, while Jakim said it was only providing advice at the Ministry’s request.
The Ministry said that it was not trying to prevent Ponggal celebration at schools, and realises that schools are a place to inculcate unity among students of different backgrounds.
“Culture and customs between races must be known, learnt and respected by all parties, including the school management, teachers, and students, ” it said in a statement Wednesday (Jan 15).
This is following an uproar over a Ministry letter dated Jan 13, which described Ponggal as a religious festival, based on guidelines from Jakim (the Islamic Development Department of Malaysia.
The letter, which was signed by Institute of Teacher Education deputy chief registrar Adzman Talib, who is also the Education Ministry deputy director-general (school operation sector), states that the “Ponggal festival is a celebration for Hindu worshippers”.
In its statement Wednesday, the Ministry said the circular was issued to lessen Muslim parents’ concerns about their children’s involvement in the celebration.
“The statement in the circular also takes into the consideration the position and guidelines issued by Jakim and the state mufti department.
“The Ministry also reminded schools to follow all current regulations if they intend to hold the celebration at school, ” it added.
Meanwhile, in a separate statement, Jakim said that its position was made known after a request from the Education Ministry.
“Such decisions are under the purview of the Education Ministry
“Jakim only provided its views from the Islamic perspective and did not prohibit the celebrations in any way.
“Even the Jakim syariah expert panel’s opinion is 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, or insult their gods, ” it added.
Ponggal is celebrated for four days beginning from the first day of the month of “Thai” in the Tamil calendar, as a form of thanksgiving for a bountiful harvest.