GEORGE TOWN: Penang Deputy Chief Minister II P Ramasamy today slammed the education ministry for issuing a directive to all schools that Muslim students should not take part in Ponggal festivities, as they have been declared haram by the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (Jakim).
The directive by the ministry, dated Jan 13, was sent to all state education directors after a shariah expert panel from Jakim called for the ban.
The panel stressed that participation in the rice and milk boiling – a key ceremony during Ponggal – was strictly out of bounds for Muslims.
Ramasamy, who is also the Penang Education Committee chairman, told FMT Ponggal is not a religious ceremony, but merely a Tamil harvest festival celebrated by all faiths.
“Although the majority of Hindus celebrate Ponggal, it is not a Hindu event. Cooking a pot of milk with ghee and sugar and letting it overflow is a mark of a bountiful harvest and prosperity to come.
“And for this directive to come from the ministry, this looks like another element of the deep state, when the issue of Ponggal has never been an issue before.
“Just after the issue of lanterns in schools, this has now become an issue. Is this an act of sabotage, an act to embarrass the prime minister, who is now the acting education minister?” he asked.
Calling on the ministry to remember its secular roots, Ramasamy asked if it was now an Islamic ministry which blindly followed directives from Jakim.
“Jakim is no different from PAS, Umno and Putra. They are looking for areas to whip up racial sentiments. The official who wrote the directive must resign immediately,” he said.
The letter provided by Ramasamy to FMT, written by education deputy director-general Adzman Talib, said a Jakim shariah experts panel had met on April 8 and 9 last year and decided that Ponggal was haram for Muslims and they should not take part in it.
In the letter, Adzman said Muslims students were strictly forbidden to take part in the festivities. However, he said, they were allowed to wish those celebrating the festival.
The six conditions stated in the letter are:
- To not wear any special clothing which might relate to Hinduism, including clothing of Hindu priests;
- To not use any paraphernalia such as chains and floral garlands, making figures, and applying powders on the body that relate to Hinduism;
- To be not involved in any sort of ritual;
- To not scold or make fun of the Hindu gods;
- To not enter Hindu places of worship when Ponggal is ongoing, and
- To wish “selamat” to friends and neighbours without putting Islam down.
The letter was copied to the education director-general and other ministry division chiefs.
FMT has contacted the education ministry and is awaiting a response.
Separately, Human Resources Minister M Kula Segaran said he would take the matter up with the Cabinet tomorrow.
“It is incorrect to label the festival a religious one, as it has no religious significance,” he said.
Ponggal is traditionally celebrated by Indians after the first harvest is done to thank God and Nature for the produce.
In agrarian societies, the first grains that are harvested are placed in a pot and boiled with milk, and as the cooked rice and milk boil over, everyone rejoices.
It signifies the start of good times and puts people in a positive frame of mind to face the challenges of the year ahead. Many Tamils consider it the new year.
Usually, the rice is boiled out in the open in sunlight but many families do it in their kitchens these days. The harvest festival is a cultural activity, and some Christian Tamils also celebrate it in Malaysia.
Meanwhile, subsequent to the ministry’s directive, a photo is making the rounds juxtaposing a shot of the ministry’s letter and a picture of former prime minister Najib Razak and Rosmah Mansor, wearing garlands, participating in an earlier Ponggal festival, with the words: “Malaysia under BN and Malaysia under PH”.